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Okay, so you want to write a novel? Well, I won’t lie to you it’ll be a long journey, and don’t be traumatized when I tell you it’ll tear your life away for years, even decades.
You’ll feel perplexed and often hit that invisible wall inside your head; questioning whether it’ll even be worth it or even if you should continue writing at all.
Writing a novel isn’t something you can sprout up overnight. No, it takes months, even years. And when that mood strikes to suddenly wield a pen and go to town – do it! Because those moods don’t come by as often as you’d expect. In fact you shouldn’t be surprised if you only feel the need to pick up a pen three of four times a year. That’s how it happened for me anyway.
At sixteen years old I always told myself I would write a book one day, and regardless of the stories I started to script and characters I began to develop, I never quite made it past the first four pages. Because like many others, I got bogged down with self-doubt and concern over whether anything I was writing was any good enough.
I assumed nobody would read anything I wrote and it’d all be for nothing in the end. But once I drew up a story that I actually liked, I sold myself on it and made that promise to see it through to the very end.
It took me three years to write my first novel. Three years.
Would I say it was all worth it? Yes.
Would I say I lost my mind a little in the process? Most definitely.
There were times I wanted to quit and never touch it again, but that was normal.
I’d spend long nights staring at a Word document and wondering whether certain words were even English or whether my coffee induced mind was crafting a whole other language instead.
I started to hate the characters and the story I was telling, and over time I wish the story would just end altogether. Again, that was perfectly normal!
As the saying goes, ‘we’re our own worst critics’. That’s true, and if now somebody asks me about my first novel I can only cringe and avoid the subject. Because like most creative types, you find things to hate about your work, even if others see it as gold.
I’m not saying my first novel was gold, not at all. In fact, it sucked. But that was the whole learning process; nothing was perfect!
Yet over time we pick up new techniques and delve deeper into our characters minds and thread together bigger and bolder plot twists that eventually we know how to pull off.
It all starts off with picking up the pen. From there it’s your call, and believe me there and too many ways to go about getting something done and in print.
So if you’re ready to make the commitment, here’s what you can do to ease into the process.
So you think you’re ready? Well, you should be. If this is what you want to do of course.
Allow the reality of writing thousands and thousands of words sink in for a moment. Now think about the amount of pages you’ll write and rewrite over and over again. Come up with a protagonist in your head for a moment. Are you ready to be living inside their mind for the foreseeable future? Are you prepared to deal with the fallout of unravelling these characters and backstories? Do you know a beginning, middle and end? Is the moral of the story powerful enough to sell to the reader?
Seems a little overwhelming, doesn’t it?
Let me tell you it doesn’t have to be. Because not one writer tackles everyone in one go. In fact you can pick up and expand as the process goes on.
It all starts with committing to this project and adventure you’re about to go on, and believe me it’ll be worth it.
You don’t need a rap sheet of a dozen characters or a storyboard that spans three chalkboards or notepads. All you need is a clear enough mind and a goal in sight. And if this is something you want to do, then prepare yourself to do it. You’re in for a rollercoaster of a journey.
Please, for the love of God, don’t expect to suddenly splatter out your first hundred pages in the first sitting. Because it’ll just turn out like crap if you do. You’ll rush it in desperation of having something to show off, and it’ll come back to bite you firmly in the ass.
Instead, start off with something small. A journal entry perhaps? Maybe even a short story if you’re feeling up to it. Just something to ease you into writing.
Spend maybe two hours writing something and assess how you feel about it both during and after.
Maybe you enjoyed every second of it and can’t wait to write more. Maybe you hated every moment and couldn’t wait to cave in and scrap everything you’ve done so far.
Either way you need to understand that a masterpiece is not lingering off of the edge of your brain, so don’t expect to spill one out onto the page straight away.
It’s all about spending time on your work and understanding the writing process and what you might be comfortable with.
Make sure you’re sitting comfortably for starters, because if you’re led upside down with a tablet superglued to your forehead you probably won’t get very far. It’s all about comfort and having a clear space to focus in.
Find a quiet place to begin writing something; a place you can lose yourself in without the interruption of reality barging its way back in. That means no children screaming in your ear or thumping house music vibrating your walls.
Find the time to settle in, and let your fingers do the work.
It doesn’t matter if it even makes sense. Just pick up the ability to write for longer periods of time without wanting to crash and burn.
Learn the software. Learn new words. Learn the fonts. Just learn how to write in preparation of the big project.
If you find yourself at a dead end then simply move onto something new. Dabble in poetry or even coding; anything to help you crack those fingers and go to town on your keyboard.
The hardest part of any story is coming up with an idea that YOU think is good enough. That means spending days drawing up ideas in your head that you like the ideas of and singling out your favourite.
Chances are you’ll start one story and end up going with another. That’s okay, and again perfectly normal. I can’t tell you just how many stories I started and ended up binning before even reaching the fifth page. Even now I have seven or eight first chapters lying about on my desktop waiting to be acknowledged. Yet chances are I’ll never even open them again. But that’s okay!
You’ll find yourself wanting to dive straight into the deep end and come up with something insane and enormous. You’ll want the vast open world fuelled with colour and finely detailed characters that could span an entire trilogy. But that’s not what you should aim for.
At no point should you aim for the stars, because you’re only going to make your life a whole lot harder.
Start simple. You aren’t aiming to write the next Lord Of The Rings trilogy. There’s simply too much detail and quite frankly you don’t want that amount of pressure under your belt.
Forget the characters and story for a moment, and just think of a beginning. A starting point you can slowly branch out of. That’s what you need.
At no point did I ever have bulky books crammed with notes in. Instead, I started with a simple idea, a scene, and a pen. That’s all. The rest becomes all a part of the adventure.
So what I’m saying is; let your creativity tell the story.
So what do you like reading? What fascinates you or excites you? What urges you to pick up the quill and begin creating something similar? Because chances are you already know how to write a novel just like it.
You’ve seen the way they’ve been written and you probably have an idea on how the structure works. So that’s what you should go for when it comes to writing your own novel. Go with what you’re comfortable with.
If you love a romantic comedy, go with a romantic comedy. If you like a nail-biting thriller, go with a nail-biting thriller. The genre will define your book and help lead the way in terms of structure.
Why not dabble in each and see what you prefer? Maybe a page of two and an opening chapter just to dip your toe in the water.
Think you know what you like? Then let’s get started!
The First Chapter
Prepare for the hardest part of your journey; the beginning of your book.
I say this is the hardest because you need to be able to sell your story in the first page otherwise your chances of having someone put it down immediately are strong.
Let’s say you just picked up a book from a shelf at your local bookshop. The cover looks incredible and the blurb sounds outstanding. You open it and read that first page, ready to indulge in a world of pure imagination.
…Then it just slur’s some drivel about an office photocopier for ten pages.
Reckon you’ll want to keep going? Probably not.
Regardless of the genre you’ve chosen you need to jump straight into the deep end and shock the reader. You need to create a page turner that makes the reader want to abandon all household chores and keep working their way through your story.
You’ll find yourself re-writing the first chapter countless times until you think it looks right. That’s normal, and don’t let it bog you down and allow your brain to create negative thoughts.
Just remember this isn’t something you’ll do overnight. Keep going until you’re happy with the result.
Your first chapter can be as long as you like. That is entirely your call and it won’t affect the story if you had ten chapters in a novel or fifty. All I can say is even them out and allow the reader some breathing room, because most readers put the goal in their heads to finish a chapter or two before calling it a day. So best not make each chapter sixty pages.
Always end a chapter like you’re about to drop a cliff-hanger or throw in an curveball. This makes the reader peak curiosity and want to turn the page.
Avoid things like ‘I’m going to go to school tomorrow’ and try throwing in something like ‘I’m dreading the first day back tomorrow. I know he’ll be there waiting for me’.
This makes the reader ask the questions in their heads; first day back where? Who is ‘he’?
Once you’ve drafted your first chapter get somebody else to read it. Somebody who can criticize your work honestly, and maybe not someone who will praise you regardless of what you’ve written. So best to avoid your Mum who’ll probably tell you it’s the best thing she’s ever read.
That’s what mine did, and honestly I believed her. Until two years later I managed to get it out of her and come to learn she thought it was terrible.
I’d rather have just had the honest opinion so I could’ve amended it or even started over. So do yourself a favour and ask someone who doesn’t mind speaking the truth. And don’t forget; take criticism lightly, don’t let it daunt on you and build that barrier between learning and achievement.
Introducing a character isn’t easy, especially if you try too hard on creating them and building up too much backstory.
You should start off simple, and to make it easier you could base your characters off of people you know in real life. This’ll help you with half the work, because you already know their characteristics, their skills and their dreams. Right?
Think of someone who really stands out in your head; somebody that makes you smile or laugh, even cry or afraid. Think of what they do or how they act; their pet peeves or bad habits.
These are the things you can use in your story. Maybe the way one person stares at you devilishly or the fact another can’t stop chewing on their nails.
Using habits can help develop a character, which in turn assists the reader in forming a bond with these people.
Try your best not to use wooden attributes with a character. Make them as real as you or me. So no fake speech that can be deemed as pointless to the plotline. Avoid monkey see monkey do actions and monologues that make you want to jump in the deep end of a wave pool.
When using speech try to make it relevant and help push towards an end goal, so nothing that’ll make a conversation loop round in circles. You want your speech to be engaging and fitting to the scene you’re portraying, so before you jot out a massive dialogue, ask yourself if it’s really necessary.
It’s true, sometimes inspiration never comes about. It might be a rarity for you like most people. Because perhaps you’ve had a long day at work, or maybe you’ve been chasing a toddler around all day. You might be exhausted and at a loss for motivation, but that’s fine. We all go through it.
Despite the fact you want to write a book and the end goal seems to be forever pushing further away, I can’t stress enough about not rushing your work just because you crave the accomplishment. People don’t want to read something you fired out in two weeks. Because quite frankly, there was no thought put into it.
Finding motivation to even open a word document can sometimes take months, and even writing one or two lines might seem like a burden. But sometimes that’s what it takes to get the job done. Patience.
On too many occasions have I found a quick flutter of motivation to write, only to lay down one line and then suddenly have a bipolar moment and drop everything immediately and close it all down.
But then there’s those moments, when your head space is open and you find yourself in a tranquil state of mind, you feel that urge to get something done. These are the times you find yourself up all night firing out chapters like you were being paid a million per sentence. These are the times you’re looking for.
Now don’t get stressed if you hardly feel like that, because honestly, it might only come by one or twice a month, maybe even longer.
The fact it took me three years to write an 80,000-word novel says it all. Because like most, I only had that sudden motivation boost strike me once or twice a month.
It’s okay to take breaks, and when I say breaks I mean long breaks. Don’t feel pressurized into finishing a novel within a certain period of time. If it becomes too much for you take a sabbatical from writing and come back to it when you think the time is right.
I took a six-month break between my first novel, and I dreaded going back to it. But once I did, I read my work with a fresh pair of eyes and I continued writing until I finished it.
So in short; take breaks, don’t stress. This isn’t exam conditions.
The 40,000 Word Mark
Once you’ve reached the 40,000 word mark, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve essentially written half a young adult novel. This is something a lot people struggle to achieve. So if you get to this point, well done!
As a method of inspiration I would set a target of reaching 40,000 words and then come up with a cover design for my book. An A4 print I could get a designer to create from scratch or even make myself. Something unique and my own way of saying ‘this is my work and this is what I’ve done’.
Something that really catches your eye and makes you think of the finishing line and how it’ll all look in print and in the palms of your hands.
Don’t feel pretentious by having a framed print of your book before it’s even finished. It acts as a reminder of what is to come, and believe me you’ll be amazed at how great it’ll make you feel. Just seeing in the corner of your eye the printed cover of your book watching you back.
Look at it and remember how close you are. Keep going and thrive towards achievement.
The First Draft
Finishing that final sentence in your novel is one of the greatest feelings of all time. Knowing that you’ve just committed to a project and seen it through to the very end. All of it has come together and all thanks to you, you’ve achieved something billions of others haven’t. You’ve written a novel.
Give yourself a giant pat on the back. Go out and scream to the world. Bask in the glory of accomplishment. You’ve done it!
You might’ve written 50,000 words, you might’ve piled on to the 100,000 mark. Either way you’ve reached the end. That’s all that matters.
But the work isn’t over! In fact, writing your first draft counts for only fifty percent of the novel writing process. (Sorry to ruin the moment!)
There’s still a way to go yet, and before you restart your work, you should think about what you want to achieve out of this. Where do you see your book? As a single copy prized on a bookshelf at home? Flying off the shelves or on an online market? A digital copy to share with friends and family? Or was it just to prove to yourself you could do it?
Depending on how you think of this is what will define your experience as a whole. And if you want to take it to the bitter end and become a world renowned author, you can minus that fifty percent completion down to a depressing twenty. Because there’s so much more to do.
So what's your goal?
Edit. Edit. Edit. Read. Read. Read.
So you’ve finished your first draft, great! But now it’s time to go back to the very beginning and cross the t’s and dot the i’s.
You’ll be amazed at how much needs amending and how much fails to make any form of sense. Because like most you probably had multiple coffee fuelled nights of writing where all you wanted to do was get something down on paper, caring not for the structure but for the word count instead. That’s normal, but now it’s time to pay for those careless nights and start making the changes you need in order to make it look perfect.
Read each and every line over and over again. Make sure it all makes sense and remove anything you think looks wrong or out of place.
Cut and paste paragraphs in different places if that’s what makes it look more appropriate to the scene. Just do whatever it takes in order to have something presentable and readable for your target audience.
Don’t be afraid to tear away at your work. All you’re doing is turning good work into great work. So take extra special care of your personal masterpiece and give it the attention it deserves. You didn’t spend all that time writing just to submit a half-assed story.
Read it once, read it twice, and then read it the third time. With fresh pairs of eyes each time keep reading until you’re able to skim through it fluently and enjoy the story without your brain pointing out any potential errors.
By the third or fourth time you’ll find yourself hating everything you’ve written. Congratulations, you’re on par with every other author in the world. You wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t hate your own work. And this is why. We spend so much time crafting this story that eventually we learn to despise it.
So once you’ve reached the breaking point with it, take your well-deserved break. It’s time to pass the burden down to an editor.
It’s your choice when it comes to editing. You can do it yourself providing you are a Grammar King or Queen, or you can hire a professional editor to tidy up your work for you. (Do that!)
Depending on how much time and money you’ve got it’s your call on what you want to do. Either way, it needs to be edited, and if you do go down the professional route, expect to pay £100+ for their service.
It almost seemed too easy, didn’t it? But as they say, nothing worthwhile comes cheap. You’ve committed to it so try and see it through. It’ll all be worth it in the end!
The Final Draft
So you’ve finished your final draft!
You have the finished edited copy on your laptop, you have the front cover design sparkling on your desktop, and now you have all the time in the world to decide on your next move and where you’re headed.
First things first. Get others to read it! Show it off as if it were your baby! This is your work and this is something you’ve devoted a long, long time into creating!
Don’t let the haters hate, because the fact you’ve done something they probably haven’t should make you feel incredible. Take it in your stride and thrive for getting better over time. Nobody writes a bestseller right off the bat. In fact most famous authors wrote tonnes of unknown books you’ve never heard of before making a breakthrough.
I wrote my first novel at nineteen years old, and now that I look back at it and compare it to my other four I realise how much I’ve learnt over time. Yet I wouldn't change my experiences with the first novel for the world. I loved every moment of being a learner. Plus it was better to convince myself I wasn't great and just learning rather than to oversell myself and get shot down by other readers.
It’s all a learning curve and you’ll improve massively over time, believe me.
You’ve got your creation in your hands, so what’s next?
Let’s say you want to publish your work and have it in print. Do you have high intentions of selling millions and swamping in thousands of pounds to a Swiss bank account? Because I’ll get straight to the point. That probably won’t happen.
The harsh truth is a full-time author barely makes enough money to make ends meet, and as for a part-time author? Well, you can probably take a wild stab at that one.
Think back to what your goals were. Did you really want the recognition or were you happy with just having something to show off? Because either way you’ve completed this amazing achievement and everything else shouldn’t really matter.
Over eight years of my life I’ve written and published five novels; all of which have had a blowback of about twenty pounds in sales. But that never bothered me, because I write for the sake of the passion towards the art. And the fact I can have these novels to leave behind to my two children makes me so happy, because I know one day they’ll discover them and say ‘Wow, Dad wrote these!’
That is enough for me and always will be.
If you want more out of your experience then you can try for sending your works to various book publishers, but expect to wait a long, long time and receive multiple rejection letters! It’s all part of the experience! But don’t let that make you think your work isn’t good enough. Keep submitting until some good news comes your way.
Write a covering letter explaining your story in short and why you think it’d do well on the market. Sum yourself up and sell yourself as if it were a job interview.
Keep it short and to the point. And don’t be afraid to submit your work to multiple publishers at the same time. Chances are half of them won't even respond!
It will become a waiting game, so settle in. You’re in for a grueling year of checking your post box ten times a day!
Another route you could go down is online publishing. Perhaps Amazon CreateSpace? A service they offer which allows you to self-publish your book free of charge.
You’ll have the ability to design your cover, publish your works and manage your sales through an online dashboard.
Sounds great, right? Well, here’s the bad news.
Although you’re published on Amazon and have physical books ready to print on demand at the click of a ‘Buy Now’ button, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact you won’t really make any money.
Let’s say you list your book for £4.99. You can probably expect 30p per sale of that. Because as you’re self-publishing through Amazon they will take their cut as the retailers, and then the printing companies will trim their piece off the fat. This goes on through multiple sources until you, the person who created it, gets the little cut at the end.
Are you okay with that?
Whatever you decide, you have a whole web of tools at your disposal and a wide market to sell yourself in. You’ve done the hard work, now it’s time to let somebody else chip in.
Avoid Vanity Publishers
Say you sent off your covering letter and draft to a publisher and they wrote back to you in two weeks. You tear open the response letter and bounce around the room when reading how much they loved your work.
The brilliant news is they want to sell it. Give it everything it deserves and more. Make it unique and turn it into a box office hit should you go on to sell millions of copies.
I must emphasize the word 'SHOULD' here, because that's where they get you.
The bad news is they want £4,000 to kick-start the publishing process and get the ball rolling.
This, ladies and gentlemen is called vanity publishing. Hooking you in with the same template letters they’ll do their best to pull you in and make your wallet tempted to splash out on their services. They'll reel you in with promises of fame and fortune, but the sad truth is they send that same template letter to most writers.
They’ll promise to give you such and such of the sales providing it sells hundreds of thousands, and through their convincing letters they’ll try and tell you that it’s going to happen regardless, because your work is the next Harry Potter anthology.
Do yourself a huge favour. Bin it.
Whatever path you’ve chosen to go down, you should be proud of what you’ve done.
You might’ve spent six months on your novel, or you might’ve taken five years. Whatever the period of time, know you’ve done it, and the future has never looked brighter. This is the start of your creative journey; so prepare to embark towards greater horizons.
Where do you go from here? Are you ready to turn the leaf and start over? Are you just warming up? Do you have a bestselling plot in your head? What happens next? Is this the beginning of something new?
Congratulations on your achievement. You’ve done yourself proud.
Now pick up the pen and create something new.
The world is your oyster.