Novel writing has fascinated people for centuries, telling stories, sharing experiences, and providing hope, fear, and love to millions of avid readers. Long before the advent of the television and the current age of mutli-media, novels were the primary form of entertainment for a majority of individuals.
Writing down stories is often challenging for most writers, and novels pose the greatest challenge due to their depth, length, and sheer chemistry of prose, style, voice, and characters than build from one chapter to the next. Thousands of people wake up every morning with the desire to write a novel. They have an idea they want to share. Having this desire and seeing it through from the first page to the last, however, can seem daunting.
Most would-be novelists lose their way somewhere along the path. For those lost souls, it doesn’t have to end in a Greek tragedy.
Equipment Needed to Write a Novel
What makes novel writing such an inspiration for so many people is that it requires very little in the way of material things. Most modern novelists use a computer and a word-processing software program, such as Microsoft Word to create their tomes. Most agents and editors currently accept submissions using Word only, though many still accept hard copy as well.
Some writers feel an inherent connection to the pen and paper and write manually. Some even use traditional typewriters. If the goal is publication on some level, then writing the novel on a computer or other word processing program is the safest option.
If a person doesn’t own a computer and has no interest in one, there are relatively inexpensive processing programs that are designed specifically for the person of writing. One can also purchase a flash-drive (also known commonly as a thumb drive) for a computer and use a computer and basic word processing program on a local public library computer.
Far too many novels become derailed before they even have an opportunity to evolve with excuses, and not having the right equipment is one of those excuses. More on these next.
If a person has the desire, writing a novel is possible. The equipment, really, is secondary.
How to Start: Part 1 – The Excuses
Writing a novel requires dedication and perseverance. Having a solid idea is one thing, but without the desire and determination, no idea is going to be enough to carry a novel through from beginning to end. Writing is a solitary art and requires the author to disconnect from the rest of the world, and family, for the time that he or she is working on the novel.
Often, in the beginning of the promise, it is exciting and refreshing, but in time, it can become to feel like work. Unpaid work. This is where the excuses surface. The first step in writing a novel is to eliminate any and all excuses from one’s vocabulary. Temptations will alight at every corner, and some will be enough to stop the novel before it’s even begun.
Set a schedule
Life in modern times is hectic. It can be overwhelming at times. From work to family life, charity work to obligations, it can be difficult to find the time to devote to a novel. Set a schedule as though it’s for a job that pays every week. Don’t be late for your scheduled writing time and don’t cut out early.
Write for you
When writing a novel, it can be easy to feel as though your idea is the best thing since Catcher in the Rye or Gone With the Wind, and that you are going to become the next Stephen King. If you plan on writing for fame and fortune, the process is going to become overwhelming and those long hours staring at a blank page will draw out like a long winter night with the power out. Then writing will truly begin to feel like work. And it shouldn’t.
The first pages may flow as smooth as silk, but this certainly won’t be the case for the entire novel, unless you are gifted and blessed. Writing is going to feel like work. Expect this in the beginning because if you don’t, then it will be tempting and appealing and almost seem justifiable to put off the writing work one day.
Then that one day will lead to two and the two will roll into a week. Before you know it, a month or a year will have passed and that idea will feel stale and the idea of finishing that novel will seem like a childhood pipe dream.
Excuses will kill a novel before it has a chance to breathe and grow. Don’t let any excuses infiltrate the process. When you are aware of them, address them, and focus on them in the beginning, then you can head them off at the pass when you are into the heart of your novel.
How to Start: Part 2 – Reading
Writers write. A lot. They also read. Voraciously. By reading, both wonderful novels and terrible ones, a writer absorbs different styles, begins to learn about character, voice, tempo, rhythm, and all of the elements that make fiction work as an art form. There is no excuse for a writer to not read. None whatsoever.
If there is a television program that you absolutely can’t live without, but it invades the little time you have to devote to writing your novel, then you have another built-in excuse not to finish it.
It’s not only important to read other novels, but also instructional books on how to write a novel, how to develop character, and all of the other aspects of good novel writing. By reading these types of books, one can garner a great deal of information on the basics.
Is it helpful to enroll in writing courses? Absolutely. Is it necessary in order to write a novel? No, but the level of writing that one produces will often be correlated to the amount of time and effort that he or she devotes to the study of the craft. As with any artistic endeavor, there are certainly going to be inept writers who find massive success and significantly talented and accomplished writers who are relegated to the annals of writing obscurity.
By reading everyday, whether it’s a newspaper, novel, memoir, or instructional book, for example, a writer builds his or her skills naturally.
Writing a novel is generally the same as writing anything else, such as a short story, but it is done on a much larger scale. A novel may have dozens of characters, multiple plot lines, and numerous scenes, all moving toward one ultimate conclusion. A novel can also focus on few characters and one or two settings, but will also encompass a wide berth of tension.
When setting out to write a novel, an idea is generally the spark that ignites its birth. Some writing instructors will teach that the idea should be evolved and explored before the first sentence is written. Others will promote the notion that a novel should be a free-formed expression, that the characters and the settings begin to evolve and light the way toward the conclusion, much as real-life is encountered. No one field of thought is right, nor is one better than the other. Experiment with your own approach to writing a novel, but if you have written short stories in the past for example, then you already have your method of writing determined.
The difference of drafts
Write your first draft with your heart. Write your second draft with your head. This is one of the age-old and tried and true bits of advice that is passed onto novelists for generations.
Novel writing is a process of drafts. No novel was ever created in its final form on the first draft. Too many inexperienced novelists spend an enormous amount of time and energy writing, editing, and then writing and editing their first draft of their novel and end up stuck in one place. This is the best way to derail a novel in progress.
Write the first draft of the novel without worrying about how it sounds. Put the idea down on paper, moving from one sentence to the next. Never, ever go back and read a sentence you wrote with the intention of editing. Don’t worry about how it scans, forget about typos or misspellings or grammatical faux-pas. That’s the work of the second draft.
When you commit to the first draft without worrying about editing, then the idea is giving free reign to run amuck and explore all of its glorious possibilities. Will anyone see your completed first draft? That’s entirely up to you, but ideally no one should be invited into this little world that you have created while it’s still coming to life. Any comment or question a person may have when reading the first draft could influence the idea, push it in another direction, which could ultimately destroy the novel in the end.
People often ask how many drafts they should expect to write before the novel is complete. There is no easy answer to that question, but a minimum of three usually works for most writers. Some novelists have been known to generate ten, fifteen, or more drafts of their work, though these subsequent drafts are more like edits, fine-tuning characters, prose, and other dynamics.
Once the first draft is complete, then it’s time to celebrate. Place the novel in a drawer for some time. A few weeks, at least. Go out and celebrate this accomplishment and it is a significant accomplishment because, while many people talk about writing a novel, few actually finish one.
Once your novel has had time to ferment in the drawer, when the characters are no longer fresh in your mind and the story begins to raise some questions for you, then it’s time to bring it back out into the light of day. That’s when it’s time to re-read it through, from start to finish and make notes along the way.
Then you’re ready to tackle the second draft.
Frequently Asked Questions
When writing a novel, there are generally a thousand questions that come across the author’s mind. New writers will have far more questions than answers. Some of the most common questions are as follows:
How long is a novel?
There is some debate on length of a novel, but generally speaking, a novel consists of over 40,000 words. Anything less than that would fall into the characterization of a novella. Most modern novels range from between 60,000 and 100,000 words. For first time authors, anything over 100,000 words will make publication through traditional means much more difficult.
One shouldn’t begin to write a novel with a word count in mind. It should flow as naturally as possible and on the second draft, any issues or concerns with length can be addressed and changes made at that time.
What if my idea has already been written?
Just about every idea that will be thought of has already been written. It doesn’t matter. Each person’s approach will be unique and that is what is important. Make sure that you don’t plagiarize, copy characters without permission of the original author, or steal passages from another author.
If you feel that your idea is too similar to another recent novel, or a classic, then allow the idea to ferment in your mind for some time. Odds are you will catch a new angle on and old idea and that will make it truly unique.
What are my publication options?
Publication in the modern age is wide open, depending on what your goals are. If you wish to become the next New York Times Bestselling author, then you will need to write incredibly well, and go through the traditional publishing houses, which can take years following the completion of the novel to bring it to print.
If you only want to write something for posterity, meaning you wish your friends and family to have a copy and don’t care too much about becoming the next Stephen King, then there are dozens of self-publishing and print-on-demand services that you can use to get your book into bound printed form.
Novel writing is a long and sometimes arduous process, but like so many wonderful forms of art, it can be incredibly rewarding. Novel writing can answer important questions of one’s own life, help them delve into the secrets of their happiness, or sadness, and can open up doors to a future they may never have seen otherwise.
Writing and writing well are two completely different things, but one always comes first. Write and write now.