You've had an idea for a novel...but can you write it? You won't know until you try, and therein lies the problem. There's trying…and then there's trying with a good chance of succeeding. Here are some tactics that will make a difference when you sit down to write a novel.
How to Write a Novel
- Find your method.
- Marshall your content.
- Make an outline.
- Research setting, characters, and historical details.
- Write about your own life.
- Put the manuscript aside to gain critical distance.
- Revise your manuscript.
1. Find your method.
Some writers do their best work in small, frequent spurts—an hour late at night or early in the morning. A walk in the woods with a dictation app. Some writers like to clear a day, get their shoulder to the wheel. Your book will be a long haul, so figure out how you can make a regular appointment with it.
2. Marshall your content.
You've got a few ideas, and then you'll get a few more and they'll multiply. Before they hop all over you like spring bunnies, figure out how you'll tame them. Do you like Scrivener? Index cards? Leather notebooks? Ring-bound files? Post-Its?
3. Make an outline.
I'd advise it, because you could get awfully lost without one. And you might get stuck altogether. This is the true purpose of an outline—to do your troubleshooting before you start the writing. To discover where you have gaps and figure out what to fill them with, so nothing will disrupt your flow. Find a way to build a plan and spot the holes, using as much or as little detail you need according to your temperament.
4. Research setting, characters, and historical details.
You'll make a research list and, like your list of ideas, it will grow. Include the information you need about your setting, any special skills your characters might have, any historical details. Make sure your sources are good—avoid factual mistakes and you can be confident when you send your manuscript to your eagle-eyed editor. You can also be confident in front of your pitiless nitpicking reader. Don’t forget that research can add inspiration—many an accidental breakthrough can come while you're reading around your subject. Organise your findings for all the different elements of the book so that you have them at your fingertips
5. Write about your own life.
Your own life is also material. Jobs you’ve done, adventures you’ve had, crises you’ve navigated. This is experience that no one else has. Could any of it enrich the story or characters and make it more original?
6. Put the manuscript aside to gain critical distance.
The book will be better if you do, but you don't want to disengage completely and lose the flow. What tasks could you do to still feel like you're in touch with the book? Hint—there might be more research!
7. Revise your manuscript.
Here's a major tip—when you read it through, ignore the wording. Look instead at the underlying structure. Are there enough twists in the plot? Do the main characters go through an arc? Does each scene serve a purpose that keeps the plot pulsing forwards? Do you have themes that shimmer through and pull the whole piece together? Consider each of these points in turn, adjust as necessary, then fine-tune the language.
First, though, ask yourself why you must write this book, and why write it now? Indeed, now you've read this post and you've seen it's possible...why not write a novel, why not write it now?