Tips on the novel writing process

How Do You Write A Novel?
Okay, since I sat down and wrote two books this past year and now moving into my third. I get this question a lot.  “How did you do this when you work another job? What’s your process?  I can’t imagine sitting down and writing an entire book.” So I thought I’d share my process with you.

Break through what’s stopping you from writing.
I started my suspense novel 13 years ago, wrote 12 pages and it got shelved for more than a decade. I got bogged down in writing it and writing it well.  Don’t write it well…at least the first time. I got so hung up in going back and editing the bit I just wrote that I couldn’t move forward. Keep moving forward. Put those words on paper. Do not stop when you pass go. Just GO. Until you pass THE END. Then go back and edit like crazy…again and again and again.

Set a schedule and treat it like a job
Yes, this sounds basic and you’ve heard it before but it’s TRUE. For 6 months I got up most days at 4:30 to spend 2 hours writing. The best two hours of my day. I am a morning person and that’s when I do my best work.  By 9pm I’m practically in a coma. There were days I did not want to get up but forced myself to. I never regretted it.

Set up your writing space.
Another basic but it works! I got a laptop desk I could place in my favorite spot overlooking the woods. My little window to the world. Find your window to the worlds you create.

When you’re overwhelmed, look at each chapter as its own story.
This truly helped me section off my novel into smaller parts. I write from chapter outlines and treat each chapter as its own story with a beginning, middle and end. Chapter 1. Check. Chapter 2. Check. And before you know it 37 chapters flow together to make your book.

Create character sketches to make your characters more real.
As a former student of the Long Ridge Writer’s Group I learned how to create character sketches for each character.  I have since embellished on this from the Writing the Breakout Novel Workshop by Donald Maass. This combo allows me to keep my characters consistent and I refer to their sketches constantly.

A character sketch could be 1-2 pages and include: overall character impression and supporting evidence, sensory details, important facts, setting (s), heroic qualities, defining qualities, any overriding issues, inner conflicts (accept vs. denial, love vs. success, etc), each character’s main goal and why it matters to them, and my own feelings towards the character.

Have a scene that drags? Break it up or move it along.
At some point in our novels we may all have a scene that is stagnant where a lot of information comes to light, whether its conversation in a car or a restaurant or a living room. We know it’s boring but how to get around it? Try breaking it up into two scenes at different locations or add action. Step back and think of how your POV character can be active and do the opposite of what your reader expects. This action can be the catalyst to reveal the information we need to get out there without being a drag.

Set page goals for each day
This is a job, not a hobby. A hobby is a sometime thing. Do you ever become an expert at your hobby? Maybe, but only if you practice all the time. Set page goals each day and force yourself to get there. Sometimes our best writing comes when we do it because it’s a job and not because we want to. We do not need to be depressed, alcoholic loners in despair to write well. We can be good writers – clean, sober and happy.

Get help from the experts.
Check out what other author’s use as reference books for improving their writing skills and get them. A staple for me has been Writing Well by William Zinsser. Barron’s Essentials of English is a good guide when grammar problems rear their ugly head. Don’t forget a good dictionary and thesaurus. Use them daily. As writers we must tell our story in a unique way. Find another word for ‘beautiful’ and a better verb to replace ‘was’ and ‘were’.  Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ gave me insight on how a master can write.

Refer to the writing master’s.
At times when I had difficulty on how to write a scene I picked up novels by those authors I best connected with and re-read some of their scenes similar to mine. How did Dean Koontz deal with something like this? How did he craft that kind of scene? When I am starting or finishing a chapter and feel stuck, I randomly pick up novels across a spectrum of writing. I read the first and last pages of several chapters to see how they began and ended with tension.

Write down the obstacles in your way.
Make this list and stick it by your writing desk as daily motivation. My husband once said to me, “Why are you worrying about getting published? Just write it first.” The obstacle of fear of failure held me back. What’s holding you back? And why does it matter so much that you write? I realized simply, because I must. And that is my mantra.

And when you get stuck take a walk.
It never failed. Whenever I got stuck on a scene I went for a walk and always figured it out, sprinting back home to get it all down. I think the power of removing yourself from all distraction helps our brain work out solutions. I was thrilled to read in Stephen’s Kings book ‘On Writing’ that he does the same thing (a good kind of Stephen King thrill).

What’s YOUR story? How did you finally sit down and write that book you always wanted to? Share it here.



Filed under Writing Resources, Writing Techniques

4 responses to “Tips on the novel writing process

  1. Hi-totally agree about seeking help from experts-it saves a lot of time and trouble! Good tips! We soldier on….

  2. My trick is “when in doubt, go deeper.” It’s amazing: in the first draft you might have whipped off “She had long, stringy blonde hair,” and now, stuck, you go back to that description and think, “Why was stringy important?” Suddenly you are immersed in a backstory of maternal neglect and a resulting lack of self-love that adds a whole new dimension to your character, motivating her and thus powering up the storytelling engine once again so that forward movement is possible. 🙂

  3. Kathryn, yes! Great tip…go deeper. Once we do we start questioning many word choices and WHY we chose them then we can question if they fit with the character and if so HOW…what is that backstory. Thanks for the post!

  4. Lisa Green

    I think your tips are excellent…especially how fear of failure can be such a major obstacle. Just keep plugging away and the answers come…a good life philosophy.

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