Your Two-Year Plan for Writing, Editing and Publishing Your Novel (However Busy You Are)

Have you ever told yourself something like this:

  • “Once I have a bit more time, I’ll start work on that novel.”
  • “Once life is less manic, I’ll get back to my novel.”
  • “If only I could take a year off work, I could finally write my novel.”

A novel is a major undertaking. But it’s also one that can fit around a busy life.

You don’t need all day, every day, to write.

If you can find just 30 minutes each day, you could finish a novel (to the point where you’re sending it out to agents, or self-publishing) in just two years.

If, like me, you know some super-prolific novelists (like Joanna Penn and Johnny B. Truant), one novel in two years might sound a bit slow.

But … one novel in two years is definitely better than no novels at all.

The Quick Version

If you want the quick version of the “novel in two years” plan, plus simple tips on making it work, here it is in a slideshow format:

In case you have a particular aversion to slides, or want to see everything in one place, the rest of this post covers the same ground but with a lot more explanation.

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Want to Write a Novel? Here’s How to Get Started

You’d like to write a novel … but how do you even begin?

I’m not thinking here about ways to write a great opening (if that’s what you’re after, check out this excellent article from The Write Practice). The issue of “getting started” deals with more fundamental questions like:

  • How do you come up with a novel-worthy idea – one you want to work on for months, possibly years?
  • How do you grow that idea into an actual story – with a setting, plot and characters?
  • How do you find the courage (and the time!) to sit down and start writing?

I imagine that if you spoke to a dozen different novelists, you’d find their novels had a dozen very different starting points. You’d probably find that some of those seemed unpromising or simply odd.

Chances are, though, you’d also find some common ground between those starting points. Here are some potential ways in which novels can begin

#1: With an image. C.S. Lewis’ famously said that The Chronicles of Narnia “all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” Perhaps you have a particular scene, or part of a scene in your head. Like Lewis, you might have carried that image with you for years, even decades.

#2: As a short story. The second novel I attempted began in this way (and the short story, as I recall, began with an image). I finished the short story, then realised there was a lot of backstory to it that I wanted to write about.

#3: From a prompt. My very first novel, when I was 14, started in response to a competition entry … and kept going. If you’re coming fairly new to creative writing, try spending a few weeks playing around with prompts and trying out some freewriting – you might find that a particular idea catches hold.

#4: With a concept. My novel Lycopolis began with one clear concept: “a group of online roleplayers summon an evil demon into their game … and into the world”. A ton of things changed from planning to drafting to second draft, but that core idea is still central to the novel.

#5: With a character. Some authors come up with a compelling character then develop a story around them. If you enjoy character-driven fiction, this could be a good way to make it work. (Most often, though, you’ll probably find that a character comes to you along with a concept or an image.)

#6: From other art. (“Art” here including literature, music, etc, not just what you’d find in an art gallery.)  Perhaps something you’re reading inspires you – it could be a particular character, a plot point, or even a single line of dialogue. Maybe the lyrics in a piece of music speak to you, or there’s a photograph or painting that you keep returning to. A novel could grow from that seed.

(If you want to read several authors’ descriptions of where their novels began, check out What Inspires Authors to Write Their Novels? on the Huffington Post.)

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Are You Too Old (or Too Young) to Become a Writer?


One lovely reader wrote to me a few weeks ago. The subject of her email was “Am I too old to become a writer?”

I opened it up, assuming she was in her 70s or 80s.


She was 37.

Here’s part of my reply to her:

Plenty of people wait till they’re retired — heck, I’m sure to a lot of just-getting-started writers, you’re young. Hurrah for you getting on with the novel now!

But whatever her age, my answer would’ve been the same: you’re not too old. Keep writing.

Because you’re never too old to become a writer.

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How to Fall in Love with Writing All Over Again


Quick request: I’m running a survey about the Aliventures blog and email newsletter to help me plan for the next few months (I want to make sure my posts are as useful to you as possible). I’d be really grateful if you could take a couple of minutes to fill out the survey here:

Aliventures Survey (February 2016)

All the questions are optional, most are multiple choice, and everyone who fills it in will receive an exclusive .pdf guide on whatever topic/question ends up being the most popular. Thanks!

Does writing ever (or often) feel like just another thing on your to-do list?

If you’ve been writing for years, it can sometimes be tough to remember just why you wanted to write in the first place.

Perhaps your work-in-progress has been in progress for longer than you care to admit.

Perhaps your blog seems to eat up hours of your time for very little reward.

Perhaps you’ve sent out your latest short story a dozen times – and had it rejected again and again.

If you’re tempted to quit, or if you just wish you could enjoy writing again, here’s how to fall back in love. (And, while these are writing tips, you can probably apply them to your partner or kids too…)

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Stylised Talk: Writing Great Dialogue [With Examples]


Image from Flickr by procsilas

If you’re a fiction writer – unless you’re writing a very short story or something decidedly experimental – you’re going to have to write dialogue.

For some writers (me included), dialogue comes easily. It may even be a little too easy – sometimes, the first words you think of aren’t necessarily the best. Other writers don’t like dialogue, but they recognise it’s an essential part of their story.

Great dialogue can immerse the reader in your book, your world, and most especially your characters.

Poor dialogue jars the reader, and may even see them put the book down in frustration.

If you need a quick refresher on the basics of dialogue before we get going, here are a couple of links. They’ll open in a new tab so you don’t lose your place here:

Here, I want to dig deep into what makes for great dialogue … and what holds writers back.

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Making Bad Things Happen to Good Characters


Image from Flickr by Denise P.S.

Kudos to LycoRogue for inspiring this one.

Do you have a hard time hurting your characters?

Maybe it’s pretty easy with some of them. (For me, villains are fair game, and Woobies seem to invite a fair amount of suffering.)

But chances are, you’ve either got characters who you hate to hurt, or you struggle to let anyone get seriously hurt – whether that’s physically or emotionally.

And yet, as a writer, there are going to be times when you need to cause your characters pain.

They need to fail. They need to be scared, upset, hurt, injured.

Because if the stakes don’t feel real, if all the conflict in your novel is easily and painlessly resolved, then readers just aren’t going to be as attached to the narrative as they should be.

Plus, you’ll miss out on handy opportunities to complicate the plot. Maybe your protagonist is sailing through every challenge with ease … but a broken leg will slow him down (and perhaps move him along his character arc of becoming less stubbornly self-reliant).

It’s one thing to know all this.

It’s quite another to bring yourself to cause your characters actual harm.

Let’s deal first with a couple of key worries:

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Easier, Better Writing: Harnessing Inspiration and Motivation


Image from Flickr by jeff_golden.



What do those words mean to you?

Some writers would have you believe you can’t write a word without them.

Others think they’re unnecessary: you just sit down and write, regardless of how unenthused you feel.

Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Inspiration and motivation matter. They make your writing better. On your best days, they make writing almost effortless – and irresistible.

But … sitting around until the muse descends and the stars align could mean a very long wait.

In a moment, I want to get into practical ways you can harness inspiration and motivation – but before that, let’s clarify those terms.

“Inspiration” and “motivation” sometimes get used almost interchangeably – particularly in the context of “inspirational quotes” or “motivational quotes”.

In a writer’s life, though, they’re two different forces with different roles to play.

Inspiration is about ideas. You might feel inspired by a line of poetry or a blog post or an article in the newspaper: it sparks off an idea for a short story or blog post or article.

Motivation is about drive. It’s the urge to sit down and write, or to carry on writing when you’re half-way through the chapter or blog post you want to finish.

Inspiration can happen in a moment: motivation’s something that lasts longer.

Of course, the two often go hand-in-hand. You have a great idea (could be big – a whole novel; could be small – a line of dialogue). You feel enthused about sitting down to write about it. You jump in and then you want to keep going.

Can you write without them?

(Though, arguably, some level of motivation always exists, if you’re getting a task done – even if your only motivation is to be able to cross it off your to-do list.)

Will your writing be as good as it could be without them?

It might still be perfectly adequate. In many cases, that could be all you need: perhaps you’re writing something for your job or for a client, and you just need to convey information.

But in many cases, if you’re not inspired, you’re going to turn out something that’s somehow lacking heart. It might be a competent short story – it’s not going to be a competition-winner.

And if you’re not motivated, you’re going to struggle to ever reach the end of a project, especially if it’s a long one, like a novel.

Can you manufacture inspiration and motivation?

Well, most of us can’t simply sit down and decide to feel inspired and motivated … but there’s a heck of a lot we can do to hurry the process along.

To get inspired, try:

You might read about writing, or you might read something similar to what you want to write (a novel in the same genre, a blog on the same topic).


This might seem like an odd thing to do when you’re feeling totally uninspired – but set a timer for ten minutes, and sit down with a pen and notebook and start to make notes about your project.

What are you stuck on? What do you need to know? What could happen in your novel? What might work on your blog? Before the ten minutes is up, there’s a very good chance you’ll have hit on a new idea.

Taking a course.

This could be a pricy – but very effective – option. A few years ago, the summer before I started my MA in Creative Writing, I was rather worried. I’d been blogging for six months and had (I thought) completely lost the desire to write fiction.

A couple of weeks into the MA, I was raring to go – working first on short stories, then getting up the courage to begin (and, later, finish and publish) the novel I’d been thinking about for years: Lycopolis.


Motivation may well naturally follow on from being inspired – but if not, here’s an extremely easy two-step plan to follow:

Step #1: Open up your writing notebook or Scrivener project or Word document (etc).

Step #2: Spend a couple of minutes jotting down a brief plan for whatever you’re about to write.

More often than not, you’ll find that your initial resistance to writing vanishes almost instantly. It’s a bit like exercise (for me, at least!) – once you’re over the initial hurdle of getting started, it’s easy to keep going.

If you haven’t written for a while, or haven’t been writing much, you might feel keen to keep going. Hang onto that.

My best, easiest writing comes when I’m working on a project regularly – not necessarily daily, but more than once a week. Once I’m moving, I want to keep it that way.

If you want to keep up your momentum, try:

Putting an “X” on the calendar each day that you write.                                

Some writers find it incredibly motivating to build an unbroken chain of Xs; others go for a gentler approach and aim for two or three per week (perhaps building up gradually).

Planning writing sessions well in advance.

If you suddenly end up with a busy couple of weeks and no time to write, you’ll lose momentum. Plan ahead – get writing sessions onto your calendar, and mark them off as you complete them.

Keeping a writing journal.

A writing journal is simply a notebook (or electronic equivalent) where you jot down a sentence or two at the end of each session, noting how your writing went. You can record facts (words written, time spent writing), feelings, and even any new ideas that came to you.



If you’d like plenty of encouragement and support (as well as loads of materials to inspire you and suggestions on staying motivated), check out my community / teaching site, Writers’ Huddle.

Membership is only open for a few more days – I’m closing the virtual doors on Friday 12th June and won’t be reopening them until the autumn.

Aliventures Break (While Ali Has Another Baby!)


Baby bump at 35.5 weeks.

It’s been a little under two years since my last blogging break … and, as many Aliventures readers know, my husband and I are expecting our second child, a little brother for Kitty, due 15th December 2014.

Once again, I’m taking a few months of maternity leave. I won’t be publishing any new posts or sending out any newsletters, and plan to be back around April/May 2015.

Get New Posts as Soon As I’m Back

I’ve got a lot I want to blog about in 2015, and so you don’t miss out, pop your email address in below to get those posts straight to your inbox:

Enter your email address:


(You can also get updates by RSS.)

While I’m Away…

If you’re a blogger, check out my Blogger’s Guides. The discount code “babytime” will give you $10 off any individual guide, or off the four-pack of guides. (Enter it after adding the Guide(s) to your shopping cart.)

The four guides are:

The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing – make real money from blogging, by finding freelance writing jobs (suitable for confident writers)

The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing – learn how to write great blog content (suitable for new and established writers, updated 2013)

The Blogger’s Guide to Irresistible Ebooks – write and publish an ebook on your blog (suitable for anyone who’s been blogging for a few months or longer)

The Blogger’s Guide to Loyal Readers – attract more readers to your blog, and keep them there (suitable for established bloggers and those yet to start a blog)



Image from Flickr by Vassilis Online

If you’re looking for some writing-related reading, try these popular posts on Aliventures:

7 Habits of Serious Writers

Eight Secrets Which Writers Won’t Tell You

The Four Essential Stages of Writing

What it Feels Like When Your Writing is Rejected – and How to Bounce Back

How I Make My Living as an Online Writer (And How You Could Too)

Seven Crucial First Steps for Your Writing Career


I hope you have a wonderful end to 2014 and start to 2015 … and I look forward to being back with lots of new ideas for Aliventures (plus some baby photos). 🙂

Get Inspired, Get Creative, Get Writing – My New Ebook with Tracy Wilson

get-inspired-cover-3dNote: Get Inspired, Get Creative, Get Writing is off the virtual shelves while I’m on maternity leave. Make sure you’re getting blog updates and/or the Aliventures newsletter (sign up in the sidebar) so you hear from me when it’s back on the market.

If you get the Aliventures newsletter, you’ll have heard about this already …

… but if not, or if your inbox is currently full of as many unread messages as mine, then here’s the news:

Along with my good friend and fellow writer Tracy Wilson, I’ve written a new ebook, Get Inspired, Get Creative, Get Writing.

It’s a short, practical, and encouraging read that tackles some of the most common (yet sometimes crippling) problems that writers run into, like:

  • Finding inspiration, and staying motivated, on projects big and small.
  • Understanding what’s caused your writer’s block … and beating it.
  • Becoming more creative … even if you think you’re not a very creative person.
  • Building a regular writing routine, rather than letting weeks or months go by without writing.
  • Organising your writing life, so you don’t miss deadlines, lose important paperwork, or accidentally wipe out your novel-in-progress.

(Quick aside: if you’re battling against any – or all! – of those problems, please don’t feel alone. Tracy and I have struggled with all of these at various points during our writing careers, and seen plenty of clients and friends go through them too.)

Along with the ebook, we’ve included a pack of ten printer-friendly worksheets to help you put into practice what you read, and three bonuses to help you go further.

Get Inspired, Get Creative, Get Writing is just $5 until Friday 17th October. (That includes the ebook – in .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats – the worksheets, and all the bonuses.)

Just click here to find out more.

(If you’ve got any questions, or aren’t sure if the ebook is quite right for you, just pop a comment below or drop me an email,