Take the Plunge: How to (Finally) Start Your Novel

by Ali on February 4, 2014

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Image from sxc.hu by tatlin.

You want to write a novel.

It’s been your New Year’s resolution more times than you want to admit. And you might well have been day-dreaming about it or scribbling notes about it for months or years.

But you’ve never quite started the actual writing. And you’re not sure that you’re ready.

Wait, that’s not you? You ARE writing a novel but it’s taking forever? I’ve got a post for you too – How to Finish Your Novel (While Life Goes On)).

If you’re still with me, here’s how to take the plunge and get your novel going:

Step #1: Set a Start Date

Get your calendar and pick a date to start writing – it could be today, it could be three months from now. Try not to make it any longer than that. Three months should be enough to get your characters and plot pinned down, and to arrange life so you’ve got some regular writing time.

(If you want to be sure you really WILL start on that date, leave a comment on this post and tell us when you’ll be starting your novel. Accountability is a powerful motivator.)

And yes, you’re busy – but realistically, are you going to be less busy any time soon? You may need to make time rather than waiting to find it.

Step #2: Get to Know Your Characters

For me, characters always come first – though in practice, you’ll probably find details of your characters and plot emerging simultaneously.

I’m not a fan of character checklists (personally, I don’t care when my character’s birthdays are, or where they went to school, except for when these impinge on the plot). For character development, I recommend Holly Lisle’s Create a Character Clinic (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk) which has a bunch of great questions to explore that will take you well beyond the surface details.

Step #3: Create a Plan that Gets You to “The End”

One of the best books I’ve come across for this is K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk) – the ebook is great value. There’s a great visual representation of it here.

Novel planning / plotting has never been my strength, and K.M. is much better positioned to advise you on this than I am! I will say, though:

It’s fine to change your mind part-way (though do take a step back and re-plan the rest if this happens).

More planning makes for less editing. You definitely can start writing with a pretty sketchy plan – some authors find it’s enough to nail down the key turning points and events, others may just have the beginning, the end, and a rough idea what’s happening in the middle.

Step #4: Don’t Worry About a Perfect First Page

Yes, first lines are important, and making your very first mark on a blank page can feel momentous – and daunting. But chances are, you’ll rewrite your opening a few times (I went through about sixteen drafts of the opening to Lycopolis) and your first attempt doesn’t need to even approach “perfect”.

When your designated day rolls round, just begin.

You almost certainly won’t feel ready. Trust me, no-one does! If you wait until the “right” moment … you’ll be waiting a very long time.

Write. Breathe life into your characters. Set the wheels of your plot spinning faster and faster. Watch the words flow onto the page.

And if you falter during the early days or weeks of writing – if it seems like you have a very long way to go – then remind yourself that you’re going after your dream, and that step by step, word by word, you will reach it if you just keep moving forward.

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Monday Must-Reads [02/10/14]
February 11, 2014 at 6:02 am

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

K.M. Weiland February 4, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Great post, Ali! And thank you so much for the shout out for Structuring Your Novel!
K.M. Weiland’s last blog post ..Most Common Writing Mistakes: Stories That Begin Too Early

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Ali February 11, 2014 at 12:54 pm

You’re very welcome — thanks for an excellent read!

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Irina Mikkelson February 15, 2014 at 5:27 am

Yes it simple to writing with your experience.
Irina Mikkelson’s last blog post ..Car Insurance Claim Procedure

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Icy Sedgwick February 19, 2014 at 5:56 pm

I’ve written books before, and I’ve got an outline on my hard drive ready to turn into a novel, but I find I can’t…I keep tinkering with order of scenes, or trying to flesh out characters more – I’m doing everything but actually starting it. I shall have to set myself a date to start!
Icy Sedgwick’s last blog post ..Liebster Award

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Ali February 26, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Hey Icy! I think this is why NaNo is so powerful … 1st November, you just HAVE to get going. It sounds like you’ve done plenty of prep. Good luck with the writing. :-)

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Jason McColly February 22, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Thanks Ali for another great post. I believe the initial part of writing your novel can be the most paralyzing, as you begin to take in the scope of the project.

A couple of things I do, and share with my readers, is try to understand the genre that you are writing in – if indeed you are genre writer. Also know what kind of writer you are in regards to self-discipline and writing technique (ouliner or panster). Understand story structure, which K.M. Weiland’s book on Story Structure is all a writer needs to read. Set a writing time that is consistent. Develop a plan to hold you and your writing accountable.

And one of the best pieces of advice that I have heard, is from James Scott Bell, and that is… call yourself a writer. You write, therefore you are a writer.

Thanks for helping us writers keep motivated and ready to write. Best of luck in all your writing.
Jason McColly’s last blog post ..Want to Write a Novel: 5 Tips to Get You Started

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Ali February 26, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Thank you, Jason! Great points about understanding your genre,and on getting to know yourself as a writer — there’s no “one size fits all” set of advice for writers. :-)

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