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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 ( / 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 ( / – 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.