“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” W. Somerset Maugham’s famous quote applies as much today as it did during his lifetime. Simply, writing is not a science and a lack of helpful tips on how to approach writing a novel can lead new writers to wonder what to do.
This was the case for me, a decade ago. No sooner had I made my decision to write a fantasy novel, the thoughts dawned on me:
- What do I do now?
- How do I start writing a novel?
- Should I just start writing?
Suffice to say, ten years ago I had no answers to these questions. Subsequently, I made more mistakes than I can count trying to answer them. But for every mistake I made, I learned lessons; and these lessons have enabled me to put together a list of seven helpful tips on how to approach writing a novel.
Tip 1 – Think
The first of the seven helpful tips on how to approach writing a novel is thinking. Thinking is the foundation of all great stories. At first, it is in the writer’s interests to lie on his bed, go for a walk, or daydream on the train (or whatever else floats the boat), and simply think about what he/she wants to write about. As it happens, I made my decision to write a novel during my final year at university, and I consciously decided not to write a single word until after the year had ended. This gave me the time I needed to contemplate what I wanted my story to be about.
A writer may not need a year. My point is that he/she should set aside a period of time solely for thought.
Oh, and don’t worry about overthinking. Be secure in the knowledge that overthinking (if the term exists in practice) is firmly part of the writing process. On the contrary, embrace it!
Tip 2 – Decide The Genre
The second of the seven most helpful tips follows on from the previous one. During the period of thought, writers should contemplate which genres they are passionate about. If they are passionate about the fantasy genre (like me), write a fantasy novel. The same is true for a Young Adult novel or a crime drama, etc…
Whichever genre they choose is brilliant. Moreover, writers should never ever let anyone discourage them about writing in the chosen genre, regardless of how many books there may be in it. If the writer loves a genre, his/her passion will bring something new to the table, which is always welcome and wanted.
Tip 3 – Write Down Ideas
It is always a good idea to write down what is spinning inside the mind. This is not because writers will forget their ideas. This can happen; although, it is rarer than many would believe (due to the writer’s passion).
Rather, writing down ideas can help writers gain clarity. It is astonishing how a good idea on a Monday can seem like an even better idea on a Tuesday, yet an awful one on a Wednesday (and vice-versa). By writing their ideas down, writers will be able to formulate their plots faster than if they were not to write anything down.
Tip 4 – Remember A Novel You Did Not Like Within Your Chosen Genre
Once writers have decided upon a genre, they should keep in mind a book within the genre that they did not enjoy. To clarify, this book should be the one that made them think they could write a better story than this.
This is not an arrogant way of thinking. Au contraire, it is human. If no-one believed that they could improve a product, the world would never have advanced (and we’d still be living like Neanderthals). Thus, it is natural to believe that you can do better than what has come before. The novel you did not enjoy was merely the spark (or the kick up the backside) you needed to decide to write.
Tip 5 – Decide Where You Want Your Story To Take Place
Writers can set their stories in any time and place they like, whether that is in present day American suburbia, New York City in the 1980s, in a futuristic world, in space, in a medieval-like world, or a combination of all of these and more. My point is: the location of the novel is entirely the writer’s choice.
However, I wish to add a single qualifier to this assertion: if writers want to create a new world to go with their story, it is ideal that they draw out the map that goes with it. This way, writers will be able to jot down (geographically) where the key moments in the narrative will occur.
Click here and here for my blog posts that discuss how to build a map for a fantasy world.
Tip 6 – Be Flexible
The sixth of the seven helpful tips on how to approach writing a novel is to inform writers that they should let ideas bounce around in their minds. In fact, they should constantly throw ideas into the mix, remove those that they did not think were of value anymore, and/or bring back ideas that they once discarded. (I must emphasise that it is not a crime to bring back ideas, and nor does it suggest a lack of intelligence either.)
Remember, writers, you are in the pre-planning stage. As a result, nothing you do during this period is set in stone and it is vitally important to be flexible. Indeed, this trait is essential for crafting a cohesive narrative. It only shows maturity, it will put you in good stead later down the line in the writing process (when you will have to answer some crucial questions, which we shall discuss in our next blog piece).
Tip 7 – Don’t Start Writing Immediately
Ostensibly, it might sound ironic to suggest to someone, who wants to write a novel, not to start writing immediately. But, actually, writing a novel without a plan (mental or written) leads to bad writing; and bad writing takes significantly longer to edit than writing that has been planned, due to the emotion and effort that the writer has put into his/her words.
Therefore, the writer should give himself/herself time to think and plan the novel, before he/she starts writing it.
Questions For The Reader
I hope you have enjoyed this blog piece. Likewise, I hope you have found it useful, and that it makes the novel-writing journey more enjoyable for you. If you are a writer, it would be great to find out if you:
- Agree with these tips?
- Followed the same or similar guidelines when you started writing your novel?
- Think I have missed out something that was helpful for you when you started the writing process?
Please leave your answers in the comments below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
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