How to Write a Novel (in 10 Easy Steps)

Inspired by the 10 Steps To Becoming a Better Writer poster, I have decided to put off my work for another hour or so and instead present you with:

Step One: Learn basic grammar. Seriously. I’m not saying you need to know every in and out of the impossibly complicated English language, but at least know how to form a basic sentence. A general grasp on punctuation and capitalization is also suggested, but not required.

Step Two: Figure out why you’re writing. Is it for fun, or because you’re aiming for eventual publication? What drives your writing spirit? Is this a short-time thing, where your inspiration to write will peter out in a few days, or do you actually have the gumption to sit down and type out an entire book? If a novel sounds like a lot, try a short story first. Maybe writing isn’t your thing after all. If you decide it is your thing, continue to step 3.

Step Three: Figure out what you’re writing. What’s the genre? Plot? Characters? What audience is the book intended for? Where is it set? What are the main conflicts? Are there any conflicts? Go find some conflicts.

Step Four: Read books. Find at least 5 books in your chosen genre, and read them. Take notes. What do you like? What do you hate? What are common elements that run through all the stories? Which characters do you fall in love with? Why do you care about them? Steal all these ideas and ruthlessly exploit them for your own literary success.

Step Five: Buy a notebook. Write down your ideas. Flesh out your characters. Make a plot outline. Sketch a map of the setting. Sketch your characters (stick figures are okay). You don’t have to know every little detail of what’s going to happen in the book, but you need to at least have a vague idea, or else you’re writing blind. And then you’ll just end up writing all over your coffee table or your cat, and that won’t end well.

Step Six: Do research. Unless your book is a memoir of your own life, you’ll need to research at least something. Research can even take the form of reading more books in your genre, or watching television, especially if you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi.

Step Seven: Write the book. This can take anywhere from a weekend to several years. The important things is that you keep writing. You can stop for six months if you want, as long as you come back to the story at some point. Ideas are no good if they stay locked up inside your cranium. Set them free!

Step Eight: Walk away. The first draft of your book is probably terrible, although you won’t think so. When you’ve finished writing it, walk away. Don’t go back for at least a month. By then you should have gained some emotional distance, and will be a bit more able to hack it up into pieces and reassemble it ala Frankenstein’s monster into something that only vaguely resembles the original novel.

Step Nine: Revise. This is the “big picture” step, where you fix all the gaping plot holes and make your mass of text actually resemble a novel. Get your friends or fellow writers to help, if you want. Make your characters more consistent. Fix the climax so that it actually feels climactic. Re-write the middle so it’s not drearily dull. Go through that sucker so many times you’re seeing your characters in your sleep. Don’t develop any emotional attachments to them, however. They aren’t real, no matter how much you wish it were otherwise.

Step Ten: Edit. Time to focus on the little things. We’re talking grammar, spelling, punctuation–which, if you followed step 1, shouldn’t need that much fixing. Run a spell-check. Hire a copy-editor to catch all those typos that inevitably slip through the cracks.

Will your book be perfect? No. But you’ll still have written a book. That’s a big deal. Pat yourself on the back. Then hop back to the beginning of the list (you can probably skip step 1 at this point) and start your sequel, because series sell much better than individual books, and who doesn’t want to be the next JK Rowling? Silly people, that’s who. Are you a silly person? No. Then get writing!

Random link of the day: Chatelaine Horoscope 2012

Since it’s October, I thought it would be fun to see if their “annual” horoscope predictions were even close to being true. The results? Actually not that far off, although the predictions are so vague it’s hard not to be more or less accurate. Anyway, check out your horoscope here.

Random video of the day: Ocelote the Pro-Gamer

It still boggles my mind that people can make a living from playing online games. I might be a little jealous …

Also, his name is amusing.

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Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

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32 thoughts on “How to Write a Novel (in 10 Easy Steps)

  1. All I can say is, “Thank God we don’t own a cat.”

  2. This is definitely a GREAT guide for those wanting to write their first novel!

  3. I is gotten really caught up with step 1. As you can probably tell by that beautifully written sentence. :P

  4. Stuck between 7 & 8 at the moment. It’s a good ride! :)

  5. Walk those steps! Each of my two novels took me ten years to finish. Lotta walkin’!

    • Hahaha. Hey, at least you have 2 novels now :D

      • Yes. I’m very pleased with both my novels. They’re good books. But it was a lot of work. OK, I was working full-time at my day job plus all my other stuff, but it does involve a lot of work. Those ten steps are terrific, but there’s still a lot of walkin’.

  6. As I’ve stated before, you are totally awesome, Thanks for being tolerant of others and for your willingness to provide help.

  7. It’s true that good grammar makes your writing more better.

  8. Step five!! I used post-it notes for awhile for those little moments of inspiration. Then I left the window open one day. Post-It snow storm!

  9. Step Six: Do research. Don’t do what I did and think that by writing an other-world fantasy book, you can get away with minimal research.
    In the three years I was working on it, I collected (and read thoroughly) books on plants, geology, geography, weather, neolithic weapons, architecture and rivers.
    Still, even though that WIP remains unpublished, I’m now a lot better at quizzes!

    • Michelle Proulx

      That is a fun side effect of writing, isn’t it? You collect a lot of useless information that makes you the envy of pub trivia goers everywhere.

  10. Loved your steps. Thank you for sharing them.

  11. Pingback: How to Write a Novel (in 10 Easy Steps) « Michelle Proulx Official | patwoodblogging

  12. Looks great – re-blogged. Hope that’s OK.

    • Michelle Proulx

      That’s not only OK, that’s awesome. Soon the internet will be MINE! Muahahahahaha …

      • Pat

        Oops. Never thought of that. Whole internet owned by one woman. Twitter turned pink. WordPress goes violet. Roses tripping out of every blog. Men forced to have their Gravatars re-touched wearing ball gowns and lipstick.
        Actually sounds OK. Deserves a party to launch.
        I’ll bring a bottle and the biscuits.

  13. Love Step eight. LOL “Probably terrible”?!!? Certainly you mean, is definitely terrible. I try not to let anyone see my first draft for that very reason. Just had an experience with that recently. The reader saw the first draft, proclaimed it tripe (not exactly, but close enough) then saw the close-to-final draft and said it was “worlds better” than the first. Yup. No argument there.

    • Michelle Proulx

      One of the people who originally read my first novel said that I should re-write the entire thing. I was kind of ticked off by the harsh criticism, but I dealt with it. She hasn’t seen it recently, but it’s gone through 5 years and about 30 drafts, so I have it on good authority that it’s a lot better.

      And I said “probably” because, hey, what do I know? Maybe there are authors out there who pound out a manuscript and after one edit, it’s publishable. I bet you Stephen King has novel-writing down to an art by now :)

      • kathils

        Yeah, LOL, you’re probably right about Stephen King. I bet he writes in his sleep by now. Sadly, I write in my sleep as well, but then I don’t remember it when I wake up! ;)

  14. Reblogged this on Authors Helping Authors Resource Site and commented:
    Friday is reblog day! The point is to introduce other great blog sites that are sharing great content that is down to earth advice and information that we can all relate to, share them with you and invite them to join our community. We hope you enjoy today’s AHA moment and also want to shout out a special thank you to Michelle Proulx for such a great blog site and for allowing the reblog button!

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