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How to write a novel. Tip #2: OK, I listened. Now what?

Updated: Apr 18, 2018

The first point I’d like to make, and many of you will have heard this before but it’s well worth re-iterating, is that the best way to improve your writing … is to actually write. If you’re going to come away with anything from this post, that should be it.

Writing is like everything else, the more you do it, the better you become at it. You know … practice makes perfect and all that. So, grab your pen, erm … I mean your laptop, and dive in.

It’s a good idea to start with an outline for your book. It doesn’t have to be detailed, or even complete. It’s OK to have a few gaps here and there, to not know exactly how you’re going to write each scene, or how you’re going to rescue your main protagonist from all the trouble you plan on sending their way.

For now, all you need is an overview of your story. But it would also help if you have some idea about the following:

  • Character introductions and personalities.

  • Main character’s interactions and motivations.

  • Major developments and turning points.

The outline will serve as a blueprint, a map, for your book. It will help you to get started but expect it to change as your story takes shape. In fact, by the time you find yourself working on the last pages of your manuscript, the plot of your novel may end up being quite different from the one you first imagined (I’m just saying).

So, you have an outline. What next? Well, now that your chart has been plotted, let your writing journey begin. By the way, this would be a good time to refer you to the previous post. The one about listening to your inner voice and to the story echoing inside your head. Transcribe it as faithfully, and as eloquently, as you can.

Don’t be overly concerned with form at this point, focus on content instead. Don’t worry if your writing looks so terrible you wouldn’t want to impose a single paragraph of it on your worst enemy.

I guarantee you every author out there has, at one time or another, experienced the same soul-crushing dismay and disbelief you’ll feel when you pause to look back at your first draft. It will make you wonder what on earth could have possibly possessed you to think you could ever write a novel.

Don’t let that discourage you.

If you manage to catch a glimpse of inspiration, she will most likely blind you to less shiny concepts such as syntax and verb tenses.

Therefore, as you review your text, don’t be surprised to find it riddled with grammatical errors, odd looking sentence structures, and anything else your word processing software might have failed to take issue with (I know, I ended that with a preposition). Not to worry, that’s what editing is for (That's right, I did it again).

Of course, it’s up to each of us to decide whether or not we wish to edit as we go along, but I recommend moving forward, and leaving the editing for later. Inspiration is an elusive companion, if she happens to be with you, better to not look away, or you might find her gone by the time you look back.

So my advice, write, write, and keep writing. And when you’re done … write some more. There’s a good chance you won’t be aware of it in the moment, but in time you will become a better writer.

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