Ever had an amazing idea you thought would make a fantastic novel? You likely got really excited for five minutes, wrote down your idea, called your mother to tell her of your impending stardom, then stood dry-heaving over the kitchen sink after the thought of actually writing it sunk in. Writing 75,000 words (the baseline for a young adult novel) can be pretty daunting if you’ve never done it before. Kim Chance gives us five tips for beginning writers who want to write their first novel!
Step One: The Idea. You may be wanting to write a novel because you already have a great idea. If your big idea is still on its way to you, you may wish to take a notebook everywhere (a la Beethoven or Stephen King) and write down everything that inspires you, from an interaction with a neighbor, to a painting, to the babbling brook you wish would babble a little quieter. Either way, you’ll want to think about the scope of the idea. Is it big enough, complex enough, juicy enough, to write a compelling novel about? Do you know enough about it to write 75,000+ words about it? If so, you’re ready for step two!
Step Two: Are You a Pantser or a Plotter? (No, a Pantser is not someone who steals someone’s pants.) A Pantser is someone who has an idea and sits down to write it from the seat of their pants, with no prior planning. A Plotter is someone who sits down to plan out their storyline, doing character charts and an overall outline before writing. If you’re a beginner, Chance highly recommends being a Plotter. As she so winningly puts it, writing with no prior plotting “would be like going to a brand new place that you’ve never been before and trying to navigate that place without the help of a map or GPS or directions from a local. It could be done, but it would be rather difficult. And when you’re first starting out, you want to make it as easy as you can for yourself.” Not sure how to write an outline? Google Freytag’s Pyramid for an easy plug-and-play model for plot structure (i.e. how your story should progress.)
Step Three: Write the First Draft. Chance emphasizes that a writer- no matter how experienced- should never expect to write Harry Potter on their first draft. Almost anyone will tell you that their first draft was HORRIBLE. So don’t paralyze your progress by thinking you have to get it perfect the first time! That’s what editing is for. As Chance says, simply “Sit down, write your little heart out, and don’t stop until it’s done.”
Step Four: CELEBRATE! You just wrote a NOVEL. Who cares if it needs another ten drafts before it’s done? You did something so many people say they’ll do and never actually do it. So celebrate, and most importantly: take some time away from your book. This will give you some space and perspective when you come back to it for draft two. Chance says, “At this point, you’re still not worrying about all the little stuff like grammar and mechanics, you’re focused more on the structure of your story, the development of your characters, the advancement of your plot, and so on.” What does this mean? You may need to delete entire chapters or rewrite whole sections. That celebratory time away has likely given you fresh juice to explore new avenues and perspectives, so take advantage of it! To help you out, consider finding Beta-Readers and Critique Partners. Get people who dig your genre to read your book! Feedback is so helpful at this stage. What may be abundantly clear to you after doing outlines and character charts may not be as clear to a reader coming in without those backlogs of information. Get some Beta (test) readers, and ask them to help critique so you can improve! (Side note: it is very helpful to be specific about what you want feedback on. Ex: How do you find the pacing at the beginning of the story? What is a scene you particularly liked, and why? Was there anything you found unclear? This not only gives the reader something to look for, but it also gives them direction as to HOW to give constructive feedback (something not everyone knows how to do.) Continue this process of writing as many drafts as you need until you feel you’re ready for the final step. Be patient and remember to take breaks away when you need them. You’ll come back with fresh eyes and a better take.
Step Five: Polish! At this point, you’re not changing major content. The point of the polishing stage is to edit your story to make it nice and shiny. This is where you want to proofread very carefully and consider the grammar minutia. Consider sentence structure and word choice. You may wish to ask for an editor or pal to help do a final read after you’ve done some polishing on your own. We tend to read sentences we’ve written as we think they should be, not as they are (which is why typos and grammar mistakes can still be hiding in your manuscript, even after multiple drafts and five proofreads.)
So there you have it! Five steps to writing your first novel. If this was helpful, let us know! We have a new webinar coming up soon for aspiring writers, and we want to hear from you! After all, you may be the next J.K. Rowling. And we’d like to help you develop your unique genius.