Back to basics. I recently had a request for posts specifically geared towards beginners. For those aspiring writers you have an idea and a dream but aren’t really sure how to take that next step. I’m going be breaking down the writing process step by step. It’s important to understand that everything in this post is a general overview of the process. I don’t want you to get the impression that this is something that can be done overnight or in a hurry because you couldn’t do this overnight.
Each individual step is a process in and of itself. Depending on what type of book you want to write it can be easy or hard. It can take a lot of time and a lot of dedication. These steps will at least give you the general idea of what direction to move in and will hopefully give you the basics that you need to get you started.
Here are the five steps for how to write a novel.
Step number one: come up with an idea. This may seem like the easy part, but in my opinion this is one of the more difficult steps of the process. You have to come up with an idea that has substance. It needs to be something that you could write an entire novel about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with an idea and thought it was brilliant only to discover later that it was problematic that there wasn’t any conflict at the heart of the story or there was no true antagonist or it simply wasn’t compelling enough to write enough words on it.
So how exactly do you come up with these ideas. Well, it’s kind of up to you. Every writer has their own process for coming up with ideas, for some it’s very organic. They just get an idea and it works and they run with it, or others it’s a little bit of inspiration/manipulation. I’m typically inspired by something around me, whether it’s something I see in the world or a feeling that I have and want to explore. Perhaps a song lyric or a painting that really speaks to me. I usually get some sort of basic idea from that and then I think about okay what could be the story here.
If you think about all of the elements that make up a good story, it’s really easy to take your idea and manipulate it into an idea that’s worth writing a novel about. Decide who is your protagonist, who is the antagonist, what’s the conflict of the story, what journey is the character going to go on what are their goals and motivations once you start thinking about all of these and sort of filling in all of the blanks. You should be able to tell if you have a novel worthy story on your hands. If you are finding that you’re struggling to make the pieces fit then, that may not be an idea that you want to continue developing. You just keep being creative and keep thinking what if, what is and then eventually you come up with an idea that you know is what you want to write your story on.
Step number two: planning. Some people consider themselves to be planners when it comes to writing. That basically means that they take their idea and sit down and just write completely by the seat of their pants and that really works for them. That is awesome.
some people are plotters. If you’re just starting out with a writing journey, I really encourage you to consider doing some planning before you start writing. You need to know who your characters are and where your story is going before the first word is even written. Think about it like this, it 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 a GPS or directions from a local. It could be done, but it would be rather difficult.
When you’re first starting out, you want to make it as easy as you can for yourself. That’s why planning is really important and highly encouraged. I recommend that you do character charts or profiles for each of your main characters and an outline. Your character turns don’t have to be anything fancy, they just have to serve the purpose of allowing you to get to know those characters as if they were real people. You have to get inside their heads, after all and in order to write truly convincing characters you have to know and understand exactly who that character is and what makes them tick. Their fears, their motivations, their goals, their aspirations, their dreams, their likes, their dislikes, etc. This is a step that you do not want to skip. Once you’ve got your characters down, then it’s time to move on to your outline. You have to know exactly where your story is going so it’s a really important step. Stop, sit down, and figure it all out before you just dive right into the writing.
I can recommend Freytag’s pyramid to outline. It is by far one of the most helpful methods that I have found. By using that method the stories feel much more developed and fleshed out and the actual writing of those stories feels a million times easier than when I used to write without it. You need an outline, you’re the writer, it’s your story, and you have to know all of the inner and outer workings of that story before the first word is ever written. Take some time flesh out your characters and your plot and once you’ve done it’s time to start writing.
Step number three: write the first draft. Here’s what you do you put yourself in a chair, put your fingers on that keyboard and you write that story no matter what. Stop letting self-doubt be a distraction or an excuse. Stop trying to make things perfect. Just write your story. First drafts are usually crappy. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good of a writer you are. This is your first draft. You have a place to start editing. Get the bare bones of your story down on paper.
Step number four: celebrate. You just wrote a novel and that is amazing. So many people say they’re going to write a book and never actually accomplished it, but you did. It’s a good idea to take a little time away from the manuscript, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you so while you’re celebrating and recharging your batteries put the manuscript away. When you are ready dive back in with fresh eyes. Once the rest period is over, it’s time to pick up that manuscript and start revising. At this point, you’re not worried 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.
You may find yourself deleting entire sections and chapters. You may find that you need to rewrite a lot of things, you’ll move stuff around and rename things and do a whole lot of changing,. This can be a good thing and is actually part of the process.You get to take your idea and really start chipping away at it until it becomes something that you’re really proud of. This may also a really great time to enlist the help of beta readers and critique partners. Beta readers and critique partners are invaluable when it comes to feedback.
This is the perfect opportunity for you to take that draft you’re revising and really making the story shine. Send it out to people and get the feedback you need to make that story ten times better than it is. A lot of writers consider this step optional.
Step number five: polishing. Once you’re sure the content of your story is a solid as you can make it, then the next step is to go through and make edits. This is where you’re focusing on those little things where you’re looking for grammatical errors and sentence structure issues, you’re removing filter words and changing up dialogue tags, etc.
At this point, you really should not be making any significant content changes, just fixing those tiny little errors and tightening things up. Once you’ve done that, you have a finished and polished novel. Remember no matter how tough things get just keep writing. Don’t give up, you can do it!