How to get ideas | How to start writing a novel | And where to get help
I’ve been a full time professional writer for twenty years. I’ve written a dozen novels, a hatful of non-fiction, a few other things too.
I’ve written good novels and, uh, medium novels. I’ve written bestsellers and I’ve written flops. I’ve seen my work appear on screen and be translated across the globe. It’s been a rewarding career in every way, and not just financially.
So you want to know how to write a novel?
Well, I don’t know.
Correction: I don’t know the way that will work out best for you. I can only tell you how I came to start writing a novel – and I can show you a whole bunch of techniques that are pretty much guaranteed to work if you want to use them.
For me, it began when my wife got sick. We were on holiday in Spain, when she fell ill. First her eyesight went strange. Then she got what looked like flu. Then got worse.
We flew back to England, cutting our holiday short, and we were only just in time. Her immune system basically collapsed completely. She was in and out of hospital for a while. Diagnoses were hard to come by, but it looked like some strange virus plus unfortunate genetics plus some kind of toxic exposure caused the problem.
Things were bad enough and lasted long enough that I gave up work to care for my wife through her illness.
That was OK in some ways – I never loved my job in finance, especially. I wasn’t too upset at losing it.
But what next? I needed to be there for my wife, but that didn’t mean that I was busy every hour of every day.
But I had a laptop. I had an idea for a novel. And I had always, always wanted to be a writer.
The first words of my first novel were:
“There are a million ways to torment your kids, but from beyond the grave, Bernard Gradley had found a new one.”
I went on to write a book of 180,000 words. That’s about double the length of an average novel, but what the heck. The book was good. It was called The Money Makers.
I got a literary agent.
I got multiple big publishers bidding for my work.
The book sold for a lot of money, then jumped straight onto a major bestseller list. Foreign sales and film interest followed.
Exactly what every writer dreams of . . . except this way of telling the story doesn’t mention the fact that when I completed the first draft, I read back over my work and realised that the first third of it was just plain no good.
60,000 words of no good.
So I deleted all that material and rewrote it from scratch. Sixty. Thousand. Words.
What’s more, the way I told the story just now forgot to mention the fact that my characters, as initially written, didn’t really have much character at all. They were cardboard figures moving through a cardboard universe.
And so on.
If you want the truth, the real truth, it’s this:
I wrote my novel one mistake at a time, and the only defence I’ll make of my early working method was that I had the bloody-mindedness and persistence to ferret out each of those mistakes and fix them.
On that first book, I estimate that I wrote at least 2 or 3 words for every 1 that appeared in the final book. That was a lot of writing. Not time wasted exactly – because learning is learning – but maybe time not very efficiently spent.
But that’s me.
You’re here, on this page, reading this blog post. That already shows a level of discipline that I didn’t have back then.
So for the rest of this post, I’m just going to run you through, step by step, how I would write a novel, if I were just starting to write that first novel today. With a bit of luck, and plenty of hard work, you can get the outcomes I got . . . without having to make a million and one mistakes along the way.
One more thing. I’ve also got a sneaky way to get you access to a $999 / £650 writing course course for well under $50. Does that sound interesting? I certainly hope so. Just keep reading and I’ll tell you more in a second.
Step 1: get a good idea – then make it better
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of your idea.
Behind almost every example of a bestseller that came out of nowhere, you’ll find a golden idea.
Stephenie Meyer and Twilight? A competent but ordinary writer . . . with a genius idea.
Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code? A not-always-even-that-competent writer . . . with a genius idea.
Gillian Flynn and Gone Girl? A superb writer whose first two books had done OK, but not great, but then hit upon an idea of explosive excellence.
And so on.
You name me a novel that became explosively successful, and I guarantee that underlying that book will be an superb, world-altering idea.
Agents know this and – no matter what your genre – a strong premise is essential to selling a novel. Given any two broadly similar manuscripts, agents will always pick the one with the strongest central concept.
In self-publishing, the exact same thing applies.
Sure, there are no gate-keepers, no one to block you from launching whatever you want. But the rule applies just the same, because readers want to be dazzled by your premise too.
Here’s an example:
Adam Croft was doing so-so as an indie author, then he realised he had an idea with a superbly quotable hook (“Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?”). That novel became Her Last Tomorrow and a superstar selling career was born.
OK, so we’ve agreed you need a great idea, but . . .
How do you get the concept right? Where do you even get the ideas?
Those are the million-dollar question, aren’t they? And luckily there’s a very simple answer. You just follow the steps below . . .
Know the market
The first thing to say is that you MUST know the market. That means reading a lot of contemporary fiction in your area. If you don’t do that, you won’t know the market, which means you will almost certainly misunderstand what literary agents are looking to take on, which means that your book won’t sell.
And why should it? You are creating a product for a market and you haven’t even conducted the basic research.
Write down the ideas you already have
Almost certainly, you have the worm of an idea squirming away somewhere. It’s not a question of forming the idea, but of recognising the one you already have. So do this. Make lists of:
Things you daydream about
Your special interests (medieval churches, IT security, tattoos)
Your areas of expertise (that might be something cool, like internet bank fraud, but it may well not be. Maybe you’re just an expert on swimming lessons for toddlers, social hierarchies at the school gate and how to get baby poo off a new dress. That’s still an expertise.)
Your current passions – things that get you off on a rant or long-winded explanation
Things you loved as a child – it’s amazing how often the child seems to predict the adult. Look back and see what you loved in the past.
Books and films you loved as a child
Books you love now.
Write actual lists of these things. Not in one single half hour session, but bit by bit, over time. Let things stew and bubble up.
Next: Arrange your ideas and passions in headings
Give yourself these headings:
Protagonist (or in other words, your hero or heroine)
Then use your list of ideas and passions to start populating those categories.
So let’s say that you know a lot about computers, maybe your protagonists might include “Thirty-something computer programmer”. Maybe your settings include “Mid-western university campus in the 1970s”. Maybe your challenge is, “Make a breakthough in artificial intelligence – and get the girl”.
So far, so boring, right? I mean, you could write a competent enough novel with those ingredients, but it’s not wowing us yet, is it?
So add one more heading:
And let’s say that rogue ingredient in this case is, “Extraterrestrial life”.
We’ve just got something, haven’t we? Our early computer geek is messing about in his lab, when he realises his computer is being controlled by Something Out There.
I don’t know where this story is going yet – and we’d have a ton more work to do – but you can tell already that this is the germ of something exciting.
So, make sure you are playing only with ingredients that you personally love and get excited by. Then mess around with those ingredients until you fill in this formula:
Before you start to write your novel – check you’re on track.
The best way to do this is to condense your idea down to no more than 50-60 words, and ideally even less. You will quickly tell whether you have something that strikes a spark or not. Here are examples of novel pitches that could really work:
Twilight. A teen romance between an ordinary American girl and a boy who is actually a vampire.
The Da Vinci Code. A mystery thriller revolving around the hunt for the Holy Grail.
Wolf Hall. A historical epic revolving around Thomas Cromwell, the most important man in the court of King Henry VIII.
It’s pretty obvious that Dan Brown’s book had a killer premise – and that it was that which effectively sold the book. It certainly wasn’t his prose style!
It’s also easy to see which pitches really don’t work. For example:
Eco-fantasy for 6-7s. Three children go to a fantasy world where they have to save the planet and learn about the importance of recycling and the dangers posed by electro-magnetic radiation.
Chick-lit for self-harmers. Katy is a feisty fashion-loving thirty-year-old who fancies the sexy photographer who freelances for her fashion mag. But Katy is a secret self-harmer whose troubles stem from a difficult childhood.
Non-literary literary fiction. A slightly mediocre book about two somewhat boring people in whose lives nothing much seems to happen.
(These examples are invented, by the way. Books with bad pitches never get published.)
My team here at Jericho Writers honestly sees plenty of novels like these. We really do. So do literary agents. And they’ll never work. If you don’t have an instant, grabbing, easily communicated pitch you could be making a similar kind of mistake. The only way to know: write a pitch for your own book.
Does it sound limp or strong? Experiment with different ways of couching it. See if you can add a little edge, something new, something vibrant. Even if you need to change the book to fit that pitch, you need to do it.
Need More Help? We’ve got a brilliant video on finding and developing ideas for your novel. It’s the first video in our complete How to Write a Novel course. Now yes, I mentioned that the course itself is pretty expensive to buy outright . . . and I told you I had a sneaky way to get unrestricted access to the course, while paying less then $50.
So here’s the thing. You can get full, unlimited access to the entire course just by taking out membership of Jericho Writers. You don’t just get access to that one course, you get access to absolutely everything else too. Our course on Getting Published. Our filmed masterclasses, taught by top, professional tutors. Films from authors and publishers. Loads more too.
When I wrote my first novel, I had the idea – then sat down to write it.
No preparation. No planning. Just fingers on the keyboard.
Now, OK, I win points because I didn’t just talk about writing a novel, I went ahead and did it. But taking on an enterprise like that? Without one shred of planning?
It’s dumb. I was dumb. But you don’t have to be.
So here’s step two.
Before you start to write your novel, know who your characters are.
That sounds, easy, right? But it isn’t.
Let’s take that idea we started to develop just a moment ago. Our hero was going to be a 1970s computer geek, right? So we kinda know that character already.
Bad hair. Funny glasses. Awkward around women. Super-comfortable with code and computers and anything without hormones. Likes science fiction. Lousy dress sense.
Boom! That’s our hero.
I hope you feel a tad uneasy here. After all, doesn’t that sound like the total cliché of a computer geek? Is there anything actually original or individual about this guy at all?
I don’t think so. And readers don’t want to engage with cardboard characters being shifted around. They want to feel they are reading about living, breathing human beings.
The key to that is individuality . . . and some writers (and a LOT of screenwriters) think that the solution there is just to throw in one unexpected trait.
So let’s say our computer guy loves a capella singing. Or he turns out to be weirdly good at baseball (a skill which will play a role in the book’s final denouement.) Or something along those lines.
But then the guy is still A Cliché + A Quirk. And that’s a cliché all of its own. A cliché and a quirk is probably than a character who’s all cliché and no quirk. But still. We want to do better, right?
The solution to this problem? It’s always, know your character! That’s the first and last commandment of great character writing.
Know your character from the bottom up
Strong characterisation is based on knowledge. The best way to write really strong characters is to know them inside out – at least as well as your best friend, let’s say. If you have this knowledge, you will find yourself using it. If you don’t have it, you can’t. So the problem of writing character is essentially a problem of knowing character. And the trick to knowing it is to do as follows …
Begin with a blank sheet (or screen) and begin to write down everything you know about your central character. Don’t be too concerned to edit yourself at this stage. Just let rip. It helps to group your comments a bit under certain themes, but if that inhibits your flow then just write and group your notes up later. You should cover all kinds of themes, for example …
Where did your character come from? What was his childhood like? Happy or sad? What were his relations like with his parents? His brothers / sisters? If his father was (say) extravagant, what impact did this have on your character? if his mother was (say) easily tearful, how did this affect him then? And what about now, in particular where his relations with women are concerned? Were there key incidents in childhood that shaped in a way relevant to your book’s story? Think these through and note them down.
What does your character look like? You can note down build, hair and eye colour by all means. But don’t stop there. Find the distinctive things about your character’s physiognomy. Please don’t (unless matter is central to your conception) just give your character some obvious distinguishing feature – a scar, a stutter, a wooden leg. Be subtle.
Think of an actor who could play your character. How would you describe their face? If you end up with words like ‘craggy’, ‘granite-jawed’ etc for a man – or ‘classical’, ‘grey-eyed’ for a woman – then that’s OK, but stay with the image and try to do better yet.
If you need a visual image to work from, then look through magazines until you’ve got something you can use. Pin it up close to where you work, and work from that. Don’t forget to keep your character’s look referenced through your novel.
All your key characters MUST have a well-defined character arc through a novel. This is true even of all-action adventure stories, if you want them to be any good.
The standard arc might be something like (1) Susan has a fear of commitment, (2) she encounters a situation in which that fear is put to the test in the most (for her) dramatic and challenging way, (3) she either passes or fails the challenge. Either way, she’s different at the end of the book than she was at the start.
So put this arc into writing. Link it to the challenges of your story; to their back story; and to their personality.
In relation to this central issue, you should aim to understand your character as well as a therapist might. It’s critical you get this part right!
It’s usually a good idea to come to this issue a bit later than other things, as your ideas will have more depth and subtlety when some of the structure is already in place. But start to answer as many questions as you can think of.
For instance: Does your character laugh easily? Are they sociable? What impression would they make on a casual observer? What about if they spent an hour talking to someone in a bar? Do they get angry easily? Cry easily? Are they self-conscious? What political party would they vote for and why? Are they conflict avoiders or conflict seekers? Do they drink, smoke, take drugs, drink too much coffee, eat junk food? If so why? What is it about them that takes them to these places? What are their feelings about sex? Are they screwed up in any way? Are they sensitive or selfish lovers? How involved do they get emotionally?
Your central character will almost certainly have a key romantic / sexual relationship in your book. Good.
But make sure this relationship is deeply sewn into your study of character arc and action. For example, perhaps your central character seeks to avoid a certain painful truth, and this is the challenge around which your story revolves. In that case, that character’s key relationship should perhaps be with a person who challenges him to face up to that truth – or perhaps colludes with him to avoid it. If you handle it like that, then the romantic element in your novel will be as core as everything else. It won’t just be thrown in for the sake of it.
But don’t stop there. Elaborate.
Why has your character chosen this particular partner? Is he / she like the partners your character normally goes for? Try and explore their intimate dialogue? Do they go in for cutsie baby-talk? Or hard-edged flippancy? or reflectiveness? What are their pet names for each other? Do they encourage maturity in the other or bring out the less mature side? What are their disagreements about? Do they row, and if so how? How do they mend rows? What does he love most about her? What does she love most about him? What do they most dislike? What is your predicted future for the relationship beyond the end of the novel?
If you can get these sort of questions right, you will start to develop real chemistry between your lovers.
Its absolutely critical to get the voice of your character right – how she sounds, how she argues; how he sounds when he’s drunk or tired, how he talks to his partner or friend. The brilliant thing about dialogue is that it shows the reader your character in constant motion.
Because readers are used to interpreting dialogue in real life and in real time, they are superskilled and observant when it comes to interpreting dialogue in fiction. So start to sketch some scenes out, in dialogue only. Feel your character. Have fun. (More dialogue help.)
And don’t just write about all the important things. Write about the unimportant things too. What food does your character like? What clothes do they choose? How do they wear them (ie: sloppily, stylishly, fussily, self-consciously, etc)? What makes them laugh? What does their laugh sound like? If your character were an animal, what sort of animal would they be? What films do they like? What books? Are they creative? Do they fart? Can they speak French? Are they good with money? Are they absent-minded? Do they like oranges? Have they ever used a gun? What is their favourite pub game? How do they fidget? Describe their hands.
And so on and so on. Many of these questions will have no direct relevance to your book. But the more questions you ask and answer, the better you will know your character.
A heartfelt warning
You know I told you that I deleted 60,000 words of my first novel and rewrote them from scratch?
Well, the single biggest reason I had to that was simple:
I didn’t know my characters well enough when I started.
Yeah, sure, by the time, I’d written 60K words (one short novel’s worth of word count), I’d started to get them figured out, but that’s a heck of a laborious way to carry out that task.
So don’t copy me. Follow the advice in this post. Figure your characters out first, before you write the first sentence of your novel.
Sure, you’ll be frustrated by spending a day or two in that preliminary work, when all you want to do is crack on and start writing. But that day or two will save you a month or two down the line.
Don’t skip the preparation. Time spent planning is never time wasted.
Want more help? That video writing course I told you about has got three awesome videos on character – one of which gives you a sneaky way to use character-writing techniques to give your settings an awesome sense of resonance and atmosphere. There’s also a video on cliches, that you’ll definitely want to watch. Again, the best way to get access is to avoid the full purchase price, and just take out a membership of Jericho Writers. Learn more or sign up.
Step 3: Understand your plot
Plotting is HARD.
I find plotting the single hardest aspect of writing novels, and yet my editor (whose job is to check my manuscript over prior to publication) says he thinks I’m actually quite good at it. That it’s one of my strengths.
And it’s this hard???
Well, yep. If you want to write a novel, though, this beast has to be tamed, and the good news here is that, there are rules that just plain work. They work every time. They have worked ever since the time of the Ancient Greeks (which we know for a fact, because what I’m about to tell you here hasn’t changed a lot since Aristotle wrote the Poetics.)
So here are the rules.
The protagonist must have a clear central motivation. In literary fiction, that can be some fancy-schmancy motivation, like coming to terms with the death of a parent. In commercial fiction, it’s got to be a more obviously important goal – like getting married or saving the world. But it has to be clear. It has to be consistent.
And it has to matter. If it’s not important to the protagonist, it sure as heck won’t be to the reader. You would really think that point was so obvious I didn’t have to put it in italics – but you know what? Our editorial team see a load of manuscripts every year that make this exact error.
Make sure your protagonist cares. If he doesn’t, or she just couldn’t give a damn, the rest of us never will.
Determine your hero’s goal early
The protagonist’s goal (which derives from that motivation) has to be determined as early as possible into the novel. Chapter one for preference.
Yes, sure, the exact definition of the goal can shift. (Lizzie Bennett first wants to marry Wickham, then D’Arcy. James Bond first wants to locate the missing bomb, then he wants to kill Blofeld). But the basic motivation behind the goal never shifts at all. (True love for Lizzie B, saving the world for Jimmy B)
The jeopardy’s gotta increase
That’s obvious, right? But it’s still possible to make mistakes here.
I’ve read novels that start with some super-massive terrorist attack. Clearly the writer thinks, “Let’s grab the reader early!” Which is great . . . but then what?
At the outset of a novel, the goal has to matter – but you have some patience from the reader at this point. They know that the big bangs are yet to come, so as long as you can maintain some suspense, you don’t have to fire off your biggest guns upfront. In fact, it can work really well to keep those opening salvos quite small . . . but use them to hint at much bigger things to come.
And then, of course, when you get to the climax of the novel, the thing your protagonist cares about has to matter more than anything else in the world (in the context of the novel.)
So James Bond’s little problem has become one of world-saving consequence. Lizzie Bennett’s generalised desire to make a good match has become an all-consuming passion for one specific man. If the jeopardy doesn’t increase, the reader will get quickly bored.
Every chapter has to move the plot forward
Again, you’d think that’s obvious, but loads of newbies think, “Hey, Character X is going to be really important – she’s Character Y’s best friend – and we don’t really understand the roots of X’s relationship with why unless we can see them as students together, so . . .”
And before you know it, you have two chapters of backstory, that really shouldn’t be in the book at all.
So to be clear, the rule is this:
Every scene and every chapter must keep the protagonist off-balance.
Sure, things may get better for him/her, or worse, but they need to be constantly changing. If the protagonist is in the same position at the end of the chapter as he/she was at the start, then you need to delete the chapter. No excuses.
Another way to think about the same thing is to ask what the dramatic purpose of each and every chapter is. “Setting the scene” is not a dramatic purpose. Nor is “filling in backstory”. Change & disequilibrium is the heart of drama. Your story has to move; otherwise it dies.
Within each chapter – stick to the story
Don’t spend time away from the story. The reader has bought your book because it has a story.
If you spend time away from your story, your reader will want to spend time away from your book.
My own rule – and this may be a personal thing – is that I won’t let 300 words go by without touching on my story. That’s about one paperback page – and though I write crime novels, I’m not really a shoot-bang and car-chase kind of writer. (Indeed, some readers find my stories move too slowly for their tastes.)
One paperback page? That sounds like it should be easy to avoid that much excessive verbiage creeping into your novel, but it’s harder than you think. It’s easy, for example, to spend 500 words handling the set-up at the start of a chapter. But a reader doesn’t want to have to do homework before they get to the action. They want the action pretty much straight away, which means that you have to reduce the amount of set up you do, then filter it in alongside the action, in a way that the reader scarcely notices.
It doesn’t feel quite so simple now, does it?
Classical structures still work
In Campbell’s famous analysis of story archetypes, he typically identifies (1) the Invitation – where the hero is asked to take on the challenge, (2) the Refusal – the hero says no, (3) the Acceptance – something happens to change the hero’s mind, (4) the Adventure – the hero seeks to master the challenge (5) the Failure – everything comes to a head and it seems like the hero has failed, then (6) the Triumph – just when it all seems too late, the hero pulls off a magnificent triumph.
You can’t beat 2000 years of storytelling tradition, can you?
For modern versions of this structure, pretty much any book on screenwriting will tell you all you need to know. My personal view (but I know plenty of professional novelists who take a different approach with their own writing) is that screenplays made slightly dumb models for novelists. I think novels are more complex than screenplays, and trying to shoehorn one art form into a structure suited to the other can be a mistake.
But that’s me. If you do want a book on screenwriting, I’d recommend Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder. Some people love it – I’m just not one of them.
Control Your Characters
Most novels have just one central protagonist – usually the best choice for first time writers. If you do want multiple protagonists then don’t go for more than 3, max. And make sure that each one of those 3 stories obeys all of the six rules above. No short cuts, no excuses.
And finally, one more rule to end this section on plotting:
Don’t think you’re smart
Here’s a thing we hear a lot – and it’s a thing that makes me want to scream every single time I hear it.
“Yes, I know about those rules . . . but I don’t really want to write the cheap kind of paperback / I’m not worried about sales / my readers don’t really want car chases / etc etc.”
So OK, it’s true that commercial fiction follows the rules I’ve laid out here. But so do almost all the classic novels that have ever been written.
So, sure books by Harlan Coben, or Nora Roberts or Stephen King folllow these rules.
But what do you think Jane Austen does? Or Hermann Melville? Or Scott Fitzgerald? Or Annie Proulx? Or Elizabeth Strout? Or Hilary Mantel?
You think you play by some different, higher rules than those people? Dream on. (Oh, and that thing about ‘not worrying about sales’? That’s just as well, buddy, because you won’t have any.)
In short: it’s smart to follow the rules, not clever to neglect them. With your first book most of all, follow the rules with care. If you want to mess around later, do it like a pro, not a cocky amateur!
What you need to know about your plot before you start to write
Some people try to play out their novel in detail before they start to write it.
Others – including plenty of successful pro authors – just launch off with a “what if?” idea in their heads, and just wait to see how that idea works out on the page.
Personally speaking though, I’d recommend you don’t had off to either extreme. Launching into your book with a “what if?” and nothing else is fine, if you’re Stephen King. Or Lee Child. Or anyone else with a chain of bestsellers behind them.
Likewise trying to plot everything out in aching detail – well, all that planning will probably collapse like a souffle in the sun.
My recommendation is that you start simple. I think you need to know:
Who your protagonist (= hero or heroine) is.
What your set up is: the incident that initiates the action and the immediate consequences
What your broad story arc is. (ie: you have some idea, however rough, of the broad shape of your story)
What your climax is. Again, this can be pretty rough, but having some idea of the end-point will stop you getting too lost along the way.
You’ll notice that at least half your novel is still missing here – and that’s OK! You’ve got a set-up, some broad idea of where the story will end and how it gets from A to B. Sure, when you get to the end of the set-up phase (that is, after about 1/4 of your novel), you’ll have a whole lot more thinking to do.
But that’s OK. You’ll understand your characters and story better at that point. It’s a good moment to pause for thought.
Need more help? You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Our writing course has three great videos on plotting, that will save you from a million mistakes (and fix the ones you’ve already made.) All our video courses and all our masterclasses and all our films are completely free to members of Jericho Writers, so you might want to think about joining us. We’d love it if you did!
Step 4: Start writing your novel
Start? Actually start writing this beast?
Blank page, meet pen.
Empty screen, meet first word.
You’re already quite well tooled up. You have a good sense of your basic idea. You have a decent hold on your characters. You’ve got a rough plot outline sketched out already.
That’s not a lot, in all honesty, and you will still screw up big-time before you write a novel that anyone really wants to read.
But that’s OK. It really is.
No one at all has ever written a great first draft of a great first novel. It just doesn’t happen like that.
A perfectly realistic goal to aim at is simply:
Get a first draft of your novel written
Make sure that your first draft is not so horribly off-track that it can’t be fixed.
You’ve probably heard that saying about how all writing is really re-writing. Well, there’s a lot of truth in that.
And if you follow the guidelines of this post, your first draft might well look quite good. Not ready to go by any means, but good. Something that encourages you to do everything else that’ll still be needed.
And here’s one more point you have to bear in mind.
A writer’s first job is to write.
Thinking about writing isn’t writing.
Talking about writing isn’t writing.
Planning the novel you are going to write is not the same as writing a novel.
And so on.
The one thing that most distinguishes real writers from big-mouthed wannabes is that the real writers just make the time in their life to actually stick words on a page.
You’ll read a lot of advice on the net about how you ought to do it.
Write at the same time every day. Write 300 words of warm-up before you start your day’s work. Set a minimum word count target for the day or the week or the month. Buddy up with friends and make a public commitment of what you’ll have written by when.
And you know what?
That’s all bull****.
I mean, if it helps you, then sure. Do it.
But don’t feel forced into duplicating tools and tricks that work for others. You need to feel out what works for you. That might mean respecting those rules. Or it might mean ignoring them completely. And what works for you in spring might have changed completely by autumn.
This is your novel. You’re the writer. You set your own rules.
But write. That’s the one commandment you cannot ignore.
If you’ve followed my advice so far, you’ve done the preliminary work. Now write. It’s the best learning experience you can possibly have.
Step 5: Find your circle of support
One more thing.
You are adventuring into the unknown, and writing a novel is a big venture, not a small one. It’ll be exciting at times, but lonely at others.
So buddy up. Find friends. Find a network of people like you.
This blog post is great (and very long!) but it’s still just a blog post. It only scratches the surface of a huge subject.
I’m not going to give you a whole big commercial here, but remember that Jericho Writers is an online club for writers like you.
There’s a community full of people talking about the things that engage you.
Films from the people (agents, authors, publishers) who matter to you.
Courses that teach you the stuff you need to know.
Live webinars with top professionals who are there to take your questions and reach out to you.
Now that might be the right solution for you. Or it might not. Maybe you have something even better available to you, in which case, sure grab it.
I still think of my own first novel with real fondness. I loved that early writing experience. Loved the intensity of it.
That intensity has never really left. I can still get so caught up in my own work, I lose track of time and place and, frankly, pretty much everything.
Writing isn’t just a job. It’s not just a career. It’s a vocation and a passion, and if you feel yourself to be a fellow writer too – then welcome, friend. It’s a crazy life this, but it’s a good one.
About the author
Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books).
As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.)