How (Not) to Write a Novel


Photo credit: Sharon Drummond on Flickr
It seems that everyone is writing a novel (or planning to/thinking about writing one) these days. With the age of personal computers and other computing devices booming, it’s not uncommon to hear about so-and-so’s Aunt Gilberta who’s going to write a soon-to-be bestselling novel about her enlightenment on the human condition.

But for every writer who is toiling away at their computers every day, pouring their heart and soul into their manuscripts, there are many more staring at their computer screens, wondering where to start.

And thusly I introduce to you fifteen easy steps to writing a novel:
  1. Open up a Word (or other word processing document). Once opened, stare at the abyss that is the blank, white screen for at least a full minute. Think about the enormous task you have ahead of you and how you have to fill not only one of these screens, but somewhere around 300 of them. Stare some more.

  2. Check Twitter. And Facebook. And tumblr. And Twitter again. Spend at least an hour checking your feed and reblogging/retweeting/sharing interesting/funny/adorable posts with your fellow followers/fans/friends. The last thing you want is to neglect your social media presence while working on the book.

  3. Check your e-mail. You forgot to check it in step two. It’s ok. Nobody’s perfect.

  4. Stare at the blank document again. Crack your fingers (if you do that sort of thing). Stretch a little and run your fingers over the keyboard. Breathe.

  5. Decide you’re hungry. How are you supposed to write if all you can think about is food? Go treat yourself to a Starbucks. Or a brownie. Or whatever suits your fancy.

  6. Call your Mother and tell her about the amazing book you’re writing. Hell, call all of your relatives and tell them about it. Oh, and that girl you used to talk to in high school—she should know, too. In fact, why don’t you post about it on Facebook? Then everyone will know about your masterpiece.

  7. Pack up your laptop and bring it to the nearest café. That’s what writers do, right? They bring their laptops to cafés and crank out works of literary genius.

  8. Check your Twitter and e-mail again. It’s been too long since you last checked it. What if the Twittersphere had collapsed in your absence and left a horrible, gaping black hole on the internet that sucked everything else into it? Oh, it’s still there? Good. Carry on.

  9. Stare at the blank document again (again). This time it’s real. You can feel it—the inspiration is reaching towards you through the coffee-saturated air and jazzy music. The people are all watching. The next words you write will go down in history as pure genius.

  10. Write the title. Aha! You’ve started! And the title—its sheer brilliance brings tears to your eyes.

  11. Write “Chapter 1.” Ok, ok we’re getting somewhere. Chapter 1. Now the first words, those beautiful first words…

  12. Type “It was a dark and stormy night…” All brilliant novels start on a dark and stormy night.

  13. Stare at the (not) blank document. Drink some coffee. Stare some more. Type a sentence and delete it. Type “the” and delete it. It must be perfect, perfect…

  14. Realize you’re hungry again. I mean, it’s dinner time so you should probably go home and eat, right? Right.

  15. Congratulate yourself on a hard day’s work. No one really writes more than a couple sentences a day anyway. Besides, you can’t rush genius.
Sarcasm and false advice aside (and pretending none of us have ever done any of those aforementioned steps *ehem*), there are really only three steps to writing a novel:
  1. Write
  2. Revise
  3. Repeat
And that’s all there is to it.

What steps would you add to the NOT list and what (real) tips do you have for novel-writing? 

20 comments:

Karen Harrington said...

This made me laugh. I wanted to know if you were looking in MY window. I would only add to the list "Look at dog and have conversation. Get dog to agree that it's time to go for a walk." There's nothing better for a writer's life than turning OFF the connection to the internet and thinking of reconnecting as a reward you get for writing at least 500 words. 

Ava Jae said...

Ah, yes! The dog conversation is a great one to add, thank you for that. :)


The reward method is also highly effective (when, you know, you're not dragging the dog around outside, :D)--I often use the Twitter #wordmongering hashtag where writers get together at the top of every hour and have a writing sprint for thirty minutes,then share their word count progress at the end of the session. The reward is sharing your success with everyone and there are virtual high fives and confetti. It can be very motivating. ^_^

Yesenia said...

Yes! According to Steps 1-15, I'm doing things just right! Haha, jk. Great post, even if it does sound like what I do sometimes.

I think before I would have said that the best tip for writing is to think about what you're going to write, have a plan. Or you might get lost. Then I started spending too much time on that and not writing.

Now I would say: Just write the darned thing! You never know where it's going to take you and that's not always a bad thing. The point is to get the story down, perhaps as fast as possible and get some momentum going. 

Ava Jae said...

"Just write the darned thing" is fantastic advice. Really. It's so easy to get caught up in making the writing perfect or planning this or that or theme, etc., etc., but the very best thing you can do is force yourself to sit down and write every day despite all of those worries and distractions. Once you have a completed manuscript in front of you, you can worry about those other things.

Kamille Elahi said...

Ahh! This is the story of my life. I love step 15! 

Daphne Gray-Grant said...

You're missing one important step, Ava: THINK. This needs to go before the "Write" step. I see too many writers who sit down at the keyboard and stare at it until beads of blood form on their forehead! 

Before you can write, you need to think and plan. If you do that correctly, then you shouldn't suffer from writers' block and you should be able to write relatively quickly. DON'T do it, and writing will be hard bloody work and maybe even impossible...

Christelle Hobby said...

Hahaha "Decide you're hungry."  This seriously cracked me up and rang a little too familiar.  Loved it though! Sometimes we need to have the ridiculousness of our ways pointed out.  I laughed, I cried, I got hungry. Now maybe I can start writing.  Thanks Ava!

Ava Jae said...

Step 15 is the best part, isn't it? :D

Tina Moss said...

Oh Twitter! The cause of and solution to all writers' problems. LOL. Love this list.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm. Well yes, I obviously over-simplified the actual writing steps (I figured the thinking part was assumed, but I suppose perhaps not). One thing I'd like to say, however, is that while planning is certainly important, for certain pantsing writers (and by no means do I mean all writers) sometimes the planning part becomes less important and the write it anyway part kicks in. Granted, usually that fully-pantsed writing requires more work in the end, but planning isn't necessarily required 100% of the time when breaking through blocks. Just my thoughts. :)

Ava Jae said...

You're more than welcome, Christelle. I tend to fall for the "Decide you're hungry" step more than I'd like to admit (or at least, decide you really want some chocolate). 

Good luck with your writing!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Tina! Twitter certainly does have it's pros and cons for writers. 

Chihuahua Zero said...

Thinking about it, I had been doing this for a school project that isn't due until next week. Get on school laptop, sneak onto TV Tropes and then Blogger...

Maybe I should try to get out my earbuds, crank up the white noise, and try to focus next time.

Lauren S. said...

I love these "How (Not) to" posts. This one is especially awesome. 

"What if Twitter had collapsed and left a big gaping hole?" LOL. So guilty! (except on Facebook, since I'm not on Twitter)

Ava Jae said...

It's easy to procrastinate like the aforementioned steps for just about anything. I wish you the best with your project! 

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Lauren! I love writing these "How (Not) to" posts. They're a lot of fun to come up with. 

Glad you enjoyed the post! ^_^

Gene Lempp said...

 Beautiful use of reverse psychology, Ava - absolute genius, which of course means, you wrote this at a Starbucks *grins* I think I had the exact day you described once, except for Starbucks, which I've never done *clutches writer member card to his chest* - I do drink the coffee though.

Tips. Writing is just like planning a trip. Know where you're starting at, know where you plan to end (at least the "city" not the exact address - don't want to freak the pure pantsers out) and know where a couple of stops are along the way (gas, food, rest stations, zombie hideouts). Oh, and who the driver of the car is and who is in the car with him. And who will stalk them on the highway. If you have at least that - journey on - write and don't worry about perfection. One last tip - disconnect your net connection when you write.

Great post!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Gene! I'm glad you enjoyed the post so much. ^_^

I didn't write this post at Starbucks, but I won't pretend I've never been tempted to write there...

On another note, those are some really fantastic tips. You don't necessarily need to know every detail of the journey, but the points that you mentioned are extremely helpful to have. 

Laurapauling said...

Love this post. I'd say: Get up every three minutes looking for chocolate. :)

Ava Jae said...

You mean you're not supposed to do that? :D


I like that addition. Thank you, Laura!

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