Anyone interested in writing a novel for the first time goes through a short stage of anxiety. Typically, the stage involves concerns about the workload and negative thoughts regarding one’s writing style. More than anything, the writer needs a little guidance on the best way to write their novel and how to maintain their progress and enjoyment.
This is the advice. Tips that will help you write your novel, but also make the experience a lot more fun. Let’s begin!
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Tip 1 - Don’t Take it too Seriously
Writing is meant to be a creative profession or at least a creative hobby. For many, it is a way to relax and clear one’s thoughts by focusing on a story. Improving one's sense of logic, weaving an interesting narrative, all that good stuff.
However, beginner writers often treat writing as if they are working for someone, pushing to reach an unfair deadline. It’s a painful anxiety that can lead to writer’s block, burnout and stress. It’s so common that most writers will never finish their first book, and if they do, it will be the last book they write as the experience was so unfulfilling.
We have this mentality ingrained in our minds thanks to school, university and work. It’s easy to place the same kind of pressure on our creative instincts when writing a novel.
This is a tip that can be followed in many ways. A casual writer can listen to music, take breaks often, act scenes out, snack between scenes or share the experience with others. A writer can make the experience enjoyable by taking liberties with the logic of the novel and writing amusing scenes that come to mind.
Or simply write an entire story made from these amusing scenes.
Whatever method you use to make writing enjoyable, you will save your mind a lot of stress. You will make the writing process fun, you will get more writing done and once your novel is finished, you might be eager to write another.
Tip 2 - Keep Your Planning Vague
The planning phase is important. It helps you manage your thoughts, it gives you a guideline for your story, and it increases your chances of finishing the book and encountering fewer dead ends in the plot.
However, it’s another phase of writing that can be taken far too seriously and make the writing process more creatively stifling than creatively freeing. A lot of writers when they start writing, me included, planned far too thoroughly and gave themselves little to no room to make changes in the story.
One of the facts of writing you will need to come to terms with as a beginner writer is that the story only rarely sticks to the original plan. A writer has only so much insight when predicting the sequence of events that make up the story. As the story is written, the writer will create more possible paths to follow, more logical ones than the one they originally planned.
If your plot plan relies too heavily on each step, then it only takes one deviation to break the rest of the plan you wrote. For this reason, most writers will keep the story vague enough to allow for some twists and turns along the way. The plan should read more like a series of landmarks to help you find your way, rather than a series of steps you need to make if you are to reach your destination.
That’s not to say you can’t do some creative writing and force the story back on track, but when you force the story, it’s easy to create a jarring turn in the narrative that will throw off the reader. If this occurs too often, it could jeopardize the entire novel.
Be vague with your planning and trust your instincts.
Tip 3 - Don’t Worry About Cliches
Another element beginner writers tend to fear is the cliches. While cliches are often shunned by the writing and reading community, the truth of the matter is that cliches stem from the predictability of stories and a predictable ending isn’t always a bad thing.
I started writing my first novel with the desire to avoid cliches when I found them. I wanted to create something unique and enjoyable, I didn’t want to rely on the tropes that have become commonplace in literature. What I ended up creating were scenes too real and bland to enjoy. In an effort to avoid the cliches and make believable scenes, I made uninteresting scenes.
And my first novel wasn’t groundbreaking, an action fantasy like any other, and my characters still came off as uninteresting.
I realised that the cliches that made up most literature stuck around for a reason. Writers use them because the cliches often speak to the desires that most readers have. They want to read a story about a hero, they want to see the protagonist win, gain a love interest and ride off into the sunset. From the setting to the characters, cliches of all kinds are still being used and with great success.
When I made this change, I still made a unique scene, but the cliche elements of the story made the story interesting. That’s why this tip is so important. Don’t be afraid of cliches. Don’t overuse them, but don’t cut them out completely if it damages your novel. Write your story even when these tropes appear.
Tip 4 - Make a Main Character You Enjoy
While we are on that point, let’s talk about your main character. One of the most important elements in the story is often neglected, made bland to not distract from the plot and interesting side characters.
Yet, this is a failing that most stories have. The main character offers the writer an opportunity to show some inspirational development, challenge the flaws that the character has in interesting ways, and show a personality that captures the reader as much as the plot.
In short, the writer has an opportunity to write a character that they enjoy writing, no matter the story. In doing so, they create a character that the reader will enjoy as well.
Now, this tip can’t help you figure out what makes a character enjoyable to you, as only you know what interests you. Yet, this tip should be ever-present in your mind, to watch for the moments where your character feels inferior to others, poorly written or just not worthy of the story.
You want to feel that your main character is a right fit for the story because if they are not, the chances are the reader will feel the same way. You can ask yourself from time to time if your character is working in your story. Are you happy with their interactions with other characters? Are you happy with their decisions? Are you happy with the way they are heading?
That’s how you make the main character you enjoy, but there is another solution; have more than one main character.
If you are like me, you like to have several main characters and the front of the story, equally important characters, and receive equal attention. It offers more variety, which negates many of the problems of having a singular main character.
Yet, that comes down to the story and preference of the writer. Just maintain your interest in your character by writing them in a way you enjoy, or giving them scenes and moments that you enjoy.
Tip 5 - Choose a Pace and Be Consistent
Everybody writes at different paces. A lot of beginners give themselves a year-long deadline to finish their novel. This is because they think about the spare time they have when they finish work or school. Others feel that they can write a lot more in a short time, which is why they give themselves 3 to 6 months to write a novel.
An entire challenge formed around writing a novel in a month, showing beginners that with a little planning and dedication, a rough draft can be finished in just a month.
Personally, writing a novel in a month is not a comfortable time and it doesn’t allow for unpredictability, like a crisis or important event, anything like that. So, I found 3 - 6 months as plenty of time to write a novel. An additional 3 months for editing and large rewrites.
Choosing a writing pace, whatever it may be, is the easy part. The difficult part is sticking to it. It’s easy to get burnt out if you write too much, take a long break and then struggle to get back into writing. It’s easy to skip a day when you just feel like doing something simple and unproductive.
Getting carried away with writing, or not writing, can break your pace and push your predicted deadline back further than you expect.
If you do find a pace you are comfortable with, be sure to hone your willpower and stick to it. By being consistent, you see more progress, which will improve your mentality when writing.
Tip 6 - Take Note of New Ideas, Experiment With Them
During the writing process, you are bound to be hit with new ideas along the way. A scene in your novel might inspire several ideas, some not working with your novel, but some being an excellent scene to include later.
However, just as quickly as these ideas come, they disappear. When you have a new idea, it is advised you write it down. Sometimes you will have a better idea, but that first idea will help develop your scenes nonetheless.
Even when the idea doesn’t fit your story, it might fit a future story. It could be an idea for a sequel or a different novel entirely. This tip is similar to the practice of storing nuts for the winter. You don’t know when a creative block will hit you. You could start writing one day and the scene just doesn’t happen. Having ideas to back you up at that moment is always nice.
As for starting a new novel, these ideas might make for excellent inspiration. That’s where experimentation comes into play. By experimenting with new ideas, either by imagining a plot or writing a short story, you better develop the idea, helping you decide if it’s worth the trouble or not.
It takes only a moment for these ideas to vanish, but luckily, it also takes a moment to write them down. Have a separate document open for noting ideas, or just scribble them in a book or journal.
Tip 7 - Be Ready to Correct/Rewrite
If there was a list of professions where you can make the most mistakes, consistently relative to the amount of time you work at it, writing would be at the top of that list.
A writer, particularly an excited writer, can make on average 3.7 mistakes every paragraph, be it spelling or grammar. If you factor in better phrasing, that average doubles. I’m making these numbers up, but they already feel right because they are close to the truth.
A writer who is excited to write, or writes fast, will be so wrapped up in their story and characters that their mind is working faster than their fingers. It’s the same reason why some people have terrible handwriting, not just because of a lack of practice, but because they don’t know how to match the speed of their mind with their hands.
And, I believe this is how it should be.
Let the words that have collected in your mind burst forward into a story, rushing forward like water from a burst dam. Progress is progress and you’re not hurting anyone with your problematic rough draft.
Just be ready to make those corrections when the time comes. You may stop to do some corrections here and there, but there will be bigger problems. Entire scenes that need to be rewritten perhaps. All that awaits you at the end of your first draft.
Be ready to correct your work. It’s a big part of being a writer!
I hope you enjoyed these tips for writing your first novel.
I feel a lot of writers understand the fundamentals of their language and grammar. A lot of writers have read enough books to get the idea of how things fit together, or how one scene flows into the next. There are some nuances to writing which I discuss in more practical articles, but I feel a lot of writers need to hear these tips.
Your mentality and ambition as a writer will define your style, your pace and the result of all your work. Working on maintaining your best mindset is essential and too many writers don’t even consider it. These are the writers who waste their own time or fret about the littlest thing, downgrading their experience.
If you are a beginner writer, I hope some of these tips resonate with you. I didn’t have the worst time writing my first novel, but I made my fair share of mistakes. I hope that these tips help you avoid the same issues.
And if you are an experienced writer, let me know what tips you would give to beginner writers. If you could give your past self advice on writing your first novel, what would it be?
Let me know in the comments!
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!