How to Write Your First Novel: Where to Start

Writing your first novel: where to startWriting your first novel is awesome and exciting! But if you haven’t written a book before, you might be wondering where to start. (And maybe even a little overwhelmed.) To help, I put together my top six tips to help you get your very first project off the ground.

1) Run with your idea

When you start writing your first novel, do whatever you need to do to get (or keep) your ideas flowing. Maybe do a brainstorm where you freewrite and collect your thoughts? Maybe you do an outline? Or maybe you just start writing. Whatever you need to do to better develop your thoughts, do it. Let your idea and creativity take the lead.

2) Dive into your draft

When the time comes to actually start writing your first novel, whether you brainstormed or not, just dive in. Don’t over think it. Don’t ask yourself if you’re “doing this right.” When it comes to first drafts, “right” doesn’t matter. Progress matters. If you think about what you’re doing and if it’s good, you’re likely to psych yourself out. Embrace your story and let the momentum carry you forward. It’s okay if you don’t always know what happens next. It’s okay if you skip around. Just let yourself write.

3) Don’t think of this as “writing a book”

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or feeling like you may have bitten off more than you can chew, change your perspective. The idea of “writing a book” can be an intimidating one. So stop thinking of this tasks as writing a book. Author Victoria Schwab once tweeted: “I’m not writing a book, I’m writing a chapter. I’m not writing a chapter, I’m writing a page. I’m not writing a page I’m writing a line.” Just write a line. Then write another one. And eventually, you’ll have a page. Then you’ll have a chapter, then you’ll have a book. For now, just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Just write a line.

4) Give yourself permission to be bad

It’s called “the writing process” for a reason. Your book does not have to be good right now. In fact, the moment I decided that my drafts didn’t have to be good, the more fun writing became for me. It took the pressure off and made it a lot easier to get the story down. So let yourself write badly. Embrace imperfection and don’t worry about if you’re writing is good.

5) Remeber you can always fix it later

If you’re having a hard time letting go of that need to be a good writer, remember that you can always fix it later. This is a draft. And your story will be a draft until it’s published. Nothing in writing is permanent until that point. Don’t let yourself get held up on an aspect of your book you can go back and fix. If there is something you can do to progress, do it. Skip a chapter and come back to it. Write terrible dialogue you know you’ll want to change later. Write the scene you have in your head even if you’re not too sure it’s going to fit in. Your goal when you start writing a book is to move forward. Try not to lose sight of that.

6) Don’t think about the finish line; be in the moment

Writing a book is a long process. It falls into the it’s-a-marathon-not-a-sprint category. If you focus on the finish line and how far off it is, it’ll be easy to get discouraged and maybe even give up. Instead, be in the moment with your story. Experience what you’re writing. Write the scenes that make you happy. Send your characters on an adventure and watch them grow. Find joy in what you’re creating. If you do this, the finish line will sneak up on you. For more tips on how to finish your first draft, check out this post.

I hope this helps you start writing your first novel!

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve already written your first book, do you have any advice to share? If you haven’t is there anything else you’d like to ask about? Tell me about it in the comments!

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6 Awesome Writing Tips for Finishing Your First Draft

Six Tips for Finishing Your First DraftEvery part of the writing process has its own challenges, but when it comes to a first draft, finishing is often the biggest challenge. First drafts are the worst your book will ever be and sometimes it can be difficult to push through terrible writing and plot problems to make it to the end. However, I’ve found that with the right approach, you can push through and maybe even have some fun. Or at the very least, you may not completely hate the experience.

Here are six tips to help you push on and finish your first draft as painlessly as possible.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

1) Take time to figure out how you draft best

I strongly believe that one of the keys to a happy writing life is figuring out your writing process. One step to cracking that code is uncovering out how you draft.

There tends to be two main approaches to drafting: planning and pantsing (as in, you fly by the seat of your pants). If you’ve only ever done one of these before, I encourage you to try the other. I think sometimes it can be really easy to get stuck in the approach you first learned or first tried. And while yes, that may very well be the approach that works best for you, I think it’s important to try both so you know for sure.

The first time I drafted a book I planned. I did this in part because I’d heard that’s what my favorite author did it and in part because it just seemed like a good idea. It worked for me and finished the draft like that. I also wrote my second book the same way. When I got to grad school, one of my first classes involved drafting a book in a semester. We used NaNoWriMo creator Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! as our guide. Baty challenges writers not to plan their books before coming in. I had never written that way, but I gave it a try. Halfway through the semester I broke down and started planning because not planning was painful for me. But I’m glad I tried it. I learned I am most definitely a planner and knowing that shaped not only my drafting but also my revision and editing process.

So, give both approaches a shot. If you hate it and it’s painful, then, by all means, switch back. But it’s worth at least trying the opposite approach so you can know for sure what’s best for you.

2) Turn off your inner editor

This is another concept preached by No Plot? Not Problem. It can be the hardest to get past, but I found it to be crucial. For me, part of this was also accepting that there would be problems I could not fix and questions I didn’t know the answers to. Once I did, it completely opened up my drafting. If I couldn’t fix these problems or answer these questions, it meant I didn’t have to try. That freed up brainpower to focus on what I did know and gave me a roadmap for what I’d have to fix in revision. I found I was able to draft much more quickly and I’ve come to genuinely enjoy the process.

Like I said, I know getting to this place can be hard. If it helps, try thinking of your first draft as an extended brainstorm instead of a “draft”. The point isn’t to write well. It’s to discover the story. You don’t need to answer questions or fix problems. You need to learn what the questions and problems are. The flaws need to exist in their entirety so you can fully understand them. In fact, your story needs you to write a bad first draft so you can learn what your story needs to be a killer polished draft down the line. So if you think about it, trying to write a “good” first draft is actually a disservice to your story. Why would you want to hurt your story like that? 😉

3) Set manageable goals

I think one reason writers end up getting discouraged is that they set their writing goals too high. This usually comes in the form of a high page count, high word count, or planning an unrealistic amount of writing time. If you continually fail to meet your goals, it can be easy to feel like you’re “bad” at this and give up. In actuality, you may have just set bad goals. Instead, take a look at the amount of time you can feasibly dedicate to writing, and consider how much writing you can reasonably accomplish in that time. It’s okay if that number is small and it takes you a long time to finish a draft. The key is to set daily goals you can actually meet and keep show up until you reach “The End”.

If you’d like to know more about this, I did a whole post on How to Set Manageable Writing Goals.

4) Show up on a regular basis and protect your writing time

Consistency is key. Maybe you can’t write every day. Or maybe you can. It’s up to you to decide how much time you can realistically dedicate to writing, but make sure you can put that time inconsistently. The person who writes 500 words on a regular basis will finish their draft–regardless of how long it takes. The person who writes 5,000 words from time-to-time/whenever they can fit it in, most likely will not. Set time aside for your story. Even if it’s only 15 minutes every other day.

Now, once you set that time aside, protect it. People will ask to do things or go places with them. They will ask you for favors. Learning to say “no” is important (Find some tips here.). It might be easy to think of your writing time as “free time,” but it’s not. It’s time for your story, which is something you care about. Don’t undervalue yourself or your story by saying yes to others just because their needs seem more legitimate. If you don’t consider your story legitimate enough to prioritize, who else will? You can’t finish your draft if you don’t give yourself the time to get it done.

5) Only share with understanding and supportive people

I know there are a lot of writer’s out there who don’t share their work with anyone until it is absolutely polished and perfect. Personally, I find sharing as I move through the entire process to be invaluable. But I don’t think that means you should share with just anyone. The quickest way to kill your aspirations is to talk about your project with people who either don’t get it or don’t believe in you. Any idea in the drafting stage is still new and undeveloped. If you share it with the wrong person and they poke holes and point out problems, it can be hard to push on. When an idea is this new, you don’t need to hear what’s wrong with it. You need to hear about its potential. Only discuss your story with those who can see what your story could be.

6) Don’t use being “too busy” as an excuse not to write

If you’re constantly looking for a large stretch of time to sit down and really dig into your draft, you may never make it to the end. Even if you come up with that time, you might also find that it’s easy to either procrastinate or overthink under those circumstances. Instead, write when you’re busy and try to use it to your advantage.

This is another point Baty argues. He says that you will write faster and have an easier time turning off your inner editor if you write when you’re short on time. I have found this to be absolutely true. When I have a busier day, it means my writing time is limited. That also means that I have a very small window to be productive. I don’t have a minute of that window to waste if I have any hope of reaching my goals. Because of that, I don’t have time to overthink or second guess. I just have to GO. Typically, I plan two to three hours a day to write. But when I have to, I can do the same work in an hour and ten minutes. Sometimes even faster.

When it comes to drafting, productivity and output are more important than quality. Working when you’re limited on time forces you to focus on that.

Recommended Reading:

I’ve mentioned No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty a few times in this post. If you’re struggling with drafting, I highly recommend giving this book a read. Thanks to this book, I totally changed how I approached my drafts and it made the process so much more fun.

I hope you’ve found something in here that helps you finish your first draft!

Now it’s your turn: What tricks have helped you draft? What’s been a drafting struggle? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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5 Awesome Writing Tips for Writing Your First Book

Five Tips for WRiting Your first bookThe idea of writing your first book can be seriously intimidating. Maybe even intimidating enough to make you stop before you start. In my experience, a lot of that overwhelm comes from focusing on too much at once–especially for the first draft of your first novel. The reality is, there’s A LOT you shouldn’t be focused on at this stage. To help you get away from some of those sources of intimidation, I put together my top five things you don’t need to worry about.

So with that in mind, here are five things NOT to do:

1) Don’t focus on the end result 

The big picture concept of A Finished Novel (and all of the work it would take to make that happen) can be one of the more intimidating hurdles to get passed. The whole idea gets so much more manageable if you keep your focus on what you can reasonably accomplish within a single day. If you can write 100 words, do that. If you can write 500, go for it. Be reasonable and focus on today’s task only. It may not seem like much now, but every word you write gets you a step closer to completing your book.

2) Don’t focus on how long writing your first novel will take

There’s a quote by Earl Nightingale that I love: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

I think this is particularly true with writing a book. It’s a massive undertaking and it will most definitely take time. It might very well take years. But seriously, so what? So what if it does take years? If this is something you want to do, why does it matter how long it will take?

Even if you only write for fifteen minutes a day on your lunch break and it takes you two years to finish a draft, you’ll have a finished draft in two years! Those two years are going to pass whether you’re writing your book or not. If writing a book is something you’ve always wanted to do, not writing isn’t going to get you closer to that goal. Writing for fifteen minutes a day will. And if you start today, you’ll be one day closer to the finish line.

3) Don’t try to make your first book perfect

I get it. Staring at the blinking cursor when you have a story to tell can be daunting. You want to make sure you’re picking the right words and saying exactly what you mean.  But those expectations are enough to hold you back when you’re writing your first novel. I challenge you to give yourself permission to be imperfect and just start writing. Put your characters on the page and let them run. Have fun with your story. Your only concern at this point should be to put words on the page. They don’t have to be the “right” words. You can find those later. (For more on this, I’ve got a whole post on Why Writers Should Embrace Imperfection in Writing.)

And while you’re at it, don’t feel like a chapter has to be perfect for you to move on. Your only goal of a first draft is to finish it. Don’t let yourself fixate too much on what you’ve already written. Once you finish a chapter move on to the next. If you don’t like a chapter or section, make note of it somewhere, but don’t try to fix it now. That’s a revision problem, not a drafting problem.

4) Don’t think of your readers

Another super intimidating element of writing is the idea of someone actually reading what you write. Your readers should certainly be considered and there will be time for them down the road. But now is not that time. Now is the time to be selfish. Think about yourself. Don’t write to be read, write to be happy. Write to tell yourself a story you want to experience. Odds are, if it’s a story you want to experience, there will be readers out there who like the same things you do and who will love to read it. But don’t worry about them now. Worry about yourself. Write for you. Write to be happy.

5) Don’t put pressure on your first book

It can be hard to get started if you’ve decided you need to write the next Harry Potter or Girl on the Train. You may start writing, read over what you’ve written, decide it’s not either of those stories, then delete it all and try again another day (or not).

Not only does that make it difficult to write, but it’s also squashing your voice. I would argue that the highest compliment isn’t to have your work compared to anyone else but to create work that others are compared to. In order to make that happen, you first have to let your voice exist on the page. So allow yourself to write with no pressure or expectations.  Write the story your heart is begging you to tell. It doesn’t have to be anything while you’re writing it. It just has to get written.

Bonus tip: Repeat regularly and build a habit.

Books get written when writers show up at their computers or notebooks on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter how bite-sized your daily goals are or how limited your time frame is. It’s all progress, and progress adds up. So start writing your book today. The sooner you type those first words, the sooner you’ll reach THE END.

I hope this gets you writing!

Now it’s your turn: Got a tip that helps you start writing? Tell me all about it in the comments below. You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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