• Ivy James

How to Write a Novel

Updated: Jan 29

So you want to write a novel? Yay! Join us! We're a fun group.


But where to start? It can seem so imposing. Some people start with a pen and paper and nothing else at all, but I advise otherwise. Knowing the overall process and planning a little ahead of time can make a world of difference in the story you're about to tell.


The steps to writing a novel:

  1. Come up with an idea.

  2. Plan the story.

  3. Decide what tools you'll use to write.

  4. Set goals and a deadline.

  5. Write the first draft.

  6. Let it sit.

  7. Reread and edit the big-picture stuff.

  8. Ask for someone else's feedback.

  9. Adjust the story based on their feedback.

  10. Edit on the sentence level.

  11. Proofread.


1. Come up with an idea.

This idea needs to have substance. You're about to dedicate 50,000 words or more to it, after all.


Who's your protagonist? What's their goal, and what's the big fear that prevents them from achieving it?


What's the inciting incident -- the big thing that shakes up the protagonist's life and gets the story started?


What's the overall idea, feeling, or theme you want to go for?


2. Plan the story.

Time to brainstorm! Outline the plot, or at least the main plot points.


Some people fly by the seat of their pants when they're writing; I am not one of them. Personally, I have the best time writing if I've planned out what will happen. Things might change as I go, but I've got the blueprints on hand.


Some people are "pantsers." For you all, I still recommend writing down a few big things you know will happen. They'll provide landmarks as you draft.


During this phase, you'll also get to know your characters better. You can even fill out character sheets if you wanna get into the nitty-gritty.


3. Decide what tools you'll use to write.

Do you want to write your story on Word? Google Docs? Scrivener (a magical word processor specifically for novels)? Pen and paper?


Whatever you decide, get your tools set up and ready to use. Buy a beautiful notebook. Create a new document and name it "upcoming masterpiece."


Prepare to rock the world.


4. Set goals and a deadline.

Ain't nothing getting done without goals and deadlines.


For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), we write 50,000 words in 30 days, which ends up being about 1667 words/day.


Decide how you'll measure your goal. Pages? Words? Hours?


Next, decide what your goal is. 200 pages? 50,000 words? 150 hours?


Finally, decide when you want to finish. 30 days? 2 months? The farther out your End Date is, the harder it will be to stay on task. Shorter is better here.


5. Write the first draft.

Start with the inciting incident, move through some twists and character development, and end with a satisfying conclusion.


Every writer will tell you: the first draft of anything is crap. And that's okay.


Be nice to yourself. This draft doesn't have to be perfect. You're just telling yourself the story. You'll chisel out the beauty later.


6. Let it sit.

Yes, indeed. You just poured your heart and soul into this thing, and now you gotta put it away.


Minimum, wait a few weeks.

I usually leave my draft alone for several months. This lets me come back to it with relatively fresh eyes.


7. Reread and edit the big-picture stuff.

After you've spent some time away from your not-very-attractive baby, reread it and take notes.

Does the plot make sense? Do the characters believably change over the course of the story? Do the scenes all progress the plot? Does the story flow well?


Fix all the big-picture issues you notice before you move to the next phase.


8. Ask for someone else's feedback.

This part may be painful or scary, but it's necessary. Another person's feedback provides an outside look at what works in the story and what needs to be improved.


There are different terms for this person, based on what exactly they do.


A critique partner (CP) helps you with your work and you help them with theirs; it's a mutually beneficial relationship between writers.


A beta reader reads your story and provides feedback as a reader. They're helping you out.


A developmental editor is a professional that provides feedback on big-picture aspects such as plot, characterization, pacing, etc. Typically you'll have a few betas or CPs look at the story before you send it to a developmental editor. If you plan to publish, you need to hire one for sure. Trust me on this one.


9. Adjust the story based on their feedback.

Okay, here's the painful part. Your reader's feedback invariably pointed out some things that could be better. Or could be removed entirely. Ouch.


Review what they've said, and ask yourself honestly what they're right about.


Now it's time to enact those changes. Remove, edit, and add as needed to improve your story's big picture.


10. Edit on the sentence level.

At this point, all your big-picture stuff should be on point.


Now you comb through your sentence structures, your word choices, and so on to make sure you've used the best possible phrasing to convey your ideas. This is when you make it beautiful.


Conveniently, I have a blog article called "4 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Writing" that you may find useful during this phase. Wink.


11. Proofread.

At this point, you're probably sick of reading your own story. Tough luck! It's time for the slowest, most painstaking read-through yet.

The proofread is when you do the final check for grammar, spelling, and all the little tiny details you might've missed during past work sessions.


If you plan to publish, it will be worth your while to hire a professional for this stage.


TL;DR

The steps to writing a novel:

  1. Come up with an idea.

  2. Plan the story.

  3. Decide what tools you'll use to write.

  4. Set goals and a deadline.

  5. Write the first draft.

  6. Let it sit.

  7. Reread and edit the big-picture stuff.

  8. Ask for someone else's feedback.

  9. Adjust the story based on their feedback.

  10. Edit on the sentence level.

  11. Proofread.

Now go forth and write your novel!


I believe in you!

"Make the Yuletide Gay" is now out in the world! Add it to your TBR list on Goodreads. Read Chapter One for free: Chapter 1: “Good Sir, That's a Lotta Snow”!


You can buy "Make the Yuletide Gay" from NineStar Press or from your preferred digital store!


For more fun writerly and adulty stuff, you can follow me on Facebook ("Author Ivy L. James"), Instagram (@authorivyljames), Twitter (@AuthorIvyLJames), and YouTube ("Author Ivy L. James")!


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