Five Steps to Writing Your First Novel

I’ve covered quite a bit of territory in character and plot, but I haven’t actually told you how to get any of it off the ground. The task may seem daunting at first. It’s an entire book, you tell me.

I say, you got this.

The minimum length for a novel is 50,000 words. Whoa, that seems like a lot. But, if you break it down into more manageable lengths, it’s only 1,000 words a day for fifty days. That’s a month and a half.

A month and a half!

That’s not long at all. Double your word count and you’ll be writing heavy tomes of fantastic fiction in no time flat.

If you follow these five steps, you’ll be writing the next big story.

Have a Basic Understanding of Your Characters

For me, (this may not be how you work), I always need a star. I need characters that feel like real people. This means fleshing out their physical descriptions, their pasts, and their emotional stability. This helps you understand what they want and how they will react to the situations you’re going to throw down.

Have a Basic Understanding of Your Plot

Having a really basic outline and some scene prompts to fall on later will help you. One thing I’ve wanted to try is creating a folder or a Scrivener file in which each document opens with a scene prompt from my outline.

Meaning, when I open a pre-saved word file, it contains a single line or so from my outline so that I know what to work with and I’m not staring at a blank page. Do keep in mind that you don’t have to write in a linear fashion. Jump all over the story. Write whichever scene fires you up, just make sure the documents are clearly labelled so you know what they are when putting them together.

Check out my posts on plots for more insight.

Now, don’t worry if your story starts to deviate from the plot. Check that your story is still on course. Does it end the way you wanted? Or, are you okay with the new ending that you are envisioning? If not, pocket the scenes that brought you off course and try again.


There’s really no way around this one.

It’s the name of the game. Start by aiming low. Figure out the word count that you KNOW without a doubt you could complete. Then sail past it and do a small victory dance at all the extra words you’ve written.

Repeat this until you have a book. It will be a hell of a mess. I spent a month just organizing all the pieces of Starlight into a somewhat cohesive story. I still found scenes that were in the wrong places and continuity errors all over the place. Not to mention grammatical and spelling errors.

Turn off your inner editor. Tell your muse you can’t wait on her.


This means not only reading what you’ve written, but taking a break to read other books. Sometimes, after long bouts of writing, you can forget how to word. Looking at a page that another has written will help you refresh and discover new writing styles.

After so many weeks of revising Starlight and ghostwriting, jumping into V.E. Schwab’s books was a breath of fresh air.

Then, return to your file. Change the font, the size, the line spacing. All of it. This makes the story look completely new! It gives you a fresh take on something that’s been with you for months now. Because, unfortunately, you have to tear it apart.

Fix your spelling errors, your continuity issues, your failed character arcs… etc. Do this all in the comments or, if you print to read, with a vibrantly colored pen. Once you finish that read through, take another file or piece of paper and jot down all the things that need to be fixed over all, such as tone, setting, or characterization.

Keep that file/paper handy later.


This final step might be taxing, it might be disappointing, or it just might be revitalizing.

Most of the time, it’s both. Never think that you can skip this step. It’s a necessary evil in the book writing process. Because first drafts suck.

This is the stage that Starlight is currently in. The end feels like the carrot dangling onĀ  a string ahead of me, always close but never within reach. But, that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I want this, desperately.

Go through and work at fixing all the things you’ve noted in your comments. This will often expand your word count, but keep it within reason. 90K is what most publishers are looking for, 110k for fantasy.

You may have to repeat this step several times. I’m sorry, but it’s true. You’re going to keep finding things you want to fix, things you think could be so much better. Go ahead and change them, but after the fourth or fifth pass you can put it down. Somewhere in there, you can hire an editor (if self-publishing) or search beta readers (if seeking traditional publication, or if you want a reader’s perspective before you hand it to an editor).

This process, writing a book, will be exhilarating and draining. You will have dreams of becoming the next Leigh Bardugo one day and the next you’ll wonder why you even tried. Don’t give in. Hold on to the good days.



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