7 Tricks for Writing Your First Novel
The hardest novel you’ll ever write is your first.
Between brainstorming, creating your first draft, and all the editing that follows, it can seem like you’ll never finish your first novel. Worst of all, this feeling of overwhelm has doomed many stories and fledgling authors alike.
However, there are ways to make writing your first novel easier, from gamifying your writing habits to cultivating your inspiration. You may be learning to write while writing your first novel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey of writing a debut novel!
Learning to Avoid the Overwhelm
In the spirit of National Novel Writing Month, I’m sure a lot of you are tackling your very first novel writing project. Of course, perhaps you’ve dabbled with writing in the past and are just now getting serious about it, or maybe you had never even thought of writing a novel before hearing about NaNoWriMo!
Still, whether you’re a total newbie or a more experienced writer, your debut novel will be more than a bit intimidating, for a variety of reasons.
There’s a lot to consider:
- What will your novel be about?
- How much time will it take to finish?
- How will you write when life gets in the way?
- Will your novel actually be any good?
Today, I’d like to provide some answers to these questions. While it undoubtedly seems complicated now, these tricks will help you stay organized and driven so you finally bring your novel over the finish line!
7 Tricks That Make Writing Your First Novel Easier
#1: Find Your Inspiration
The most important element of any successful novel is inspiration—but not the kind you think. You see, when most people think about inspiration, they imagine a fickle muse, blessing them with strokes of genius only to snatch it away the next moment. However, I’m here to tell you that inspiration, writing, and creative work in general doesn’t need to be this way!
The trick comes in taking advantage of all the sources of inspiration out there, instead of waiting for perfection.
Some great methods to consider are:
- Keeping a journal of interesting experiences, conversations, dreams, and other tidbits throughout the day.
- Creating an inspiration board, either physically or through a site like Pinterest, where you collect photos that fit the vibe of your story.
- Taking time throughout your day to turn off your brain and let ideas come to you, whether that’s doing dishes, showering, taking your dog for a walk, or mowing the lawn.
Above all, when you’re about to finish writing for the day, stop before you run out of ideas. Leave scenes half written, even sentences half done, so that when you return to writing tomorrow, you’ll know exactly where to begin.
“I had learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” ― Ernest Hemingway
#2: Take on a Challenge
If you’ve ever dabbled with writing before, you’ll know how hard it can be to keep writing when life gets in the way. Whether work gets busy, family calls, or you’re sick, how do you push yourself to meet your writing goals?
Well, one of the best ways to motivate yourself is to take on a challenge!
Like I mentioned in the beginning, many of you may be doing NaNoWriMo this month. For those who are unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month is a month long writing challenge that’s held every November where participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in only 30 days. This has helped tons of people dive into writing for the first time, myself included, but there are many other options to try as well.
You can start by joining a pre-established group such as Camp NaNoWriMo, or you can build a writing challenge all your own. Better yet, bring on a group of writing friends and keep each other accountable.
Of course, if you push yourself too hard it becomes easy to give up entirely. The key to a successful first novel is to be realistic about what you can and can’t get done. If you can only write five hundred words a week, that’s great—after all, that’s five hundred words you didn’t have before. Be honest with yourself about your schedule and how much time you want to dedicate to your novel each week.
Remember: if you miss your goals one week, don’t feel guilty. Just keep moving forward, and you’ll be glad you didn’t give up.
#3: Make a Game Out of It
Similar to taking on a challenge, try turning your novel writing process into a game to motivate yourself even more. In my opinion, the best way to do this by rewarding yourself as you reach new milestones, so you always have something to look forward to!
Some ideas to try are:
- When you finish writing a chapter reward yourself with an evening out, some ice cream, a movie night, or anything else you love to do, guilt free.
- Once a week pick a movie or book and steal a scene from it. Put your cast of character into that scene and see how they behave. Not only does this help you learn the unique personalities of your cast, but it also mixes up your writing and keeps things interesting!
- Find a friend and write together. Better yet, make it a race! Each week or month set a common goal, and whoever reaches it first owes the other one lunch.
Regardless of how you make your writing fun, the goal is to motivate yourself to keep going and enjoy writing. Not only will you be more likely to finish your novel, but you’ll be a lot happier along the way. 🙂
#4: Develop a Writing Habit
Of course, after reading the two tricks above you may think a challenge doesn’t fit your style, and that’s ok. For many, a quiet, solitary writing process is what they prefer, versus one motivated by deadlines and competition.
Regardless of whether you enjoy the competitive aspect or not, the goal is to develop a consistent writing habit. This could mean you write for one hour each day, or it could mean you only write for 15 minutes before bed. For some, it may be better to pick a word count for the week, so you can adjust your writing depending on your schedule each day.
Either way, you want to build your goals around how you like to write and your lifestyle.
Remember, the point is to reach your goals each week, so don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up to more ambitious goals too.
#5: Maintain Your Momentum
Of course, no matter how good your goals are or how consistently you sit down each day to write, keeping your momentum up can be a serious challenge.
Fortunately, there are a few tricks that can keep you motivated to write.
To start, the best thing you can do for your fledgling novel is to have a clear premise as soon as possible. A premise does a few key things for your writing process:
- It clearly defines what your story is “about”
- It lays out the basic conflict of your story
- It keeps you focused on a consistent core idea
- It represents the kernel of inspiration you started your story with
- And it helps you reorient your story when you’re beset by writer’s block
If you’re wondering how to write a premise, it’s a simple process. In two to three sentences, write the core idea of your story. No need to incorporate character names or even specific plot points—those things will evolve and grow as you continue to write. Instead, your premise is the underlying idea of your story.
Here are some examples:
“What if a sheltered idealist finds love with someone who changes her idea of justice and the world around her?” – Dirty Dancing
“What if a young woman’s father is killed, and she goes on an adventure to avenge his death with a rough, friendless bounty hunter?” – True Grit
Of course, there are many other ways to maintain your momentum as well.
You could find a writing idol, someone whose work inspires you so much that it keeps you motivated to continue working, even when you’re stuck. Or perhaps you use bullet points, filler names, and placeholders when you aren’t sure how a specific scene comes together. This way, you can continue moving forward with what you know, instead of losing momentum.
After all, this is a first draft we’re talking about here—it’s meant to be imperfect.
- Your Game Plan to Break Through Writer’s Block for Good
- How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing
#6: Cultivate Your Skills
Of course, as imperfect as your first draft will inevitably be, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to grow your skills as a writer. Becoming a better writer is all about challenging yourself to improve with each passing day. In that vein, we’ve already talked a lot about writing consistently—but that’s only half the battle of improvement.
The other half comes from learning the techniques behind good storytelling.
Things like outlining, story structure, character development, pacing, theme, et cetera. While these topics may seem intimidating if you’re a beginner, don’t worry. There are tons of resources out there that can help guide you as you dive into the qualities of a good novel and see how it can apply to your own work:
- 10 Steps for Outlining Your Next Novel
- Character Arcs 101: Positive and Negative Arcs
- An Introduction to the Three Act Structure
- The 5 Signs of a Compelling Protagonist
- The Basics of Scene Structure: Action and Reaction
I recently read an excellent article by K.M. Weiland, all about the lessons she learned after returning to a novel she gave up on years ago. She opens the article talking about how learning from her mistakes has been one of the greatest gifts of her writing and how she’s learned that the core of these stories is still worthwhile.
This is such an important perspective to nurture. Every story we write has something to teach us, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. No matter how rough one aspect of your writing may be, it’s still yours—remember to be proud of it and find the good in it, so you can continue turning it into the perfect story you want it to be!
#7: Seek Advice
Finally, as with all things in life, sometimes it’s best to seek an outside opinion.
As you go about writing your first novel, you may find that your story becomes all consuming. You’ll think about it as you shower, as you wash dishes, before you go to bed—and as they say, “it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.”
That’s where other people can help.
Seek out friends who also love to write and ask if they’d be your critique partner. Better yet, find a community of beta readers who’re willing to give your draft a thorough once over. And of course, for anyone who wants to make writing their career, finding an editor you enjoy working with is the best thing you can do for your novel. A professional who knows all the pitfalls and traps a new author faces will be the perfect person to guide you as you turn your first novel into the best it can be.
Here are some resources that might help:
Ultimately, writing doesn’t have to be a solitary journey—seek out a community of supportive people, find other like-minded writers and artists, and work together to bring your story to life. Stay motivated as you keep learning, and you can’t go wrong!
While your first novel may be the hardest, once you’re holding that final manuscript in your hands it’ll be so worth the time and effort you’ve put in. 🙂