Tips for Writing a Novel

tips for writing a novelWhile pursuing a career as a novelist, I did everything wrong, more than once.

In hopes of saving inspiring novelists the frustration of screwing up like I did, I humbly offer a few tips for writing a novel I learned in the creative writing school of hard knocks.

It’s my hope that your journey to success as a novelist is short and swift.

Enroll in the free How to Write a Novel email course.

While these tips for writing a book are taken from my experience of writing novels they are probably useful for any large, complex project.

The Most Essential Tips for Writing a Novel.

Don’t go it alone.

When you’re completely immersed in writing a novel, you’re in your own world. It can feel as if you’re an old fashioned deep sea diver on the bottom of the ocean, wearing a brass helmet and leaded boots. You’re isolated. You’re vulnerable.

A hose trails from your helmet and feeds you air from the surface. You need to know with total confidence that someone you trust is on the surface watching your air supply and keeping you safe. This is your life support.

It’s no different for a writer. Someone you trust needs to stay firmly planted in reality while you immerse yourself in your fictional world. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose perspective.

Every writer needs a life support person to keep them grounded, and to remind them they are loved and appreciated even when their writing stinks. And, make no mistake, novelists produces far more crap than good stuff. Fortunately, we can edit and polish until the good stuff shines.

In addition to a life support person, you’ll need someone who’ll give you honest feedback on what you’ve written. That way you’ll know when it needs work and when it’s good. We’ll call this person the friendly critic.

And you’ll need cheerleaders. Friends who’ll cheer you on to the finish line, give you a hug or a pat on the back when you need it and celebrate with you when you’re published.

We all lose perspective occasionally and make stupid decisions. If you’re writing a novel and trying to have a life, plus keep a career, family or business going at the same time, it’s easy to become mentally exhausted, talk yourself into a funk and quit.

This is when you will truly need someone to help you find a balance and remind you that, yes, you really can write a novel.

One person can be a critic, cheerleader and life support all rolled up in one, but it’s important that they know that life support is their most vital role. That is their primary job.

The last thing you want is to come limping up to your life support person with your psyche in tatters and be confronted with a critic.

That’s painful if not disastrous.

When in doubt…

Your cheerleaders and life support people must know that when in doubt, they should cheer and support.

It’s best if someone you’re emotionally bonded with is your cheerleader and life support, like a wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Find someone who you do not have a close emotional bond with to be your friendly critic.

If you don’t have a circle of friends to draw on, it is certainly possible to go it alone. However, I strongly recommend you find someone to be a cheerleader and support so you can do your best work.

For many, the creative personality has a dark side that manifests in anxiety and depression. At such times, your cheerleaders and support people may truly be lifesavers.

Enroll in the free How to Write a Novel email course.

Make Writing a Novel a Priority

Keep in mind that writing a novel is hard work. It takes a lot of concentration and mental energy. You have to make it a priority and reserve time for it, otherwise, it won’t get done.

How to Begin.

Writing a novel is like putting a puzzle together, but first you must dream into existence all the pieces. Then, you must find where each piece belongs.

When you commit to writing a novel, ideas will come to you…ideas for dialogue, scenes, characters, titles…all sorts of stuff. These are the puzzle pieces.

At first, it might be only a trickle of ideas, but the more you keep the channel open, the more ideas will come.

Not all the ideas will be usable. Some ideas might belong to another novel, one you haven’t even dreamed of yet. You won’t know which ideas go where until you’re deep into the writing process.

The important thing is to capture all of the ideas as they come to you and keep the channel open.

 

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urge that motivates you.

Keep the channel open.

─ Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

 

How to Keep the Channel Open.

Keep the channel open by staying relaxed. This is the greatest tip for writing a novel I have learned.

The more you write and the more you keep the creative channel open, the deeper you can reach inside yourself. Go as deep as you can. That’s where the magic lives.

When you’re stressed, even a little bit, the mind shuts down and goes into fight or flight mode. Creativity is a luxury and gets shut down first when you’re tense, so stay relaxed to keep the creative channel open.

The ability to relax is the most powerful skill anyone can learn.

Listen to relaxing music or audios. Learn to meditate. Self-hypnosis audios have helped me a lot. I recommend the Body Scan Relaxation Technique. You can learn more about it here.

Record your ideas as they pop into your head.

I carry a small pocket notebook and pen with me at all times. My best ideas come to me when I’m walking, washing dishes, napping and doing other things unrelated to writing.

I jot these ideas in my pocket notebook as they come to me. I don’t edit or ponder over the ideas at this stage. I just get the ideas down.

I also have a larger spiral notebook on my desk. The pages in this notebook are the size of regular notebook paper and perforated so they can be easily torn out.

The pages also have three holes in the left margin so I can put them in a three ring binder when I begin to organize my ideas later.

At the end of the day, if I have ideas in the small pocket notebook, I transfer these to the spiral bound notebook. If the spiral notebook gets filled up with ideas, I start another one. This idea gathering stage can go on for months or years.

The spiral notebook encourages me to simply record my ideas and not worry about organizing them. Organization comes later. When I’m ready to organize my ideas, I move them into a ring binder that is divided into characters, scenes, story theme, general ideas, etc.

Create a Library of Names.

I also keep a separate three ring binder of people’s names. This has become my library of names to draw on when I need to name a character.

These are names I stumble across during my day; people I meet at the store, movie credits, tombstones, magazines, historical rosters. I’ll steal any name I like. However, if it’s the name of a a real, living person, I’ll mix and match first and last names before I tag a character with it.

The names are organized according to gender, ethnicity, region, country, first name, and last name. I’ve been collecting names for over 30 years. When I need a name for a character, I can usually find one within minutes.

A Glimpse into the Writer’s Mind.

“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.”-Vincent Van Gogh

Writing a novel can sometimes feel like trying to make chicken salad out of chicken poo. The problem is your mind is infinite and multidimensional while a novel is finite and linear.

Writing a novel is essentially the process of extracting ideas, visions, images and dialogue from your mind and arranging them in a linear form, one word after another.

In the early stages of planning a novel, your mind usually serves up these visions in a jumbled, random fashion like puzzle pieces dropped on the floor. If you don’t know where the pieces fit, you might reject them.

Maybe, while you’re struggling with the first line of the first scene, your mind is trying to force on you a snippet of dialog that belongs in chapter 12 of the seventh rewrite. But, you don’t know this and reject it.

Right Brain Left BrainThat’s a terrible mistake, because when you reject what your mind is creating it will soon shut down and not give you any ideas at all. Remember to record your ideas, even if you don’t understand them. Many of your ideas will lead to better ideas, but you won’t know that unless you make a note of them.

Long before you begin writing your novel, you must dream into existence most of the pieces. Like Van Gough who first dreamed his painting and then painted his dream, relax into the world of your novel, dream your story and then write your dream.

Spend days, weeks, even months or years if you need to, dreaming your story and writing it all down. Keep a notebook with you at all times, because once your creative mind realizes that you’re in the receiving mode it will serve up many, many ideas.

The more clearly you can envision your story and the more real it feels to you, the more real it will be to your reader. Invest the time you need to fully dream your story.

Enroll in the free How to Write a Novel email course.

It’s All Just a Big Fat Lie.

Writing a novel is like practicing a big fat lie until it rings true.

As you dream your story, it will evolve. You may realize that the novel you thought you were writing really wasn’t the novel inside you at all. That initial story is usually just the beginning of the discovery process.

That’s because the true story that’s coming through you is too big for your conscious mind. You can only see bits of it at any given moment.

It’s like the pieces of a puzzle that are jumbled and out of sequence. That’s okay. That’s perfect. Keep the creative channel open.

More Novel Writing Tips and Advice.

Writing a novel is an adventure. These tips for writing a novel will help, but ultimately every writing adventure is unique. In addition to these novel writing tips, take time to master story structure and the moral premise, and continually study story theory. I’ve created a free course on how to write a novel that is an excellent place to start.

In this course I take you behind the curtain, far beyond basic tips for writing a novel and novel writing techniques. I show you how a successful novel is built scene by scene using story elements as old as humanity.

To learn more about this free How to Write a Novel course, visit here.

 

tips for writing a novel

Comments

  1. Yeah certainly
    I love the tips. Although am not going to write a novel, am a website builder and I would constantly need to put content on my website daily. So if am not a good writer, then I may go nowhere with my site. As you said we must keep on exercising and we must relax while writing. I think there’s no real difference between writing a novel and writing content for your site, that’s why am going to follow the tips you’ve provided.
    Thanks for the info

    • Hi Ramirez!

      Thanks for stopping by. I agree, writing content for a website and writing a novel are very similar. I love writing novels, but I also love writing content for my website. A website is dynamic and constantly evolving. Once a novel is published, it’s pretty much done.

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

      All the best…

      Gary

  2. Encourager4 says:

    This is great advice! I especially appreciated your encouragement to go where your creativity is, rather than trying to force yourself to “write in order.” Ideation is a real challenge for me (once I have the idea, I can run with it), so not shutting down that process is crucial.

    Thanks for the great tips. I’ll be checking out this site regularly!

    • Hi!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad you found my article encouraging and hope you take time to dream your writing before you begin the actually writing process.

      All the best…

      Gary

  3. Thanks for this. I’ve always thought of writing a book, but never came close to that. 🙂 The closest I got was publishing articles online and in magazines. What helps for me is to think through what I wanted to write about, do a bit of research, FOCUS, and most especially write down my thoughts whenever they popped in my head. Just write your thoughts down, and don’t edit it just yet – do that later on.

    • Hi Raquel!

      You are so right. I try to push the editing off to last, but sometimes my OCD kicks in and I start tinkering with the text. You comment gave me a flashback on my first attempt at a novel.

      It took me three years to write the darn thing. It was a little more than 600 pages long. Writing it nearly drove me to the nut house because I would polish a chapter before I wrote the next one. At some point, I’d realize half of the earlier chapters wouldn’t do and throw them out. Finally, I thought since I was throwing out chapters, I may as well wait to polish them AFTER I was sure they would stay in the book.

      Thank goodness that first attempt was never published it was an abomination.

      All the best…

      Gary

  4. Some great tips here, Gary. I can totally relate to your post having been writing novels (and attempting to write novels) since 1984. The notepad idea for writing down ideas that pop into your head is an absolute must. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve jumped out of bed at night over the years to write down a possible solution to a plot issue I was stuck on.

    For me, I always try to come up with the ending before starting writing as it gives me a goal to work towards. Sometimes that ending will change, but I usually need a fair idea of how the novel will conclude.

    It’s been a few years since I wrote a novel now as I got into writing short stories and novellas and publishing them as eBooks.

    I really like the concept of your website. Great niche. With self publishing so accessible nowadays, there are just so many budding authors out there. I’m sure your site will prove to be a valuable resource for thousands. Keep up the great work.

    • Hi Darren!

      I chuckled to myself when I read how you’ve lost count of the times you’ve gotten out of bed to write an idea down. Me too. In fact, there have been times when I woke up with an idea and struggled with myself. I knew if I didn’t write it down it would be lost forever, but I didn’t want to get out of bed!

      I appreciate your encouraging words.

      All the best…

      Gary

  5. Hey Gary, thank you for such a wonderful article. I am wanting to write an eBook, and no, not a novel. It is my story of my life as an addict. This is something I have always wanted to do.
    I have found your tips and information here very practical and useful so thank you!
    Any tips you can share on writing my story will be very much appreciated… on my way to check out your course in the meantime.

    • Hi Lynne!

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment and can relate to your story of addiction. I can’t imagine a greater challenge than addiction. Most of my siblings are addicts and I was married to an addict. As a young man, I was well on my way to becoming an alcoholic until I made a dramatic life change. This past summer, my sister died of liver failure due to a life of substance abuse.

      With regards to your story, I suggest you simply write it as it comes to you. Don’t try to organize it or edit it until you’ve written it all down or until you are tired of writing it all down. Stay relaxed as possible so the ideas can flow and get it all down on paper.

      The Novel writing course will be helpful and will give you ideas about structuring your book to be the most engaging for the reader, but the first step is to just write your story however it flows from you. Later, you can organize it.

      Finally, once you have written your story and think it’s ready to be published, hire the best editor you can afford. A good editor is my secret weapon and will make all the difference in your final copy.

      Also, feel free to contact me anytime. I’m happy to help and will gladly read over your story and offer my two cents worth.

      All the best…

      Gary

  6. Gary,
    Thanks for the great read, tips and advice on a topic I have always found fascinating, because I love to write.
    I rally appreciated the link for the Free How to Write a Good Novel with all the modules broken down, very helpful.
    I deal with ADHD on a daily basis so your tips for organization of thoughts, names etc. are all golden, and I will try to apply them in my regular work.
    Thanks again for the wonderful read and all the on point suggestions, my best,

    Gary

    • Hi Gary!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I don’t know if I have ADHD. I’m probably just absent minded as my mind is always engaged with some project or story. This is why I’ve had to find ways to stay focused. For me, sometimes just making an effort to relax is all I need. This is why I carry a pocket notebook wherever I go. Meditation and self-hypnosis audio recordings have also been very helpful.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my article and appreciate your kind words.

      All the best…

      Gary

  7. As much as I read, I always thought I could do this. But, my comprehension abilities are shot. I think it would be fun to write a novel and what you express is the fun of creating and despair of creation. My brain would explode. I don’t think I could my attention to the novel would last long enough to get past the first chapter. I change my hobbies regularly. But it would be an adventure, that’s for sure. Thanks

    • Hi Jim!

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, there are days when I feel like my head will explode and other days when I’m convinced it has exploded. Over the years I’ve developed a system of planning a novel and writing that breaks each step down so I don’t have to hold so much in my brain at one time. You mention you change hobbies regularly, one of the things I love about writing novels is that each one is a new adventure.

      All the best…

      Gary

  8. Hi,

    I love your tips for writing a novel! Even though I’m not planning to write one, I find the tips useful for my own niche blog. For example, building a blog is like putting a puzzle together. I collect and gather my ideas and I try to write down all my ideas in a notebook as it’s easy to forget things. In fact, I have 6 notebooks altogether lol!

    After that I produce my first draft and they are always a mish mash of all my ideas which I slowly build up and refine through editing and polishing. So I agree that it’s it’s like “a pieces of a puzzle that are jumbled and out of sequence”. We just need to fit everything together. Thanks for sharing your article!

    • Hi Yvonne!

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m pleased you liked my article. Your method is terrific. I have a lot of notebooks too! There’s always a couple of novels in different stages of completion and notebooks for each one.

      All the best…

      Gary

  9. Super thank you. While I’ve attempted many novels in the past, I’ve literally got a few chapters in before SOMETHING happens that stops me. Sometimes the style completely diverts into something else, or I totally lose sight of where the story is going or I just get stuck in a rut. I’ve moved on to children’s books at the moment, I have a couple almost finished but that’s a whole other ball game and hard in a different way. I’d really like to go back to novel writing – signing up to your course would be a good start! I love the idea of writing down character names when they come to you, great idea – that’s something I’ve struggled with in the past. 🙂

    • Hi Netp!

      Thanks for stopping by. I understand about getting stuck while writing a novel. My first attempts were awful. That’s why I now plan my novels scene by scene. I use a storyboard and can see all the holes and weaknesses, all the stuff that sabotages my writing, and fix it before I begin writing.

      I hope you will sign up for the novel course. In the beginning, I cover essential story theory and recommend some books to read and popular movies to watch so you can see story theory in action. Later, I teach how to use a storyboard to plan every scene of your novel before you begin. With this method, you won’t run out of steam or hit obstacles.

      All the best…

      Gary

  10. Hello Gary,

    “That initial story is usually just the beginning of the discovery process” – I’d frame that one & put on the wall as well. It has very nice sound to it & it’s just pure reality.

    Meanwhile I’m not a writer by nature nor profession, I can relate very well to the support system you’re pointing out. This one our essential foundation columns to nourish our human element. We like to breathe!

    I enjoy the way you approach to creation of content & remorselessly neglect the critic part of our mindset to build up initial frame. It’s a clever way to tune our personal apparatus into empowered mode to unleash the creator side.

    Once the surge of inspiration-energy & ideas arrive, it feels like there will be no stopping of you. These are the brief amazing moments we’re experiencing, but once you’ve been there you’ll never forget one.

    Wonderful effort!
    Sincerely,

    Henry

  11. RSRDP22015 says:

    I am not a writer, although I have often considered taking it up as a hobby.

    You definitely put your craft into your website! I love the verbal imagery that you use and how you use photos to enhance the picture you are painting.

    I just may look into your writing class that you suggested.

    Good Luck!

    • Hi!

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your kind words and encourage you to take up writing fiction. It is a wonderful hobby and Amazon makes it cheap and easy to self-publish.

      All the best…

      Gary

  12. Tyler Redlev says:

    I wanted to be able to write for a long time. I was working on it but sometimes i just get stuck. I think one of the main purposes is stress and thinking of other things. Your relaxing advice can help about it i think. And i must definetely keep on taking records. Thank you for your helpful article.

    • Hi Tyler!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Yes, stress will definitely curb your creativity. It’s something I struggle with every day. I have an iPad with several relaxing guided meditations and relaxing self-hypnosis recordings on it. This is my emergency go to plan when I’m stressed.

      Do keep a notebook for your ideas.

      If you’d like to learn how I write a novel, enroll in the free How to Write a Novel email course. It will take 4 to 6 months to get through at a leisurely pace and there are several books I recommend you read. By the time you finish it you will have a solid understanding of how a novel is written and will also have begun planning your own novel.

      All the best…

      Gary

  13. Hi Gary,
    Thanks for the great read. You’ve made some good points, such as keeping a pen and notepad handy. I have occasionally experimented with this upon waking from a deep slumber. Most of the time I’m simply too tired to get out of bed. Perhaps that may have worked out for the best, as I don’t want to frighten people with frightening thoughts…just kidding. Great work.

    • Hi Shawn!

      Thanks for commenting. I find my mind is more creative as I’m relaxing into sleep rather than when I’m waking up.

      When I’m waking up, I’m kind of drunk and my brain is like the old cast iron flat head V-8 engine in my first pickup truck. It runs, but only after a lot of warming up.

      Naps are some of my most creative moments.

      All the best…

      Gary

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