You did it. You finally committed to writing a novel, the first step in your multi-step journey to authordom.
If you’re anything like me, you’re now wondering how to get started with such a momentous task.
The answer isn’t simple. Finding it will take research and continuous trial and error until you hit upon the process that works best for you.
There’s a lot of information out there to sift through. Read, experiment, repeat.
I’m just finishing up the first draft of my own debut novel and I’ve been documenting my journey each step of the way, with the hope that it might be of use to other aspiring authors like yourself.
The more you write, the more your process will take on a life of its own. In the meantime, here is a pre-writing routine that you can use as a jumping off point.
1. Get Organized
If it’s an option, pick a room in the house to designate as your official writing space. Ideally, this is a distraction-free area where your housemates will know not to bother you.
Wherever you end up writing, you want to create the path of least resistance for getting your work done. This means making sure that all the tools you need are on hand and the environment is as tidy as possible.
You don’t want to have to wade through piles of clothes to get to your desk every morning. Similarly, it’s best to avoid the option of using chores as an excuse not to work. Take care of anything that needs doing outside of writing hours.
2. Choose a Filing System
Finding the right program(s) for creating and saving your work is important. Some popular digital options include Scrivener, Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Google Drive, and Dropbox.
I prefer to use one program (Evernote) for my outline and notes, and another (Google Drive) to write and save my pages. This makes it easier to tab between windows when I need to reference something.
Even if you’re writing your book by hand, I would recommend taking the time to type and save your work using one of the above programs. If you ever lose your physical copy this ensures that you have a backup. You will also need a digital version of your novel if you plan to publish it, so you might as well type as you go.
Whether you choose hand-written or digital, make sure that your notes and chapters are easy to access and find. Once again, it’s all about creating the path of least resistance and not giving yourself an excuse to get distracted or discouraged.
3. Ready your Writing Toolbox
There are many ways to outline and many ways to write. With that in mind, here are the tools that I ensure are ready to go before it’s time to get to work.
- Legal pads
- A variety of pens
- My writing journal
- Sticky notes in multiple colors
- Notecards in multiple colors
- Bulletin board
- Push pins
- Hemingway App: I write directly in Hemingway and use it to test the reading level of my work and simplify my language. At the end of the writing session, I copy and paste into a Google Doc.
- Grammarly: During the editing stage, I copy and paste my work into Grammarly a chapter at a time. It’s the best tool I’ve found for checking grammar and punctuation. It’s especially useful for anyone who likes to overuse commas (guilty.) Once I’m finished, I replace the rough pages with the edited version in Drive.
4. Put on your Thinking Cap
So, you’ve organized your writing space and have your tools ready. Now it’s time to come up with the central idea for your book or polish the one you already have.
There are lots of different brainstorming methods you can use to do this. My favorite is free writing and seeing where my mind takes me. If your thoughts are misfiring, you can try creating a list of your interests and values and seeing what themes jump out at you.
This is the part where the writing journal comes into play. I already keep a notebook to record my day-to-day thoughts. To stop my book ideas from getting lost in the chaos, I’ve elected to use a separate journal to document any writing-related details. This includes my free writing sessions or any ideas that might come to me during the day.
Once you have an idea, identify an appropriate genre for the concept and then take a look at the demand and other authors already working in that niche.
If it’s a market that’s saturated, ensure that you have an original take or unique spin on the subject.
After digging a little, if your idea seems solid and it’s a concept that you believe you can write thousands of words about, proceed to the next step. Otherwise, it’s back to brainstorming.
5. Create a Marketing StrategyMarketing is the key if you want others to be able to find, read, and share your work. Click To Tweet If you’re planning to publish your book, especially if you’re going the self-publishing route, you need a marketing strategy. Marketing is the key if you want others to be able to find, read, and share your work. It’s also crucial for anyone who would like writing to become their primary source of income.
There are lots of great resources out there for creating a killer marketing strategy and editorial calendar. To get started, I would recommend checking out the HubSpot blog and the Authority Self-Publishing Podcast.
I will be detailing my own book marketing strategy in a future post.
6. Write an Outline
When it comes to outlining your book, there are lots of methods to choose from.
I tend to go the more traditional route, dividing the book into sections, and then those sections into chapters. Under each chapter heading, I create a bulleted list of the content that chapter will contain. I then reference this list as I write.
Another approach that I’ve been experimenting with is the notecard method. Instead of using a word document, I create a new notecard for each scene, listing the type of scene (dialogue, action, suspense) on the front and including a short summary of what happens on the back. I then organize these cards into chapters.
The great thing about using note cards is that you can easily remove or move scenes around, placing them where they make more sense as you edit. You can also pin them to a cork board to create a visual breakdown of your book.
I’m using this method to write a fantasy novel but it would also work well for non-fiction. Instead of using scenes, you could organize by points or discussion topics.
Once again, it’s best to experiment and find what works for you. Just don’t neglect this step. It’s difficult to write a cohesive book without an outline and your message is likely to suffer if you try to go it without one.
7. Hold Yourself Accountable
There are lots of things that you could be doing with your time but you’ve made a commitment to writing. Here are a few options for eliminating distractions and keeping yourself on track:
- Set a daily word count goal and then track your progress to see if you’re hitting your numbers.
- Use a to-do list application to set deadlines. I like Wunderlist, as it’s easy to organize your lists by category, create sub-tasks, and set up recurring items. I also use the Strides app to track whether I’m hitting my daily and weekly goals, both for writing and other areas of my life.
- Join a local writing group.
- Join a writing group on Facebook.
- Team up with a friend and be each other’s writing partners.
- Block off writing time on your calendar and make sure your friends and family are also aware of these times.
- If you’re really having trouble, you can try Cold Turkey Writer. This program works as a word processor that blocks access to the rest of your computer until you either hit a specific word count or a set amount of time has elapsed.
8. Start WritingMost days, writing seems scary as hell, but you've got to push through that feeling. Click To Tweet You’ve set yourself up for success by going through the previous steps and now it’s time to start writing. Most days, the prospect will seem scary as hell, but you’ve got to push through that feeling.
Just write. Anything will do. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself getting into the rhythm.
This is what you want. This is what you’ve prepared for. This is why you read this article.
Just write. You’ve got this.