How to write a novel

There’s nothing more satisfying than typing the last few words of your novel. All the hard work, late nights and sacrifice have led up to this moment. That satisfying ahhh you must allow yourself, followed by at least a few weeks of doing anything but looking at your story.

Then the hard work truly begins. You begin your second draft. Then your third. Then sometimes your fourth, fifth and beyond.

This was very much the story behind writing my new book, The Nowhere. An Australian coming-of-age novel that shifts around in timeframes, the story took many shapes before resulting in the finished manuscript it is today.

So from initial ideas to your final manuscript, I’m sharing what I’ve learnt about how to write a novel.

Form a concept

The most important aspect to writing a novel is of course forming a concept and outlining a plot. Some writers carry ideas for stories with them for years, while others might simply come up with a concept one morning and begin putting pen to paper.

Inspiration can be drawn from anywhere. Whether it’s from life experiences, global events or even dreams – almost anything can become the ammunition you use to catapult your concepts. And of course, reading widely will also help inspire the formation of your ideas, as well as improve your writing.

Make a plan

Once you have your initial idea, the next step for how to write a novel is making a plan. Not every author works in this way. There are many writers who simply like to see where the story takes them. In other words, they wing it. Although this approach sounds exciting, it isn’t actually all that practical. At least, it’s not for me. I spent my entire childhood scribbling down short stories that never had an ending, which is why I think it’s so important to make a plan:

You need a beginning, middle and end. This is where you story must begin. First, write down in a couple of lines what your story will be about. Then, write down in three simple sentences, your beginning, middle and end. You can then build these out into three paragraphs, before mapping out the full skeleton of your story.

Write your first draft

If your plan is the bones of your story, your first draft is all about giving this skeleton its flesh. You will have already mapped out the outline of your plot, but your first draft is all about getting the words down. And that’s all it should be. Don’t obsess over grammar or how eloquent your writing is. Just. Get. The. Words. Down.

And although I made it clear just how important a plan is for how to write a novel, don’t be afraid to let your story meander in different directions from where you planned for it to go. This is the beauty about writing. Your characters, who were once just ideas floating around your head, are now fully-formed, living, breathing entities. Let them guide you as much as you guide them through your story.

Write your second draft (and beyond)

Your second draft is where your story will start to go from initial brain dump to actually sounding like a novel. Although, maybe only slightly. This is where you will change the plot where it’s not working, replace weak dialogue, chop up the structure and more. But it’s still not time to stress out about spelling and grammar (although it’s obviously always worth fixing these mistakes as you spot them).

Once your second draft is done, the amount of drafts that follow completely depends on you and your story. For instance, your second draft might feature considerable rewrites (if not a complete rewrite), while your following edits could be more about polishing it up. Try to have a bit of distance between each draft, as you’ll see it with new eyes each time you return to it.

Edit, edit, edit

Last but in no way least, you’ll want to spend almost as much time editing your novel as you did writing it. First comes the general plot edit, where you’ll look out for any loop holes or parts of the story that simply aren’t working. Next is the structural edit, where you’ll move things around if you haven’t already done so in one of your drafts. Finally, you’ll want to proofread your novel, ensuring there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes.

And once you think you’re done, you’ll want to edit the whole thing again. Why would you want to put yourself through that? Well, we’re all human. So it’s natural we will miss things, even after a few rounds of edits. When you really think you’re done, you’ll then want to get others to read your book, before getting it professionally edited. But I’ll cover the editing process in more detail in future posts.

In the meantime, what are you waiting for? Get writing!

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