So you want to write a novel? Congrats on this big decision and first step! 81 percent of Americans have a dream to write a book, but few actually follow through with it (something I totally get now that I’ve finally published a book). The novel is the greatest undertaking of the human imagination, a professor I once had told me, so it makes sense that it takes so long to figure it out. That being said, it is such an exciting challenge and a journey I highly encourage you take if you have a story in you that you want to tell!
In many ways the start of the novel writing process is the best part. You have an idea and anything is possible for how to bring it to life. I LOVE this phase of writing, but it can also feel a bit overwhelming. From talking with other writers I know that everyone develops his or her own process, so at the end of the day you will eventually find what works for you. But here are some things that I find most helpful when getting started.
1. Create a mood board. I’m working on a new book (to be published before or after Map of Us—not determined yet!) and to get me in the right mindset, I created a mood board on Pinterest. A lot of telling a story is about creating a feeling for yourself and for your reader. The reason I had to write Waiting at Hayden’s so many times was because it took several drafts for me to get the right feeling on the page. A mood board can save you time and it’s something to return to if you step away from your project for a few days. Think of it as a quick way to get you back into your story.
Mood Board for My Next Book
2. Get all your thoughts about the story down on paper: When writing Waiting at Hayden’s I had lots of ideas come into my head about the story for months before I decided to actually start writing it. I’m sure you’ve had plenty of ideas already too–things like snippets of dialogue, plot twists, etc. Put it all down on paper if you haven’t already and try to organize it.
3. Come up with your pitch: When I was writing Waiting at Hayden’s, I didn’t know what the story was really about until a few drafts in. Had I realized the book was primarily about the complicated nature of timing in our relationships, it would have saved me a few years. At the end of the day you have to market and sell your book, so if you can come up with your pitch ahead of time and make sure the story will ultimately be marketable, it’s really helpful and it provides a good reference point and a way to keep yourself on track.
4. Determine what kind of book you’re writing: Like I said, eventually you’ll have to sell your book so it’s very helpful in the beginning if you identify exactly what genre you are writing in and then read books that are successful in that genre over and over again. I still do this. You won’t end up copying your favorite writers because your own voice does emerge, but it’s good to learn what is successful and why. Those authors have figured a lot out and their books will be the best teachers for you.
5. Have a general ideas of where you’re going OR know your characters inside and out. Waiting at Hayden’s has a big plot twist and I knew what that was going to be from day one. I had to leave lots of clues and you can’t really do that if you don’t know what it is ahead of time. If you’re writing your book without any twists, just an exploration of a topic (like a lot of traditional women’s fiction) then sometimes the characters will lead you where they want to go and the story will unfold naturally. That was the case for me when writing Map of Us. Get to know your characters well before you start the story. People read to connect with these people after all so they have to feel real.
6. Know where you’re going next before you stop writing: One writing teacher I had told me to make sure I leave each writing session knowing where I’m going next so that I’m excited to get back to the page the next day. I’ve definitely found that to be true and highly suggest you do the same. It’s like cleaning your house before you leave for vacation. You’re much more likely to want to come home if you know things are tidy, than if you left it a mess.
7.Be patient: We now live in a world of instant gratification, but writing a novel can take years. I personally liked the days spent doing it, and I’m sure you will too if you stop thinking about the end goal. A big part of writing a book is learning about yourself, life, and your characters. It’s a wonderful way to spend your time, so enjoy it.
Check out Waiting at Hayden’s here:
8. Believe in yourself each time you write. Sit down to write confidently and knowing that you can do this and you will figure it out. I am a FIRM believer that if you do something long enough you will master it. I was a terrible dancer growing up and now I teach dance fitness classes at least five times a week. I got there by taking classes four days a week for two years and eventually I mastered the moves, cueing, etc. If you have a passion for something or want to learn, just start. Do it daily. And you will figure it out. You’ll also get there a lot quicker if you stop questioning yourself.
9. Make a habit out of sitting down: Of course this should be a no-brainer, but the biggest part of writing a book is just sitting down and doing it the same way you have to make it a daily practice to go to the gym if you want to get in shape. When you read a book it sounds like it was easy to write, so I think people often assume it just comes out like that. If something looks easy, it’s always a reflection of someone spending a ton of time mastering how to do it well. Writing is a discipline, but I like to show up to it with excitement and enthusiasm.
10. Stock up on Candy: This is my silly personal key to staying in the writing chair. In addition to teaching fitness classes to support my writing, fitness classes also help support my bad writing habit which is eating candy (or something sweet) while I work. Sometimes the writing flows great at the beginning and you forget the rest of the world around you, but often it doesn’t and it’s nice to have a reward for sitting in your chair.
If you want additional help with your book at any part of the process, I’m a writing coach and mentor at ReadMoreCo and am happy to set up a one-on-one session with you. You can find out more here!
Barbara Boyle says
Thanks, sincerely, Riley. I went to school with your mom and dad and adore them. Am finally writing my book now. It’s a thrill. Wish me luck!! Barbara Boyle SCU ‘74
Riley Costello says
Hi Barbara! So great to connect! How exciting about your book. Sending lots of good luck your way!! I can’t wait to hear more about it. Keep me posted!