Writing a novel is never exactly easy. No matter how you approach it, a great deal of time and commitment is required. Nevertheless, seeing a book through to completion need not be a grueling, laborious task. If you approach the process with a thought-out plan it, it can actually be enjoyable.
When I began writing my first book a decade ago, I was overwhelmed. There was so much involved, and I didn’t know where to begin. Then I ran across an old adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
This principle applies to any mammoth task, including writing a novel. With this in mind, I developed a five step process that makes the task of writing a book far more manageable.
1. Summarize Your Idea
Although this is the shortest step, it is also the most crucial. You take the idea which inspires you, and summarize it in 1-2 sentences. If you can’t encapsulate your book’s main concept in two sentences or less, that’s a good indication that your story lacks focus.
Example: An inexperienced Hobbit inherits a magic ring, and must journey to a far away land to destroy it.
Having a specific, defined focus for your book is vital to its success. If you try to do too much in your story, you may create a rambling mess which will alienate readers. Knowing what your novel is about, and being able to express it succinctly, is also crucial when seeking publication.
2. Write a Synopsis
Now that you’ve clarified what your book is about, it’s time to expand your story and its characters.
A good synopsis will cover the main elements of your plot, beat by beat, and will offer insights into your characters and their motivations.
The synopsis should not be long, as at this early stage you are only painting your story in broad strokes. Usually a 3-5 page synopsis will suffice, depending on the complexity of your novel.
3. Outline Your Story
There are differing opinions concerning outlining. Some authors, such as Stephen King, believe that outlining stifles the creative process. Others, such as Terry Brooks, argue that outlining is a valuable step when writing a book.
In my personal experience, outlining is essential. It empowers you to write your manuscript quickly, without the looming specter of writer’s block. If you have worked out the structure of your story in advance, your creative imagination is freed up to focus on other aspects of your book.
For more thoughts on outlining, see my article entitled Is Outlining For Hacks?
4. Write With Abandon
Now that your story has been charted out, it’s time to write. This is by far the longest step in the process. But if you come to it prepared, you should have a finished manuscript within a few months.
Using your outline as a road map, write out your novel scene by scene. Set a weekly goal for yourself, and keep it realistic. For working people and parents, producing fifteen to twenty double-spaced pages a week is a reasonable expectation.
The secret to completing this step is as follows:
Do not edit as you go. Simply write, and write fast.
If you produce a lackluster scene or chapter, that’s fine. Just let it be, and keep pressing forward. You should expect your first draft to suck. As the great Ernest Hemingway once said: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
If you try to edit as you write, you will drive yourself mad. You must silence your inner critic, and keep pressing forward to the end.
When your manuscript is finished, put it somewhere out of reach and don’t think about it. Just let it sit, out of thought and mind, for two weeks to a month.
5. Revise Your Manuscript
Once enough time has elapsed, you can return to your manuscript with a fresh perspective. You’ll likely find it to be better than you remember.
An author once told me that great books are not written, but revised. It’s in this step that your true artistic talent will come to the forefront.
Take the raw material of your first draft, and reshape it into something exceptional. Don’t be afraid to let yourself experiment. If you allow your creative energies to take control, you can transform your awkward first draft into an engaging, well-paced novel.
For me, this step is the most rewarding. Nothing is more satisfying than taking an imperfect, rough manuscript, and polishing it into a thing of beauty.
Writing a book can appear to be a mammoth, tedious undertaking. But when the process is broken into manageable pieces, it can become a fun adventure.
When you encounter challenges along the way, feel free share them in our Writing Forums. By learning and growing with other writers, this journey can become even more rewarding.
For information on how to get your novel published, see How to Get a Book Published – The 7 Step Plan.