Photo credit: Lex Eggink, QUERTY, via photopin (license)
Here are some ideas to start with, from a new novelist who has recently completed her first book:
- First, try to learn the craft of writing. You can either turn to a book for help or enroll in a creative writing course. If you choose the first option, one of the best guides is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel by Tom Monteleone. Tom, a professional writer since 1972, emphasizes the fun and creativity involved in writing a novel and provides a comprehensive overview covering everything from novel genres and plots to the book publishing process. If you choose to take a course, you have a number of options: in Canada, the Humber School for Writers in Toronto, Ontario (http://creativearts.humber.ca/programs/school-writers); in the U.S., the University of Iowa’s Program in Creative Writing (https://writersworkshop.uiowa.edu); in the U.K., the University of Surrey’s Creative Writing Programme (http://www.surrey.ac.uk/postgraduate/creative-writing-2017).
- Brainstorm ideas for your novel. Inspired ideas always seem to surface at the most unexpected and inconvenient times! To avoid letting those gems get away from you, purchase a small notebook and pens from a dollar store and keep them in your handbag or briefcase. Get into the underrated habit of daydreaming, and scribble down everything that pops into your head. You might have to waste precious hours of your life riding the bus home from work or sitting in a dentist’s waiting room, but you can make good use of that time to plot out the twists and turns of your novel.
- Find a special place to write and commit to a regular writing schedule. Find a quiet, secluded room within your home—say, your bedroom or a den—and close (or lock) the door. Be sure to let family members know that you can’t be disturbed. Try to write in the same quiet place, alone, at the same time each and every week. If you have a job, the weekend might be the best time to write. When I was juggling novel writing with a full-time job, I tried to write every Saturday morning. Of course, you may not be able to write at exactly the same time and place every week or weekend, but you should try to stick with your schedule most of the time.
- To stay motivated, plan your next writing session. At the end of each writing session, make a rough plan for the next one. Your plan might include a brief outline of the chapter (or the scenes within a chapter) that you plan to write, the number of pages or words that you plan to produce, and the amount of time that you’ll try to set aside for the session. By taking this extra step, you’ll be able to stay motivated to finish your book, and your next writing session will be more efficient and focused.
- Set realistic deadlines for each stage of your novel. For example, you might plan to write 3 pages per day (on weekdays), 15 pages per week, and 60 pages per month; based on that level of output, you might aim to finish writing your first draft in 6-12 months. Your second and third drafts might be completed within shorter time frames. Book each deadline in your day timer and calendar; you might need to revise these dates, but by writing them down, you won’t forget about them, and you’ll be more motivated to finish your novel.
- Once you’ve finished writing, re-write! And re-write and re-write until you’re happy with your novel.
- Consider hiring professionals to polish your manuscript before you submit it to agents and publishers. A substantive and/or line editor, copy editor, and proof reader can help you to clear up major problems with your novel. Despite the expense, hiring these pros could be a wise investment, given the considerable difficulties that most first-time authors face when trying to find a publisher for their novels. It’s a good idea to hire editors and proofreaders from reputable organizations such as The Editors’ Association of Canada (http://www.editors.ca), The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (https://www.sfep.org.uk) in the U.K., and the Editorial Freelancers Association (http://www.the-efa.org/about.php) in the U.S.
- Set up an online platform to promote yourself. It’s hard for new novelists to find readers. Your novel will be competing with millions of others. If you don’t want your book to be ignored, create an online platform to promote yourself: an author website and/or blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Write and post helpful “how-to” articles for authors on your blog, share (and comment on) other authors’ posts, write book reviews on Goodreads, offer to write guest posts for popular book publishing blogs. Post regularly—at least once a month, more often if possible—to build up an online presence. Don’t know where to start? Check out Chuck Sambuchino’s book, Create Your WriterPlatform.
- Finally, keep learning about the book publishing process and the book market. Start to follow top bloggers such as Jane Friedman (http://janefriedman.com/blog/), The Creative Penn (http://www.thecreativepenn.com/blog/)Writer’s Digest (http://www.writersdigest.com)and Indie Reader (http://indiereader.com)These blogs will keep you up to date on everything from writing tips and ideas on how to deal with author anxiety to marketing, design, and social media.
Kathleen Jones is a fledgling novelist whose first novel, an offbeat, lighthearted romance set in the world of stand-up comedy, is expected to be published in 2018. Visit her online at https://kathleenjones.org/ or on Twitter at @joneslepidas.