So, you want to write a novel?

Good. I approve of your decision.


Let’s have a little talk. There are a few things that you will need to understand about what you’re actually doing.

Write a Novel

Writing a novel is a rewarding experience. It is, without question, a very unique experience and I encourage people to do it, if they want. Still… There are important things that one needs to understand about the process of writing a novel.

Let’s start with the very beginning: Your idea is probably, either, (a) not that good, or (b) already been done. Neither one of these options means that you shouldn’t write your book – it means that you should be very realistic about what you’re doing.

Writing is the worst “get rich quick” plan in the world. If you want to write a book because you think you’ll sell a billion copies and retire, you should just start playing the lottery – you have better odds.

So, you have an idea? It might not be very good, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be very good. Talk to people that you know will give you honest advice. Listen to their advice. When you talk to them about your idea, be clear that you want to do this, but that you want it to be good. Take constructive criticism and leave the rest. You can, and should, refine your idea. If your idea has already been done, you should find a way to make your idea unique, better, or at least twist it so that it is fresh. If you want to write, nothing should stop you.

Except, maybe, this: It’s really difficult.

If you’re serious about writing, you can expect the following things: sleepless nights, stress, confusion, getting irritable, forgetting to call people, and a lot of skipped meals. In my case, I should note, that I had more than one hangover. The point that I’m making is that being a writer is a very unique type of lifestyle. You are giving up a lot of real world interaction and substituting it for your work. Much the same as any other job, except that because you will probably be writing in addition to working, you’re going to have that much less time.

Okay. You have your idea. You’re sure it can work.

Now what?

Blueprints. Every building needs them. Every book needs an outline. Some people are good at writing without a plan – they are rare. Far apart and few between.

Most people need to have a general idea of where they are going with their work. There are a lot of techniques that you can use to help your planning. Personally, I use two: a whiteboard (for major ideas) and small cards that I can write on, and arrange as I need to. Find something that works for you and you can start giving some structure to your book.

Okay. Now you can write.

Here are two important pieces of advice:

(1) Save everything. Save often. You don’t need to know what it is like to lose hours of work. Thankfully technology has given writers the “auto save” feature, but it’s still not good enough.

(2) It is not a race.  You cannot force an idea. You can give it freedom to go where it wants, and to do as it wishes. You’ll surprise yourself. Don’t be so focused on your main points that you ignore any new ideas.

It has been said, by many people, that the first draft of anything is garbage. Your first draft will be garbage. If you want to be published, your book has to be refined. You need to give it attention. Take some time, look for mistakes, see what works and what doesn’t work, be critical, but most importantly… Be nurturing. If you love your idea, you need to help it grow. Give your work careful care. Don’t throw it out because you had a bad day.


On average, I tend to rewrite any given chapter, or short story, or poem, or anything, about six or seven times. This is now revision six of this blog post. Tone needs to be right. Words have to be correct (for my intentions). And, rules that are broken need to be broken on purpose. See what I just did there?

Write. When you’re done, write again. After that, write some more. If you want it to be good, you have to keep working on it. Just like learning a language, you don’t become a fluent speaker overnight. You have to give it time and effort.


What are you waiting for?

Go write your book. It’s waiting for you.

If you have written your book, read Derek’s follow-up post Publishing a book.

About the Author: Derek McPhee is a Canadian expat, living in Japan. He is an editor and the author of The Smallest, Narrowest Places, short stories about foreigners in Japan after the 3/11 earthquake. He drinks coffee, writes, and dislikes pineapple. Derek blogs at Project Exit.

Photo credit: Marwa Morgan &  Hometown Beauty via photopin cc

Give me more!

As Derek McPhee said, when writing a novel you need to rewrite, rewrite and rewrite. We couldn’t agree more.
So much so that we’ve dedicated an entire post to the art of rewriting.

Learn how to write a personal statement.

Or how to end a letter.