How to write a novel is a legitimate question. It can be a scary and overwhelming concept.
Novels go unfinished all the time, and novel writers everywhere get frustrated and discouraged.
If you are able to break it down into some simple, practical, and actionable steps, however, writing fiction can become less daunting.
Everyone is different, and some things will work for some that won’t work for others, but there are some guidelines that can help anyone get started.
This is the ultimate step-bystep guide on how to write a novel - it will walk you through the following steps:
- Settle on an idea
- Create your writing space
- Find some tools
- Create goals and set deadlines
- Eliminate distractions
- Do research
- Create an outline
- Write plenty of tension and conflict
- Create believable characters
- Don't edit before completing the first draft
- Learn to edit well
- Take classes
- Find support and mentorship
- Get feedback
- Call yourself a writer!
Keep in mind that these steps are not set in stone, and can be done in whatever order makes the most sense to you.
Following these steps will make sure you don't forget anything. They will help you with each part of the process. In addition to this, using a template will help you plan and organize them even better:
A novel-writing template gives you a road map of the entire process so you don't get lost or overwhelmed. Writing a novel is still hard work, but it keeps the story on track and moving forward. Now let's jump into the entire process of writing a novel.
What are the Rules for Writing a Novel?
Novel writing is no mystery. It requires hard work and dedication, combined with a bit of discipline. Great novelists and writers always follow these rules to achieve their goals:
- Keep your targeted audience’s interests in your mind.
- Give yourself daily goals.
- Add suspense and plot twists in your story.
- Continually refine your ideas by reading other authors.
- Get inspiration from other writers, but don’t imitate.
- Don’t stress over your first draft.
- Don’t give up on the practice.
- Never forego research.
Above all, always try to keep track of your story and take some breaks to allow your brain to reboot.
How Do You Write a Novel for Beginners?
Try following these steps when starting to write a novel:
- Think of an idea and a theme for your story. Create characters and their roles in your story. Making a visual sketch of your characters before writing your story helps you be more creative.
- Always scribble your random ideas and add them to your story roadmap.
- Try to create enticing opening lines of your story and end it with a bang.
- Take frequent breaks, but try not to get too distracted.
Taking a systematic approach toward novel writing will make the job a stress-free, fulfilling, and rewarding experience.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at a more thorough, step-by-step process.
What is the Format for a Novel?
Compiling your novel in a proper format makes reviewing and editing easier. Take care of the following format basics and you’ll be good:
- Choose a font that’s easier to read.
- Apply margins (1-1.5 inch).
- Create a title page and mention the author.
- Add a chapter title page. A chapter should start on a new page with a centrally aligned title.
- Remember adding the page headers, numbers, line spacing, paragraphs, etc.
- Justify your content.
- Use proper indentation.
- Add scene breaks.
Publishers and agents prefer aptly formatted novels over unformatted chunks of text. Therefore, make sure to fulfill all pre-requisites before submitting it to a publisher (or even if you’re self-publishing, as it’ll make the editing and reviewing phase a lot easier).
Is it Hard to Write a Novel?
Writing a novel is hard.
Sure, the entire process comes naturally to some people, but if anyone could do it, we’d all be successful authors.
It requires a lot of struggle, including brainstorming ideas, planning, actually writing the story, and staying up all night fixing plot holes. It’s cumbersome to resist yourself from going off-track and a grueling job to mesh your ideas together to maintain your story's fluency.
And when you’re done writing, there’s editing, which is a completely different story.
Even if you’re a great writer, you might hate even your tenth draft and still continue to find rooms for improvements.
But when you do add the final touches, get your novel approved by a publisher/publish it yourself, and see people buying its copies, it'll all be worth it.
How to Write a Novel in 15 Steps
1. Settle on an Idea
If you’re reading up on how to write a novel, chances are you already have a story idea in mind. Make sure it is an idea you love and can get excited about. Make sure it is an idea that can be fleshed out enough to be a whole novel.
The market is saturated with novels these days – of varying quality and originality. Don’t settle for something small or overdone, go for a concept that will get people excited.
Write something that your readers will want more of. Create a storyline they have never read before. If you're stumped on what to write, try using this writing prompt generator. It's a simple but useful way to spark some creativity if you're struggling with writer's block.
Here are a few techniques to generate ideas to start writing for your next novel:
- Mind mapping
2. Create Space
If you are going to be a serious writer and write a novel to completion, you need a good place to do it.
If you have an office, or room for one in your home, this is ideal.
If you don’t already have a desk, get one that you are comfortable with that has lots of space. Having an office to yourself will give you a quiet, personal space to do productive work. You can decorate the walls with art, pictures, quotes – anything that brings you peace and inspiration.
If you aren’t able to set up an office for yourself, that’s okay. Find a quiet space for your desk to go, and make it as personalized as possible. Ensure you have room for all your tools and essentials.
Get a good quality chair, and make it comfortable.
3. Find Your Tools
Once you have your space set up, it is time to determine what you will need to get this done. Notebooks, pens/pencils, and of course your computer are your physical necessities.
Next, you need to decide what you are going to use to actually write the book. Many will default to Microsoft Word, but this is not your best option. Word has its benefits, but at the end of the day, it is clunky, linear, and not ideal for writing anything longer.
For a complex and comprehensive fiction writing software, you can check out Scrivener (read the full review here). It is a popular option among novelists, and it will help you in a lot of incredible ways.
If you want something sleek and simple, but still more powerful and organized than Word, you may find you like Squibler.
Both of these choices also come with options to assist you in the publishing process when the time comes!
These are free programs that scan your work and edit for things like grammar, syntax, and even readability. If you want to learn how to write a novel, these programs can help you. They are especially helpful when crafting that first novel when everything is a little overwhelming.
Here’s a PDF you can use that we specifically made for you. You can download the entire 5-page PDF on “The Complete Guide to Writing a Novel” right here.
4. Set Goals and Deadlines
Many writers get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of work that is required to finish a novel. They stare at the blank page in front of them, and they don’t know where or how to begin.
You can overcome this mental overload by breaking up your project into smaller goals.
Goals will be different for everyone depending on their lifestyle, but a good place to start can be a daily word count. Commit to writing at least 200 words every day. If you think you have more free time, make it 1000. If you have nothing to do but write, make it 5000.
Use a spreadsheet to track your daily, weekly, and monthly word count goals.
Once you have analyzed your availability, create a schedule and stick to it. Don’t hesitate to use book writing software that will help you create and manage your schedule.
Write every morning, write every day after lunch, or write each night before bed – whatever works best for you.
But put it in your schedule, and do not deviate from it. This will create good habits, and it will ensure that writing your novel doesn’t drag on for years and years.
5. Eliminate Distractions
Especially when you get stuck and/or hit with writer’s block, everything can turn into a distraction. Leave unnecessary papers off your desk, and keep your cell phone on silent and in another room while you work.
It may also be a good idea to find an app that blocks the internet for a given period of time. This will eliminate the temptation to check Facebook or look at silly things.
LeechBlock NG is a perfect Chrome extension that will block websites that stop you from doing your work. Writing a bestseller takes hard work, and distractions have no place in the process.
6. Do Your Research
Most – if not all – novels require some research of some description.
Some people outline like crazy and need to have every piece of the plot all planned. Others keep it all in their head.
When it comes to research, don’t ignore, rush, or skip this part of the process. You want your novel to be believable and accurate where necessary. Especially something like psychological thrillers or historical fiction, these things require extreme accuracy with a lot of small details.
7. Create an Outline – or They Don’t
Outlining is a touchy part of the writing process.
Some people outline like crazy and need to have every piece of the plot all planned out. Some only create a brief and simple outline that can be changed and worked with. Others still will write with no outline whatsoever.
Do whatever works for you, and don’t be pressured by people who try to say that you must create an outline, or that outlines are a waste of time.
Outlines don’t define how to write a novel. That being said, most bestselling authors do recommend an outline if you're aiming for The New York Times bestseller list.
8. Fill Your Story with Tension and Conflict
Conflict is the backbone of every single story.
Even soft, light-hearted romantic comedies need it. Conflict is what drives the plot. Think of any novel you’ve ever read, and try to come up with some of the conflicts the characters experienced. It probably didn’t take you long. If you try to think of a novel where no conflict existed, you probably can’t.
So create conflict.
Put your main character in dangerous and compromising situations. Create tension between characters, and write interesting dialogue. Don’t be afraid of drama. Use perspective to your advantage.
First person and third person are the two most common when it comes to point of view. Both of these have the potential for conflict. Third person is great for creating dramatic irony, and first person gives a lot of insight into the mind of certain characters.
Second person can be a fun and dramatic way to write, though it's not used often and isn't as effective for many types of stories.
9. Create Compelling and Dynamic Characters
Nothing kills a story faster than flat, boring characters.
Spend some time before you dig into your story, and flesh out your characters. Create a deep and developed personality. Write a list of their likes, dislikes, and interests.
Some of these things may not come up in the story at all, but knowing their personality will help you write them in a compelling, believable, and consistent way.
It can be helpful to create a physical appearance for them as well. This can be done mentally, or you can find a picture online that you think resembles what you want them to look like. These pictures will be for your own reference.
Don’t be afraid to let your characters dictate things at times.
Once they have a personality of their own, you may find that they do and say some unexpected things as you write.
That’s totally okay!
Let them go where they want. This will bring them to life and have your readers totally invested in them.
10. Don’t Edit Before the First Draft is Done
This is extremely important.
Editing has its place, but the first draft is definitely not it.
If you are constantly worried about quality, editing for every typo, and re-reading every line, you will never get anywhere. Lock up your internal editor until your first draft is finished and don’t use any writing software.
It is helpful and important to remember that no first draft is ever great. Good quality writing and a well-developed plot don’t come first try – for anyone.
If you’re writing and you just know that it’s a little bit horrible, keep going. Fix it later. This is how you are going to get to the end. Pantsers tend to be good at this, but many writers struggle to turn off the inner-perfectionist. But you must.
11. Learn How to Edit Well
Once it has come time to edit, you want to be able to edit well. Editing is more than just fixing typos and breaking up run-on sentences.
First of all, finding every little grammatical mistake will probably take a few read-throughs as our minds will sometimes overlook the little things.
It is also a good idea to get someone else to edit your draft – a fresh set of eyes will often catch things you didn’t. You will also want to watch out for things like awkward sentences and poor word choice.
Finding plot holes is a big thing too. Things that don’t make sense or don’t add up. Facts that contradict each other, or circumstances that are impossible. These are common occurrences and will require some reworking of your story. Learning how to do this is essential in figuring out how to write a novel.
You will also find parts that you don’t like or don’t fit with the story. Don’t be afraid to remove an entire section because you spent time writing it. You will likely find yourself rewriting large portions and even rearranging scenes.
Don’t let this upset you or throw you off. It’s completely normal.
It's also always advisable to hire a professional. Go ahead and do lots of editing yourself, it will save you money. But, a good quality, successful novel won't come to fruition without work by a professional editor.
12. Take Classes
Even if you are a natural-born writer, there is always something you can learn. You need to learn how to write a book even if you know a lot about it already.
Don’t be afraid of taking some classes. Your local college or university may offer some classes that could help you, or you can check out the library. Failing both of those, there are many great online classes available.
Classes will help you develop your skills in all areas of novel creation:
- Plot development
- Character development and character arc
- Research skills
- Writing with good flow
- Editing techniques
- Story structure
- And many more
Udemy is one of the best places to find novel writing classes to improve your skills.
13. Find Support and Mentorship
Novels are rarely written without external input.
Writing is a crazy, mind boggling-process and you are going to need some support. If you don’t have any friends who are writers, try to find a local group. Many libraries and community centers have clubs you can join.
If none are available, there are some online resources.
Many forums, communities, and chat rooms exist where you can connect with other writers and get some encouragement.
Here is a list of leading communities that you should join to find some critique and writing tips:
If possible, it is also very helpful to find a mentor. This relationship may develop naturally if you are able to join a group of some sort, but be on the lookout for someone who can fill this role. Having an experienced and established writer walking the journey with you will be exponentially helpful.
14. Get Feedback
Many writers, especially those who have never been published and have recently learned how to write a book, can be shy and have a hard time sharing their work.
If this is you, fight through it. Try starting with some short stories. These are small pieces of writing and can be less scary to share than an entire novel.
Do not be afraid of constructive criticism and good feedback. It is essential to creating a great story. A novel is nothing without readers, so figure out how the readers are going to react to your story early on in the process. Especially if you plan to try self-publishing on Amazon- your manuscript will pass through fewer professional hands and quality is important.
There are a few ways to go about this.
You can start a blog, you can post parts of your work on platforms like the very popular Wattpad, or you can simply share the document with others.
Here is a great writing feedback tool that you can use. However you do it, make sure you do it!
15. Call Yourself a Writer
Start calling yourself a writer!
Even if you have never been published or never even finished a first draft, if you write, you are a writer. Even if you don’t know how to write a book yet, you need to call yourself a writer.
Don’t back down from the title because you don’t feel like you fit the typical image. When people ask what you do, go ahead and tell them you’re a writer. Hopefully, these steps allow you to feel like you have everything you need to get started.
This will build your confidence and put your name out there – at least within your circle – as a writer. You will become known as a writer, and eventually, this will make you feel like a writer.
When you feel like a writer, you will be excited about writing.