How to Write a Novel in 6 Steps


Since finishing my first book, I’ve had a few people ask me how I did it and if I wouldn’t mind sharing some helpful advice. My process was derived from other people’s processes, to be honest, and regrettably I can’t remember where I got every little tidbit of info. What I’m going to do is just give a little step-by-step walk-through of how I personally write my novels, and if I remember where I got a certain piece of advice, I’ll link it here.

So here it goes:

Step 1: Daydream.

This is how I got into writing in the first place. I still do this to this day: I lay in my bed before going to sleep or waking up in the morning and dream with my eyes open. Imagining characters, situations, storylines, romances… Brainstorming is great, but daydreaming and getting to know your characters is how you’re really going to come up with a great storyline. It has to have a personal, real, invested element, because if you manufacture a novel out of thin air, everyone is going to notice.

Step 2: Storyline.

Yes, I use this word a lot. Before I sit down and type “Chapter 1,” I write a “storyline,” which is basically like a summary of everything that’s going to happen in the book.

For example, here is the storyline of my short story that I posted here a few days ago:

“Cass resists her abusive boyfriend, and he comes back at her with force and cutting remarks. Cass keeps her resolve, though, and breaks away from him. He tells her she needs him, but she insists that she doesn’t need a man, and she takes her things and runs out before he can grab her again. Cass hurries down to the pay phone where she calls her estranged friend Rachel, who graciously allows her to stay for a while.”

From that short, to-the-point, easy-to-write summary, I derive points for an outline–which, naturally, is the next step.

Step 3: Outline.

Some people will tell you this step is not important, but that has not been my experience. Whenever I start a story without an outline, I always end up lost at about 10K words. You need to start your journey with a road map, or you’re going to have a very difficult time reaching your destination.

Each main point should be a one-sentence (or few words) summary of the events of that chapter, and then below it you can add subpoints with specific events. You don’t have to go into great detail with this, but it’s good to update it as you go along if you change something, just to keep the arc of the story cohesive. I don’t claim to be perfect with this, but when I don’t do it, it shows up in my writing and my frustration level. So yeah, IMHO, just do the outline. It will save you a headache in the long run.

Step 4: Rough Draft.

BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF with this. Rough drafts are called “rough” for a reason, and it’s more than okay for a rough draft to be imperfect or incomplete at the end. No one is going to write a perfect novel on the first try. I probably tried 20 times before I finally got all the way through DORK for the first time, let alone the 15 million rewrites since then (massive exaggeration… but still).

There will be times in a rough draft where there’s a scene you don’t want to write. For those, I used a tip from Veronica Roth’s blog: http://veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com/2011/11/some-nano-advice-dont-look-back.html

Tip #3 suggests inserting brackets with a scene description if you don’t want to write the scene, which was a LIFESAVER for me. Don’t stop once you’re on a roll. If you want to skip a scene, write it in brackets and keep going. No one’s going to arrest you for it.

Step 5: REWRITE. A LOT.

A true author will rewrite their novel as many times as it takes, even if their fingers fall off and their eyes dry up and fall out of their sockets. YOU MUST REWRITE. And rewrite again. And continue to rewrite until you have achieved absolute perfection (or as close as you can get).

Step 6: Edit.

Yes, even if you plan to hire an editor, you should do at least a little bit of your own editing first. Pick and choose which scenes help the story and which scenes hinder it. Lay down the manuscript for a week and pick it up again, reading over it as if you were reading it for the first time. What makes sense with the story and what doesn’t make the cut? Does this character or that character need further development? Is this storyline compelling enough or is there an element that would add to the suspense and keep your readers interested?

***

After you’ve dreamed up, storylined, outlined, drafted, re-drafted, and edited your manuscript, then it’s ready to be looked at by a professional. I wish I had sought professional help, but regrettably I didn’t. I highly recommend professional editing services or at least getting someone who knows what they’re doing to critique your work, ’cause nothing sucks worse than releasing a novel that’s not really ready yet. I know this from experience, as explained in my last post. DON’T JUMP THE GUN. Seek the help you need when you’re done with this writing process.

Hope that helps! Tell me about your process or your thoughts on this post below! 🙂

-H.D.

P.S.-Here are updated links to my 5-star rated novel, Diary of a Rocker’s Kid, for anyone who’s interested!

Kindle Edition ($2.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012KXYCLC

Amazon Paperback (free Prime shipping): http://www.amazon.com/Diary-Rockers-Kid-D-O-R-K-1/dp/1515297896/

CreateSpace Paperback: https://www.createspace.com/5617338

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