10 Survival Tips for Writing Your First Novel (31DBBB Challenge Day 2)


So you’re about to start writing a book.

The fact that you’ve already come this far—decided you’re going to start writing a book regardless of how terrified you might be—is impressive enough. But you’ve also found your way here, the ideal place to learn how to nurture your ideas through their various stages of growth and development.

That book isn’t going to write itself. It needs your help.

Here are our 10 novel-writing survival tips, whether you’re in your second day of Camp NaNo or just taking the leap on your own accord.

1. Draft a plan. Any kind of plan.

Novel planning doesn’t mean you have to construct an A-B-C-formatted outline. Even writing down a few key plot points is better than starting aimlessly. This is meant to give you a better picture of where you want your story to end up versus where it stands now (possibly as a blank page).

 2. Don’t worry about formatting.

Other than chapter headings and section breaks to keep yourself relatively organized, you don’t have to do anything special before or during the novel-writing process. If you want to spend extra cash on a specific word processing platform, that’s up to you. But opening up a Word document, naming it something you won’t forget and starting to write in default formatting and style works just as well (and most likely for you, it’s free).

 3. You don’t need SpellCheck.

Drafting a novel, misspelled words is the absolute least of your worries. No matter how long you’ve been a member of the grammar police force, all those underlined words can be distracting and can throw you off if you’re in the middle of a good sprint. You’ll have plenty of time to go back and edit later. For minimal distraction, you might want to consider turning off the feature.

 4. There will be days you don’t feel like writing.

It’s certainly not a bad idea to try to write a little bit of something every day, even if it’s just a few lines of a journal entry or, why not, an email you’ve been needing to send anyway. Skipping a day of “noveling” doesn’t mean you’re giving up. Sometimes your brain just needs time to recoup. Engaging in an alternative “creative” activity can act as a worthwhile replacement.

 5. Sources of motivation differ for every writer.

For some, word or page count is what keeps the creative energy flowing. For others, it’s finishing the structural elements of a story, then going back to fill in the rest. Or it might be a little bit of both. Quality is always the end goal, but because finishing a first draft is the first and often most difficult step, it’s completely reasonable to run with whatever factor motivates you to keep pressing down those keys.

 6. Work backwards from “what” to “how.”

Sometimes what stops us in the middle of a good story is knowing point B, but having no idea what point A is. Knowing two characters end up trapped in a castle (okay?), but not knowing how they get there. Use this dilemma to your advantage. Work backwards. Focus on where your story needs to get to as you piece together how it all unfolds.

 7. It’s okay to write terribly.

Someday you might have an agent, an editor, a beta reader or an honest friend who will read your book and give you constructive feedback. So for now, don’t worry if it isn’t good. Don’t worry if some things don’t exactly add up. Just keep writing. It’s much easier to work with and revise a finished project than sit at your desk, staring at an unfinished document, stumped.

 8. Your characters might try to hijack your brain. Let them.

Characters may be all in your head, but it’s your job to bring them to life on paper. Strangely, as your story develops, you’ll find your characters actually tend to know more about themselves and their story than you do. If you spontaneously think up a plot twist you can’t resist, thank your characters—then go with it.

 9. Write those scenes that make you feel uncomfortable.

This is a tougher one. We want to feel comfortable and satisfied when we’re writing, right? Well… yes. But it’s likely the biggest cause of novel abandonment is boredom (not yet proven). The same goes for the reading side of books. Sometimes we have to write scenes we’re not necessarily comfortable writing. Cringe-worthy content isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s just what your story needs to appeal to the masses (as much as it can).

 10. Remember that writing a book doesn’t happen in a month.

WriMos are great, but a story you start at the beginning of July, for example, isn’t going to be publisher-ready, or even necessarily close to being finished, when July ends. The entire process can take years, but even just writing the first draft might take longer than you anticipated. This is okay. This is normal. It’s better to take your time and complete a promising draft than rush and end up deleting the majority of it anyway.

You can do this. You might even finish this.

Good luck. Write on!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

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