Starting a Novel: Tips, Tricks, & A Little Chaos

I recently finished a major revision on a manuscript. Typically that calls for a well-deserved break, to which I shake my fists at, because I am a write-aholic, and I love nothing more than to immediately jump into my next, shiny, new project. That’s right. 

I already started another novel. 

Why did I already start another book? Well, for one, I’ve been working on the aforementioned revision for six months. It’s been a bit, and I’ve been dying to oil my creative gears and discover something new, whether that be a fresh, exciting world or a character that shocks me. I also know that a writer should never put their writing dreams into one book. If my revision doesn’t work out, well, I need something else, don’t I? Might as well get on that. 

So how does someone start a novel?

Quick answer: It’s different for every writer and often every project. Some of my projects are more outlined than others. Some come to me in a blink; others fight me the whole way. But there are ways you can enhance your chances for success. 

Here are those tips: 

  1. Set Yourself Up Before You Begin

On any given day, I’m working on about three novels. One that I’m revising, one that I’m writing, and one that I’m outlining. Because my recent revision was more of a rewrite, it had been taking up both my revising and writing focus—so, when I turned that in, I had space available for one of the novels I’ve been outlining. (I currently have three strong contenders.) These three ideas have been rattling around in my brain for a while. (One I recently came up with only a few weeks ago; another is based on an idea I actually started drafting when I was 14. That’s right, the idea is 15 years old! But now I’m giving away my age. Always keep your notes.)

By having notes ahead of time, you won’t feel burdened by the blank page, because, well, you aren’t starting on a blank page. You’re starting with bursts of character, fun dialogue snippets, exciting scenes, and more.

2. Research, Research, Research

Research comes into the writing process at different stages for everyone. For example, when I write my fantasy novels, research might not come into play until the later drafting stages. I typically write the book, realize the type of research it needs, then do that. My science fiction novels are the complete opposite. I need to know how certain technologies work long before I start writing, or I’m going to have a mess on my hands. Same thing with the historical novel I wrote. Research happened before writing. Significant research. Knowing what sort of project you are writing and how research will affect the project is important. If you aren’t sure, go ahead and jot down a couple topics you know are in your story but you don’t know that much about. Next time you’re having a writer’s block day, guess what? You now have something to do. Better to research earlier on and prevent a blundering plot hole than to write an entire book and realize the premise is flawed. Amiright?

3. Start Writing that FIRST Draft 

Write however you want to. Write messy. Write in order. Just write. Right now, I’ve been writing in one of those three fun ideas I’ve had laying around, and I’m still at the stage where I’m writing snippets all over the place. I wrote Chapter One – Six, and then I went back and added a short prologue, flipped three chapters, and started outlining the rest. I have one document titled ORGANIZEDwhich includes notes I can put in order by scene, and one called UNORGANIZED, which is my chaos document. I have no idea where these snippets will go or even if I’ll use them, but I love them and hope to use them as the book shapes up. 

A sneak peek behind the curtains

Basically, my Scrivener project looks like a mess right now, but I’ve been here a dozen times before. I trust that it will come together as it should. I trust the process. I trust me. If you don’t trust yourself to write or finish, then you’re still at the stage of your writing career where you’re figuring out what your process is and how to go about it, and that’s totally valid. Try different times of the day. Experiment with new writing methods. Are you used to plotting? Go ahead and be a pantser for the afternoon. Play with a new genre you’ve never tried before. Explore, and eventually you’ll find an adventure worth pursuing. If you’re struggling with meeting your goals, try NaNoWriMo, setting goals, or using tools like PaceMaker Planner

At the end of the day, you’re at the start line, not the finish line, so treat it as such. You shouldn’t be comparing your new words to someone’s edited words. Remember: This is your first draft. You can be as messy as you need to be in order to figure out what your book is about—as long as you plan on revising later. And guess what? No matter how perfect you think your first draft is, you will have to revise, so embrace the moment. 

Start writing your novel today.  


P.S. For more tips and tricks on starting a novel, I will be teaching a FREE virtual class on Monday, July 27 at 6:30 PM (CST). More information: Starting a Writing Project. It is taught through ZOOM. Go ahead and register, and I will see you there! 

8 thoughts on “Starting a Novel: Tips, Tricks, & A Little Chaos

  1. For my historically-inspired stuff, I usually research some before I write (hopefully enough to get a basic grasp of the setting), but after a little while I’ll start writing and I’ll research whatever I need as I go. It can be tricky finding a balance between too much research where I procrastinate everything, and too little research where I don’t know how to describe anything because I don’t know what it would have looked like. I’ve tried the latter before and it is not fun.
    And I love your thoughts on writing a first draft! It’s so true that sometimes we have to let ourselves be messy and experiment.

    I LOVE your snippet in the screenshot, by the way 🙂

    1. So true! It’s definitely a delicate balance. It’s easy to get caught up on research and never actually write. Great tips! Thank you for sharing your process (and so glad you enjoyed the snippet)!

  2. If I’m writing something and think I might need to do research, the first thing I ask myself is “Is this really necessary?” Because it can become a rabbit hole that takes you away from the story. One time I got sidetracked into researching traditional Polynesian boat-building, but realized this was all for a one-sentence description and I already had what I needed.

    Good on you for keeping up with your writing, though. With everything going on, it’s all too easy to give up on our art.

    1. So true! There’s definitely a balance when it comes to research and writing. And I hear you on your last part. It is SO hard to concentrate and stay motivated right now. I’ve had days where I really struggled to write anything. But I try to focus on the good days, where the words flow. I hope all is well with you and your loved ones. ❤

  3. It’s nice to know we’re the same age, so I don’t feel that my novel dreams are too late, lol!

    I think my biggest problem is that I don’t make time to write. I have many passions in life including blogging, film, reading, and computer games and I make time for all of them. I just need to make time for writing as well.

    1. Making time is important! I always suggest playing around with different times in your schedule until you can find what sticks. Mine often changes, since life changes so much. For instance, pre-shutdown, I wrote an hour before work and during my lunch breaks at work. Now I write 30 minutes before work, on Wednesday evenings, and on the weekends, depending on my energy levels. It’s all I can manage at the moment, and I’m okay with that. 🙂 I hope you can find time soon. 🙂 It’s never too late to start chasing that novel dream!

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