How To Write a Novel

Welcome to The Learning Curve. As a new writer I expect to make mistakes. My job is to show you these mistakes so that you can avoid them yourself.

How To Write a Novel

Originally I thought this would be the shortest blog post in history, or at least for this column. Sadly though, Stephen Hise, the Evil Mastermind at Indies Unlimited, would not let me get away with it. My first attempt at this post was a crack at anti-verbosity. It was succinct and to the point. Before I expand on that post however, let me share it with you in its entirety.

How to write a novel: One word at a time.

That’s it. You can keep reading of course, but that’s my monthly post for The Learning Curve in a nutshell. All great novels throughout history were written one word at a time. Then again, so were the worst.

Whether my particular novel turns out to be good or bad is irrelevant. Some people will like it, others won’t. And I’m okay with that. While I would never be so presumptuous as to expect literary fame and fortune, my hope is that more people will like it than not. But, even that is not the goal.

The goal is to finish it, and that will only happen by writing one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time.

You can worry about plot, theme, or character development from now until the cows come home, but if you’re not writing then the story isn’t moving forward. Besides, if you have cows then there are udder issues that you need to deal with.

Sorry, couldn’t resist. I crack myself up.

Everyone has a book in them. The question is, do you have what it takes to translate that idea in your head to a published novel? It requires dedication and a time commitment that you need to be prepared for. If you would rather see who the next American Idol is than see what kind of trouble your protagonist can get into, then go grab the remote; writing isn’t for you.

If you’re one of the few, the brave…oh, let’s be real. If you’re crazy enough to be a writer then you can expect to make some mistakes along the way. Chances are that I’ve already made the same errors you will. This knack for finding a rough wave in a small pond, well, it’s a gift I’ve had for most of my life.

When I was a young teenager the preacher moved me out of the youth group and into the adult class on Sunday mornings. It made my father proud.

My mother didn’t have the heart to tell him that the preacher said I needed a roomful of adults for supervision. Throwing the hymn book at my Sunday school teacher was frowned upon back then. It probably still is for all I know…anyway, I digress. There are a couple of points that I want to leave you with this month. The first deals with your writing time.

Do you have a writing schedule? I did when I first started and it was quite productive. I wrote late at night after my wife and children were in bed. During the two months of sticking to this schedule I wrote more than I had in two years. A project for work disrupted this schedule and my writing fell apart. Don’t let this happen to you.

If writing is something that you do in your spare time, that’s fine. If days, or even weeks go by, and you don’t manage to write anything at all, hey, that’s fine too. I get it. It’s not that important. If cleaning the house and folding laundry are more important than your writing time, then who am I to tell you differently?

If writing is really important to you though, then do yourself a favor and create a writing schedule. Afterwards, stick to it regardless of the obstacles that get in your way. There will always be projects for work, or a house to clean. Life is what happens when you’re not writing. When you are writing, you give life to characters, creatures, worlds. Without you, they don’t exist. What are your priorities?

In the last article, Hoarding for Writers, I mentioned my propensity to defenestrate a work in progress due to fundamental errors in the original outline. Well, what there was of an outline that is. In truth it consisted of nothing more than a page length synopsis. Throwing the story out because it wasn’t following the outline was a tad harsh. Okay, it was overkill. Let’s move on shall we?

This brings us to the other point that I want to make. Your writing, no matter what you may think of it at the time, is valuable. Yes, some of it will invariably end up on the cutting room floor (think of the novel as a movie). You are the writer and the director. Your goal is to complete that epic manuscript before the editor has a chance to get their greedy hands on it.

While I would encourage you to edit your own work before sending it off to a professional editor, I should also warn you to refrain from any major edits until after you finish it. Learn from my mistakes and trust me on this. Until you type ‘The End’, every word in every sentence is priceless!

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K.D. Rush is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited. He is currently working on a book of short stories, as well as his debut novel, The Guild Inc., a supernatural thriller. For more information please see the IU Bio page and visit his website: http://KDRush.net or find him on Twitter @KD_Rush.

23 thoughts on “How To Write a Novel

  1. Ha! Excellent! Reminds me of the advice for how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. I like that you're stressing NOT to try any major edits until you're done. You just don't know what will end up being vital to the story, what can lead you in a better direction, and what will end up in the trash. Thanks, KD!

    • I've never tasted elephant, but I have rode on the back of one. Not a pleasant experience. As the MC, they had me ride out on this thing followed by a bunch of clowns. It was like my worst nightmare come true. Sorry, where were we?

      Let's skip the elephant analogy and stories, I'm starting to get flashbacks.

      Editing: This was a lesson that took some time to learn. I'm not exactly a perfectionist, but I just couldn't move the stories forward without going back and tweaking them each time I sat down to write. In my head I knew that I could write the sentence or paragraph better with just a little more effort. That little bit of effort would easily turn into an entire evening and a revision or two.

      "Learn to let it go and it will flow. Pick up the pieces later and it will make the story greater."

      I have that taped to my monitor now.

      Thanks for the comment, and for stopping by Laurie!

  2. Another great post, Mr. Rush. (You couldn't wait to say "mentioned my propensity to defenestrate a work in progress", could you?!). I agree wholeheartedly with your advice to us newish writers to hold on to the edited words. Sometimes works need to be edited down for particular scenes but virtually all of the words originally down on the page are valuable. Tuck those edited words away for future use and reference!!

    • Yes, I wrote the entire article around the word defenestrate. If I'm not mistaken, there's a $5 pool for the author that can make the best use of the word in an article. Obviously I've won. I mean, 'propensity and 'defenestrate' in the same sentence? There has to be bonus points for that.

      Thanks for the comment, and for stopping by Jo-Anne!

    • Thanks Louise. I really appreciate it when y'all take the time to leave a comment!

      ((Note to Kat: See what I did there? Y'all ought to be proud.))

  3. Another awesome post! One word at a time, after all Rome wasn't built in a day.

  4. I agree totally. However, I do manage to get house cleaning and laundry done along with my farm chores and still manage a fair amount of time to write. It’s not easy some days, and there are times I don’t get anything written; but my mind is always working.

    Fun post!

    • Thanks Kathy! I've always said that you can write anywhere. Sitting in front of the computer should never be a prerequisite to craft a good story or work on character dialogue.

      Thanks for the comment, and the reminder!

  5. Loved this post….especially the hymn book throwing episode. I do all my writing when Hubby goes to bed….since he tucks himself in at 9pm sharp that leaves me oodles of time to get writing done. True – you need a routine or it all goes pear shaped and as for editing…I couldn’t agree more.
    Kudos to you for getting in defenestrate!

  6. I tend to write in 'scenes'. When I can see a scene with absolute clarity the writing flows and I don't even correct typos.

    Unfortunately a lot of my writing isn't that effortless, or pleasurable. Sometimes I just have to grope my way forward like someone wearing two pairs of sunglasses in a house lit only by candles.

    The writing I do then is often contrived and I know it. Sadly that contrived kind of writing usually leads to dead ends as well and I'm forced to go back, editing and revising and trying different things until suddenly, something clicks and I 'see' the obvious thing that has been eluding me.

    Once that happens I have to rewrite that section before I lose the clarity. Then I have to go back and fix the cascade of other things that have now changed. Before I forget. Only then can I keep moving forwards.

    For me, editing is not about finding the perfect word or the best turn of phrase, it's a necessary part of finding the story. :(

    I know that many writers can see the whole story from start to finish before they type the first word. Isn't that what outlining really is? I, however, have to dig mine out with a pick and shovel. I wish I could work differently but I just can't.

    • The important thing is that you get the job done. There are no rules to writing. Well, there are, but the way a person writes varies from one to the next.

      My writing style may change over time, in fact, I would almost expect it to, but right now I would have a hard time starting a story if I didn't know where it would end. That's my guiding light. I may not have the story worked out in my head yet, but I know where it's going to end up.

      I'm sure there are many other people that write just the way you do Meeka. Uncovering the gem buried beneath a mound of prose takes just as much time as polishing a piece of coal. Eventually you get to the payoff and it's all worth it.

      But the only way a writer will ever get there is by writing; one word at a time.

      Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it!

      • Thanks for the words of encouragement KD. I so often feel as if I'm doing everything back to front! And you're right, getting the job done is the most important thing so I'll start swinging my pick again :D

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