If you were to ask a number of novelists how they set about writing a book you would get a number of different replies. Some may write from a single notion, others may be inspired by a character they know, or a story they have heard. Some may begin at the end and work backwards, some may have no idea about how their story will end until they reach that point. The truth is, there is no one way of doing it.

The Idea

In the first instance you need an idea. This can be derived from fact, or it may be fictional. Your idea may be something that suddenly occurs to you - and there you have it. Ordinarily though, ideas evolve. You begin with some thoughts and you cogitate on them until they are smoothed out over a period of weeks, or years, and eventually you have a much clearer idea for your novel.

As previously discussed, notebooks are an invaluable means of preserving your ideas. You may decide to systematically consult your notebook and sift through all the ideas you have amassed over a period of time to see whether anything stands out. Often, you will be able to discard ideas which no longer seem feasible. The best ideas will still seem enchanting after  putting them to one side for a while.

One author declared that she heard her daughter say "burger" one day instead of "burglar". The memory of this occurrence lodged in the recesses of her mind for several years until eventually it re-emerged and formed the basis for a story about the end of the world.  A simple malapropism by her daughter created the start to her novel. Quite why a thieving burger should stimulate a story about the apocalypse is anyone's guess, but this is the beauty of creativity. An idea can manifest in a multitude of ways.

Your story may also start from a relatively simple idea. It may evolve from overhearing a conversation, something a friend says, something you see on television or read about in another book.

For some authors, their initial ideas are extremely complex. Rather than develop a simple thought into something more elaborate, they may have to reduce their initial intricate concepts into more workable ideas. It may can sometimes take longer to dilute something terribly sophisticated than to build up something from relatively little.  

Developing Your Ideas

Once you have a workable idea, or ideas, you will need to fine tune them before you are ready to begin on your book. A good way of doing this is to brainstorm. That is, generate as many thoughts as you can around your idea, no matter how banal they may seem. Once you have done this, you can read though your thoughts and discard those which are least useful or relevant. Those that you are left with can be retained for possible use. Some ways of developing your ideas might include:

  • Draw up a draft plan of your novel - this helps to clarify its structure.
  • Try describing some of the characters - to see whether they appeal to you.
  • Write a couple of scenes - a novel takes a long time to write, you need to be  sure you are going to enjoy writing it.

Doing these things helps you to get a feel for the idea and whether it is something you can work with. It will also help you to determine whether you are going to need to spend a lot of time conducting research to write the novel. If after having spent some time doing this, the idea is still interesting to you, then you are ready to write. If, on the other hand, you suspect that you may not be able to sustain enthusiasm for the book, then now is the time to drop the idea and try to nurture another one.

The most important thing is to have an idea which is going to hold your own interest throughout the time that you write the novel, but which is also going to hold the attention of your readers. If you focus on keeping your ideas original, interesting, and entertaining you will hopefully satisfy your readership.

Think About Why You Are Writing

There are many reasons why people write:

  • They feel the need or desire to write
  • They have always been creative
  • They enjoy playing with words
  • They have a story they wish to tell
  • It is something they have always wanted to accomplish
  • Others have told them they ought to try writing
  • Perhaps they had a talent for writing at school

Of course there are many other reasons but sometimes a writer must ask themselves why they are writing at all. If you do not know the answer, you may have lost your direction.

Any writer should have clarity of purpose. Ask yourself what you are hoping to achieve through your writing.  It could be to:

  • Convey a story
  • Persuade people to agree with you
  • Encourage people to change
  • Entertain your readers
  • Make a statement
  • Inform people
  • Shock people
  • Show others how clever you are
  • Enable people to escape into a fantasy world.

Most likely you hope to achieve more than one of these outcomes. Your goals could be any combination of the above or you may have many others. Perhaps you are more interested in making money or becoming famous. If it is for the latter reasons then you may well end up disappointed.

When writing, you not only have to consider why you want to write, but you also need to write in an appropriate style for your target audience. If you wish to write a book to convince children that hamsters make good pets then there would be little sense in writing a complex book using academic language. If you write the book in a fun way, and discuss what wonderful creatures hamsters are, how to care for them, and so on, you are more likely to appeal to your audience.

If you wish to persuade readers that walking is better for the environment and their health than driving a car, then you will to expound this stance. If, on the other hand, you wish to remain impartial and offer a more objective view, you might write about the positives and negatives of walking compared to those of driving.

Therefore, it is useful to remind yourself what you are writing for, your motivation for writing, and what your audience is looking for. In doing so, you are able to remain focussed, which brings us to the next point.

The Importance of Focus

Staying focussed on what you are writing not only enables you to keep to what you originally intended to write, but it also helps you to reach targets and finish projects. The two main areas for focus then are:

  • Checking that you are writing the story you set out to tell
  • Ensuring you have the time to write - this helps with setting and achieving targets, and ultimately completing the work.

There are a number of methods writers use to remain focussed. These can include:

  • Limiting external distractions - e.g. noise (close the door, turn off music), visual distractions (shut the blind).
  • Stick to routines - e.g. begin writing at the same time each day, take regular breaks at set times.
  • Set realistic targets for your writing e.g. write ten pages per week.
  • Leave editing for later - when you are writing just go with it, and schedule separate time slots for editing

Some would say that you also need to focus on being a writer. That is, you have to make a conscious decision.  You have to decide to be a writer. 

“Those who say they want to be writers, and aren’t writing, don’t.”
- Ernest Hemingway


As already discussed, part of the writing process involves adhering to sound time management practices. Committing to writing at regular intervals is a way to create a habit. This is critical if you are going to be productive as a writer. Although it may be quite difficult to accomplish this initially, when it does become habitual, it also becomes much easier. You need to decide when, where, and how often you are going to write, whether it is an hour a day or an hour a week once you have made the commitment it will take less effort to fit it into your schedule.

Planning Your Novel

Part of time management is planning what you are going to write. Planning is organising your novel and setting goals for when you wish to accomplish certain aspects of your writing.

For instance, you may have allocated three evenings per week for writing, and one day over the weekend. You might then establish a very detailed plan in terms of chapter layout and dates by which you hope to have written each chapter. Alternatively, you might set a looser time-frame and allow your writing to flow more freely, but still setting some goals along the way.   

Completing the Novel

From first beginning to write your novel to its final publication usually takes two to three years. For some authors this timeline may be much shorter, and for others it may be a lifetime's work.  Generally speaking, if you want your work published it is wasteful attempting to emulate a current trend since it is unlikely to be in vogue when your book is ready for publication. One should always focus on their own writing passions than seek to engage popularity.

That said, self-publishing has surged in popularity with the advent of e-books, and it represents an opportunity for writers to get a book published online much more quickly than through traditional publishing houses. Therefore, authors who write in accordance with current fashions may be able to use this avenue to publish their work whilst it remains popular.

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