Welcome to a guide on ways to begin writing a novel. The task and process of writing a novel have come under scrutiny of late, particularly in the fantasy genre. Two of the most popular writers of novels in the field—George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss—have both struggled with writing novels in their series, and its caused quite a stink amongst their readers.
Writing a novel is tough, no doubt about it. Determination, perseverance, patience and much more are all required to see you to the end. Below, we’ll look at what else is required when it comes to writing a novel.
Patrick Rothfuss is the latest writer to come under fire, with articles discussing his lack of progress in writing his latest novel hitting newspapers all over the world. The second book in his Kingkiller Chronicle was released in 2011. Rothfuss’s own editor has spoken out about her frustrations with the lack of progress with his writing, saying that she doesn’t believe he’s written anything in 6 years!
Martin and Rothfuss are two of the finest writers I’ve ever encountered. They’ve certainly written some of my favourite novels. If they’re struggling to write a novel, it illustrates just how hard it is to do.
In the sections below, you’ll find all you need to know about writing a novel, 4 easy things to remember when it comes to writing a novel, how to find the time to write, key considerations when writing a novel, what the best software you could use to help you write, how to publish a book once written, and a look at some of the hardest parts of writing a novel, amongst other things.
Click the sections below to navigate through the article.
Select a section
- What is a novel?
- Is writing a novel easy?
- Can anyone write a novel?
- 4 easy ways to begin writing a novel
- What tense should I use?
- How do you find the time to write?
- How long should it take to write a novel?
- What is the best software for writing?
- Can you publish for free?
- How hard is it to publish?
- What is the hardest part of writing a book?
- Is writing a novel worth it?
- Other articles you might like
What is a novel?
A novel is a book of significant size. The definition of a novel is centred on it being a piece of fictitious prose, usually categorized by the total number of words that make up the book. Let’s take a look at the different lengths of stories, including that of a novel:
- Microfiction – stories of this nature are usually around 100-150 words long.
- Flash fiction – stories in this category usually have a word limit of around 1,000 words, though some publishers accept up to 1,500.
- Short fiction – after analysing the data from my list of fantasy short story publishers, the short fiction limit is usually around 5,000 – 7,500 words long. Some publishers will accept more than that, often up to around 10,000 – 12,000 words. However, the majority of publishers prefer their short fiction on the lower end of the word-count spectrum.
- Novellettes – stories that fall under this category aren’t quite short enough to be a short story and aren’t long enough to be a novella. The usual range is between 7,500 and 20,000 words.
- Novellas – a novella is a bit longer than a novelette, coming in at between 20,000 and 50,000 words.
- Novels – usually anything over around 60,000 – 70,000 words. The average length that publishers seek, going off my list of fantasy novel publishers, is around 100,000 words. There really is no upper limit. The Lord of the Rings collection clocks in at 527,040 words! However, if you want to stand a greater chance of hitting that New York Times bestseller list, you’d be wise to stick to the industry standard of around 100,000 words, and if you’re a debut novelist, the recommended limit is a little lower at around 80,000 words. That’s a hell of a lot of scribbling!
For a more detailed guide on the length of stories, check out this post.
Is writing a novel easy?
Having written a few, I know first-hand the trials and tribulations that writing a novel involves. Finishing a novel is tough. But it’s doable. Here are a few key considerations:
- Patience – it took me 2 years to write and edit my last novel, Pariah’s Lament. It took me even longer to write my first. All throughout that time I saw on social media people celebrating the release of their own books. It made me impatient. Time and time again I had to tell myself to take my time, keep writing, and that sometime soon, I’ll be able to celebrate too.
- Dedication – given the length of time it can take to write a novel, there are going to be times when you feel like giving up. There may even be times when you feel like binning what you’ve written and writing a whole new novel. It’s important to keep perspective. You may be struggling with a particular scene or chapter and once you get through it and onto a new page, your angst will melt away and that beautiful writing flow will resume again.
- Organisation – some writers like to make things up as they go along. If like me, you’re more of a planner, you may find yourself getting lost amid a sea of words. I like to take the time to outline and map out where I’m going, sometimes in detail, other times in more vague terms. There’s no right way to go about writing a novel.
- Perseverance – there will be times when you feel like setting everything on fire and hurling the fireball that is your laptop out of the window. We all have those days when you feel like you’ve lost the ability to write. Remind yourself it’s not permanent and that tomorrow is a new day and that you will finish scrawling that novel.
Can anyone write a novel?
Yes! Almost certainly. If you have a desire to write, act upon it. Do not ignore it. One of my personal philosophies is that we all have a story to tell, one the world wishes for you to share. Do not be dissuaded by a lack of experience. I began scribbling my first novel with absolutely no knowledge of storytelling whatsoever.
If you’re feeling a bit uncertain about writing, you could enrol in some free online novel writing courses. There are lots available. The Masterclass website has some courses from some of the finest authors in the world, such as Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood.
If you’re a fantasy lover like me, you can check out Brandon Sanderson’s full creative writing college course for free on YouTube. This is something I followed when I first began writing and it helped me tremendously. I treated it like a proper college degree and it paid off. Sanderson has released a brand new course for 2020, and once again, it’s totally free. Here’s the first lecture.
A quick search on the web will throw up lots of other helpful writing resources like novel planning worksheets. Some of them are tailored toward specific types of stories, like love stories or action stories, which will be even more helpful to you if that’s what you’re looking to write. This resource from Writers Digest contains 9 different worksheets to help you write your novel.
I also recommend looking into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which takes place every November. Its a tremendously supportive writing community and there are ongoing events and local meetups all year round. Click here to check out their site.
4 Easy Ways To Begin Writing A Novel
There are plenty of ways for you to learn how to begin writing a novel. Here are 4 easy and what I believe the most effective methods are to get you off the mark.
- Practice! This is the most important of all. How can you expect to be good at something if you don’t practice? You wouldn’t drive a car without lessons. You wouldn’t cook a roast dinner without first looking into how it’s done. Practice is everything. The more you do something, naturally, the better you’ll be.
- Read. Reading is almost as important as practising. One of the most useful things you can do is to look at some of your favourite books and analyse how they’re written, how they’re structured, how characters develop over chapters. Scrutinise everything! The best lessons can be learned from our favourite and most successful writers.
- Learn. The internet is awash with all kinds of writing guides that teach the likes of writing techniques. There are plenty of writing courses available too. If you’re struggling for ideas for what to write about, you could try looking at creative writing prompts. You can find lots of writing prompts on sites like Reddit, or even try writing prompts generators. In the past I’ve taken part in fantasy writing prompts competitions hosted by the likes of Penguin Random House. Sitting down and coming up with prompts can be great fun! I also have a free book on writing you can download for free when you join my community.
- Devote your time. It’s important to dedicate time to writing. Finding your own personal space in which to write can be very important when it comes to getting into the zone, as well as keeping all your notes handy. A nice desk is always a good investment.
What tense should I use?
I’ve included this section within this writing guide because it’s one of the questions I get asked most by writers in my community. Choosing the right tense when it comes to writing a novel is a crucial consideration. The tense can dictate how much of the story you can reveal, how immersive you want the story to be, what character perspectives you can use, and so much more. If halfway through writing your novel you decide that, for instance, a first-person narrator isn’t quite working for your story, it’s going to be tricky to change everything you’ve already written. However, it’s all a matter of individual storytelling styles. There are 4 main tenses:
- First-person – this is useful if you’re looking to use a first-person narrator to tell the story. It usually centres on one lead character which the story will follow throughout.
- Second person – quite an uncommon tense to use, particularly when it comes to writing a novel.
- Third-person limited – one of the more popular approaches to writing a novel, which often centres on one lead character or several.
- Third-person omniscient – historically, a very popular approach, but as fiction has moved towards character-driven stories, its popularity has waned.
Click here for a full guide on viewpoint, tense and narrative distance.
How do you find the time to write?
For me, finding the time to write my novels is the hardest part. Our busy lives, driven by work, family and friends, can leave us with little time to spare. Even if we do have some time, we feel exhausted, stressed or lacking in creativity. And it’s fair to say when it comes to writing a novel, you have to be a little bit awake.
There’s nothing more difficult than sitting down to write your novel when you’re just not in the mood. But you know that chances to do so are rare and that you must take advantage of each one whenever they come around. But is it counterproductive to force your writing?
My philosophy when it comes to writing, particularly writing a novel, which is such a big project, is that every mere minute you spend even just contemplating the idea of writing is progress. Begin with baby steps and build up to that writing sprint.
If you can, find a window of free time that you consistently have during the week that you can devote to writing your novel. It might be a Saturday morning or a Sunday evening, or even a weeknight when your other half is out. The bigger the writing window the better, because you can allow yourself to slip into that writing zone and stay there for a few hours. Before you know it, your novel will be written.
If you have the time, allow writing to become a daily habit. I usually get a small writing window everyday between 10 pm and 12 am where I can settle down for a while and get stuck into one of my novels, short stories, or blogs. Successful writers are dedicated writers who find the time to sneak in a few words any time they can. Writing a novel is a marathon, and you have to chip away at it all the time. You can do so too.
How long should it take to write a novel?
There’s really no right answer to this. As we discussed at the beginning, it’s taken some of the finest writers in the world nearly a decade or longer to write their next novels. It all depends on the type of story you want to tell, the complexity of that story and how much time you have to invest in your writing.
There is countless novel writing guides on the web devoted to helping you finish a novel in 60 days, or 6 months or whatever time frame they think is achievable. Everybody is different, and what works for one person may not work for you. The most important thing when writing a novel is to continuously make progress.
If you’re looking to complete a draft of a novel quickly, I recommend getting involved in National Novel Writing Month. It sets you a target of writing 60,000 words in 30 days (over the course of November). This works out at about 2,000 words per day. A totally achievable daily target (depending on how quickly you type and how easy your story flows out of you). By the end, you should have nearly finished writing your novel.
Setting little targets, like writing 1,000 words per day or 2,000 words per day if you have the time, is a great method of keeping focused on finishing that novel.
And when it comes to writing the first draft of a novel, don’t worry so much about the quality. The best advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to first drafts is to treat them as just you telling yourself the story. The editing process is when you tidy up your writing before revealing it to the eyes of the wider world.
What is the best software for writing?
You can’t beat a good old word processor to help you write your novel. In fact, all of my novels have been written in Word. However, there are more advanced pieces of software that are designed to help you with writing a novel. Here are some details:
- Microsoft Word – almost the default when it comes to word processors. I’ve used Word a lot when writing my novels. It does the basics well. However, it costs money to use and isn’t cheap.
- Libre Office – this is very similar to word and it’s totally free! I used Libre Office for years for writing my novels.
- Scrivener – this is a popular piece of software amongst writers, particularly novel writers. It has lots of handy tools built into it to help with writing and editing and has lots of templates you can use too. You do have to pay for it, however.
For more recommendations on some of the best software for writing, head here.
Can you publish for free?
Yes, you can! We’re in the age of self-publishing, and never has it been more accessible to get your novels out to the world. You can finish writing your novel, create a front cover and publish it all completely free. Services like Amazon’s KDP can help you with formatting your novel and designing a front cover (you can also use websites like Canva to make free front covers), and publish it to the Amazon store all for nothing (save for a percentage of your book sales). You can take advantage of print on demand services too, which will save you from having to buy a stack of your novels that you may never sell.
There are other free sites you can use to distribute your finished novels too, like Draft2Digital, which automatically publishes your eBook with pretty much every book retailer on the web. It’s incredibly easy to use too and will have your books listed within hours.
The only thing it will cost you is your time.
How hard is it to publish?
As we’ve seen in the above section, it’s pretty darn easy to self-publish once you’ve finished writing a novel. If you want to go down the traditional publishing route, it’s a little harder.
You’ll need to have your novel written and edited to a high standard, draft query letters to agents or publishers, and then potentially spend months waiting for them to get back to you with a yay or nay. The chances of being accepted are slim, too, with the competition being so great. Don’t let this dissuade you, though. While you’re waiting, you can get to work writing your next novel in your series, and even the one after that—yes, it can take a very long time to hear back, and even more time beyond that to get a book deal. Try not to let that get you down. Just keep on writing!
What is the hardest part of writing a book?
For me, the hardest part of writing a novel is battling the demons of doubt. All throughout the process of writing Pariah’s Lament, I had a voice nattering in my mind telling me how rubbish the story was, how it didn’t work, how flat the characters were, and how nobody was ever going to read it. Why bother writing this novel at all? You’re wasting your time. I had to silence that voice and keep on writing.
It’s funny how our minds work sometimes. Where does this nasty voice even come from? As writers, we need to learn to silence it, or if we can’t do that, learn how to shut it in a box and focus on our work. It does our writing no favours and will only serve to distract us from finishing our novels.
And this voice of doubt can easily overwhelm us. It can make us stop writing a novel altogether, rob us of the joy our passion brings. It must be defeated at all costs.
Is writing a novel worth it?
Almost certainly. Nothing is more satisfying for me than hammering out tens of thousands of words and finally being in a position to write those magical two words once you’re finished: The End.
Finishing a novel is a tremendous achievement. It’s a display of will and determination and creativity. You should be nothing but proud of getting to the end.
Keep that end goal in mind. Think of the satisfaction you’ll feel when you finally finish writing your novel and can finally look forward to sharing it with the world. That’s why writing a novel is so worth it.
Other articles and resources you might like:
Thank you for reading this article! I sincerely hope you’ve found it useful. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below. And if you think any other budding writers who are interested in scribbling a novel would benefit from this article, please share it with them.
Below, I’ve included links to some of my other writing-related articles that may help you when it comes to penning a novel. I’ve also included some links to other exceptional guides on writing books and creative writing generally that hopefully will help you too when it comes to writing your novel.
My Writing Guides
- The Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed Podcast – audio tips and guides on writing and writing fantasy
- Writing tips
- Hated writing rules
- How to write romance scenes
- How to format a manuscript
- Mental health in fantasy books
- 8 ways to kickstart your writing career
- What is characterization?
- How to write strong female characters
- How to edit
- What is StoryOrigin?
- How to plot a story
- What is passive voice?
- How to plan a story
- How to plan a novel
External Writing Guides
Fiction Writing Basics – Purdue University
Short Story Tips – Jerz’s Literacy Web Blog
The Open University course on Creative Writing
How To Get Over Writers Block And Produce Great Work– a guide by Katie Holmes for OutWitTrade
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