Advice for Writing a First Novel, Part 1

If time travel was possible, I would go back to 1999 and give my younger self some advice on how to go about the business of writing a novel. And, time permitting, I might tell him to never again dye his hair blonde and wear sport coats with shoulder pads. But that’s a post for another time.

Being that I’m older now and fanatical about organization, I’ve learned that all battles (and writing is a battle, albeit a fun one) are won or lost before they are ever fought.  With that in mind, this is the first in a series of three posts about penning a first novel. Learn from my many, many, many, many mistakes.

BEFORE WRITING A NOVEL

  • Make a detailed plot outlineI write a scene by scene summary of the plot on over-sized artist sketch paper, labeling each scene by number from beginning to end. Handwritten, these summaries are no more than five or six sentences in length.
  • Write detailed character bios. Include a physical description as well as some backstory on every character you plan to use in the novel.  Don’t forget to include full names, ages, and any memorable traits. For you mystery writers like me, don’t forget MMO (motive, means, opportunity).  Remember you want a lot of detail on these characters, especially the protagonists and antagonists.
  • Designate a specific time to write and a specific place…everyday! For me, this was in my tiny home office from 2pm to 4pm, no exceptions. I stripped the walls of said office of everything but my detailed plot outline and character bios, and I removed the Internet and all games from my laptop to really focus on writing. And of course: no cell phones, music, or TV. Humans aren’t cut out for multi-tasking, despite the rumors.
  • Write a contract for  yourself.  Perhaps this seems extreme, but I found it necessary to actually write down my goal, which was to complete a rough draft of my novel by a specific date. In addition, I wrote down vows, which were actions I swore I would take to reach my goal. Once I wrote these goals and vows down, I printed out several copies and posted them in my home office, my work office, my refrigerator, and half a dozen other places I would see them everyday. Call it an accountability thing.  (See the picture below for what this contract looked like.)

    Discipline trumps talen.

    Discipline trumps talent.

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