How to write your first novel

Hello. If you are reading this post, I’m assuming you want to write a book. It is also strongly plausible that you haven’t written any yet. That means you have a dream nurturing for a long time. The hailstorm of ideas that hit you when you’re inspired, the yearning of seeing your name on a cover, the unfinished manuscripts lying in several diaries and/or word documents, the pain and sense of failure that comes with not following an idea through and above all, the fulfilment you seek by producing a story a complete stranger would be touched to read.

All this means you have a story (or many) in you. I commend you for it. In a world which is constantly looking for ways to destroy, you want to create and it is no small deal. So pat yourselves on the back.

Before we delve into how to write that book that’s been living inside you for too long, I want to make some disclaimers.

First, writing and publishing are two different games. When you’re writing your first (or any number) book, you need to focus only on the process of writing. When I was contemplating writing, I would pay attention to all the disheartening statements like,

“Oh, the publishers take forever to respond.”

“They almost always reject a manuscript by a newbie.”

“You need a lot of money to get published.”

“Nobody reads nowadays.”

“Most Indian writing is considered subpar and formulaic.”

“Yada. Yada. Yada.”

“Blah. Blah. Blah.”

You know what? Don’t give two cents to all this negativity. You can cross that bridge when you come to it. Before being disturbed and crushed by such horrible negativity, just remember that those who can’t do something themselves try to pull others down.

Now that THAT is out of our systems and we are pumped to write that wonderful story, let’s get started.

STEP 1: PLOT/ OUTLINE/ SYNOPSIS

There’s a ton of confusion surrounding these words. They are used interchangeably but mean world apart. But you know what? You don’t need to clear up the exact meaning of any of these words. Why? Because what you need is simple and being caught up in unnecessary technicalities is only going to create useless overwhelm.

What you need to do, however, is have a broad (or detailed) structure of your story. It can be few lines, a paragraph or a page or eighteen pages, FRONT AND BACK! Since you haven’t done this before you do NOT know whether you are a plotter or a pantser.

“No. I know. I am a pantser. I like to allow room for imagination.”

“I am a Type A person. I like to thoroughly plan and plot before undertaking a task.”

Trust me on this, you don’t know. And you won’t know unless you have written at least three to four books.

Practically speaking, all you have to do is take out a pen and paper or open a word doc and pour out all you have in your mind about the story. Imagine you are narrating it to a friend. Don’t worry about getting it grammatically right. No one’s going to read it. So no one is going to judge. It’s your own private and sacred outlet of your story.

Fun fact: Harry Potter synopsis was rejected by 12 different publishers. And today it’s a monumental piece of document.

If you can’t write the synopsis, then just create a voice recording of the entire story in your phone. I’m saying this because some of us are audio learners.

In any case, get that idea with as much detail as possible out of you, in a concrete format.

How detailed plot helps:

  1. It creates a structure and you now have a proper starting point, the conflict and the end point. In other words, you have a skeleton. You can now start fleshing it out and add all the beautiful, tiny details and give it life.
  2. As detailed the plot is, the more chances are that you can spot all the plot holes before you begin writing. That means you wouldn’t have to worry about rewriting chapter 5 through 7 when you reach chapter 8, just because the base of what has to happen in chapter 8 had to be laid in chapter 5. And that changes the unfolding events, of course! What a drag!

So to reemphasize, create an outline.

STEP 2: START WRITING AND CONTINUE DOING IT.

Duh!

“You think I didn’t know that?”

I know that you know. But do you know that you know? (Pardon my obsessive need to poorly derive from FRIENDS references).

In other words, IT IS SIMPLE. But simple isn’t always easy. And since I’m here to give you practical tips and not just theoretical, seemingly common sense lessons, I’ll tell you exactly why it isn’t easy.

1. “I began writing my story but then I saw this movie/ read this book and it was so similar.”

In other words, you worry that your idea is not unique. Well, news alert, there’s nothing new under the sun. Yes, it’s true. I can bet you that if I gave the same 5 line outline to twenty people, we’ll get twenty wildly different stories.

You know why? Because the idea might not be unique but you are!

Yes. It’s again true.

Your interpretation of events, your emotional response, your beliefs, your perception is all unique. No one has lived the same life as you. NO ONE! So write the story, dear.

2. “My writing is still poor. I think, I need to take a course to improve the craft. I also might need to build some vocabulary.”

The only course you need to take is reading and writing. Every day that you write, you get better. Every day that you read, you find new words and how to use them. Every day that you read AND write, you grow!

Now this doesn’t mean that various courses on writing aren’t useful. They are! But you do NOT need to hold off on writing that first book until you have become a flawless writer. Truth be told, no one is flawless.

3. “I wrote chapter 1 yesterday but there are so many mistakes, I need to rewrite that.”

And then repeating it 20 times and then giving up on the story.

My suggestion to anyone is, “Just write the whole story before even beginning to think about editing it.”

As they say, you can’t edit a blank page.

In a more beautiful way, Shannon Hale said, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

If that doesn’t clear it up, I don’t know what will!

4. “I am seven chapters into my story but now I have lost interest in the idea. There are many others brewing inside me and I want to write those.”

Which ultimately leads to a pile of abandoned manuscripts all over the place.

This also goes hand in hand with losing motivation to write.

The first thing that helps here is that plot/outline we had created in step 1. Usually, there are many scenes sprinkled in your manuscript that you are looking forward to write. So pull out that outline and pick one of such scenes. And begin writing that scene. It maybe two chapters ahead of where you are in the story right now, but that doesn’t matter. It might reignite your interest in this manuscript.

The second thing you can do, is negotiate with yourself. You can begin writing the second idea only if you write 1500 or 1000 or even just 200 words of the first manuscript every day. The way mothers do it. “You can have your dessert if you have your vegetables.”

The third solution to this problem is developing a writing ritual. What I mean by a ritual is a set of time, space and other miscellaneous cues that trigger you to write whenever you are exposed to them.

For ex: Practise writing every day at a specific time, at lunch break or just after you’ve put kids to sleep, right after coming back from work etc. Choose the same place to write every day. It can be your desk, a café or even the floor of your living room. Try to choose a place where you don’t do anything else. If you choose a café, choose one you don’t normally go to. If you write on your desk, choose to face the other side than the one you work in.

Create other associations with your writing process like sipping a particular drink every time you write or wrapping yourself in a particular blanket.

What writing ritual does is that it creates habitual associations. Once you’ve done this ritual enough number of times, you’ll be triggered to write every time you bump into those triggers. You’ll want to write as soon as your kids go to sleep. Every time you pass through that café you’ll want to pick up your story where you left it. Drinking chamomile honey green tea with a dash of cinnamon will make you want to punch out some wonderful words.

5. “No one is going to read my story. Why would anyone pick up my book? I am a nobody.”

Well sweetheart, if you won’t write it, of course no one would read it!

This basically stems from the whole idea of building a readership. Marketing gurus recommend that you start building a readership the moment you start writing a book. Which is true. But it doesn’t mean that if your readership is developing painfully slowly, you should quit writing. If anything, you should write with double the enthusiasm. Deliver that first book and then start writing another. And another. And another.

In short, whatever thoughts or second thoughts you are having about finishing your book, they are all unnecessary mental blocks.

To be continued…

A doctor by profession, Rubina is an avid reader and is known to devour many books a day. She cannot help being amazed by the beauty of subtle emotions so she writes stories about them. You will find a friend in her stories and if lucky, maybe yourself.
With two wildly successful feel-good novels (Lost and Found: An almost love story and Sticks and Stones: Another almost love story) under her belt, she’s now working on the third one which is due to release in January, 2020.

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