Most people tend to think of planning as something that happens before they start writing a book. But as I explained in my post on getting organized and getting started, alternate cycles of planning, drafting, and revising occur frequently throughout the course of a writing a novel.
Now sometimes a good scene will get drafted without being extensively planned out ahead of time. And it is true that more planning tends to happen near the start of a novel, while the end phase is heavy on cycles of revision. However, familiarizing yourself and then taking advantage of the planning tools and exercises provided in this section will prove valuable not only at the start of your project, but at every stage along the way.
I don’t intend to rehash the classic planner vs. panster debate here, but I will suggest that each of the topics below are vital to the completion of a successful novel, regardless of how you internalize and approach each component. Furthermore, you will want to devote some time to pondering and making each of these concepts your own, whether or not you prefer to draft some early scenes before tackling planning in depth. As such, I sincerely believe that many of these exercises should prove useful for anyone, regardless of how much they prefer to draft by the seat of their pants or how much prior writing experience they have under their belt.
With that out of the way, welcome once again to my guide on the planning process. Check out the following sections to get started on planning out your novel today!
To get started on planning and then drafting your novel, you are going to need to come up with some promising ideas first. This section contains advice and exercises for inventing and developing key aspects of your characters, settings, and plot, as well as some general advice on how to capture your ideas while they are still fresh in your mind.
No novel would be complete without a cast of engaging characters. This section will first help you to come up with preliminary character sketches. Then I will provide some tools to enhance these rough-hewn individuals by adding additional details and backstories, granting breadth and depth to your protagonist and other important members of your cast.
Now that you have a few characters in the works and have begun to round and flesh them out, it’s time to take a look at a second fundamental narrative component, setting. Vibrant settings are vital to creating an immersive and engaging novel. This section will help you to develop your settings as well as generate some of the early descriptions that you will incorporating into your novel.
Now it’s time for the most labor intensive stage in planning out your novel, deciding on the structure of your story and then organizing the key events in your plot. This section will help you to understand and then choose from a number of classic plot structures, providing you with the tools you will need to customize them for your own story. It will also cover key concepts such as tension, conflict, and how to set up the climax of your novel.
With characters, settings, and plot out of the way, it’s time to take a look at the final fundamental narrative component of storytelling, theme. Theme can be a bit tricky to wrap your brain around at first, but this section will help you to understand the concept as well as provide exercises intend to develop core themes for use in your novel.
Welcome to the end of the planning phase and our culminating exercise. This is the last thing you will need to do before you are ready to begin drafting in earnest. These exercises will help you to generate and map out your plot as well as to add background details to your world and its history. Included within are a variety of tools that will assist with plotting, pacing, and organizing your story.
Have you always wanted to write a novel, but don’t know where to begin? Or perhaps you already have a few hundred pages under your belt, but still feel that something is missing.
Well, worry no longer. For this site offers a comprehensive guide (effectively a full-length book) to writing a novel from start to finish. It is written in blog format for easy digestion and sharing and is chocked full of examples and exercises intended to take you all the way from staring at a blank page to revising a complete manuscript. Included are a number of techniques and tools for writers of any genre or experience level.
Ah the dreaded writer’s block. An ageless, iconic curse and bane of all mortals who seek to set pen to paper. Although it plagues some individuals a great deal more than others, it is pretty much guaranteed that you will experience at least some form of writer’s block over the course of completing a novel. Thus, understanding the nature of writer’s block and possessing a plan to get past it can help you immensely in your quest to keep turning out those pages, allowing you to make steady progress even on your off days.
Part of the problem in overcoming writer’s block is that there is no single psychological process that makes up the phenomenon. In fact, a wide range of creative roadblocks and inspirational speed traps usually get lumped together when talking about and defining writer’s block. This tends to inflate the problem so that it seems bigger than it really is and makes finding a one size fits all solution tricky at best.
What is writer’s block?
By taking the experience collectively known as writer’s block and breaking it down into separate components, you can learn to build a map of your own energetic traps and slowdowns, as well as to apply focused solutions to each form of blockage you encounter.
The first major division I am going to draw out is between:
Running out of ideas (see my next post on finding ideas for help on this one),
Not knowing which part of the novel to work on next, and
Being unable to sit down and put in a good day’s work, even when you know what you need to do (low motivation, energy, or focus).
This article specifically deals with the third case, as finding ideas is a core part of planning a novel (and can often be solved with brainstorming exercises), while temporarily running out of steam can happen at any point in the writing process. As far as the second case is concerned, not knowing what to do next, see my earlier post on getting organized and getting started to learn how to leave yourself with lots of options when sitting down to write, allowing you to pick out a task that excites you and continue to make significant progress each day. Finally, there is another type of writer’s block that occurs when an author is overly critical during the revising process that I will address in the exercises for that phase.
What causes writer’s block?
Being productive during any given day of writing comes down to the combined influence of three key variables:
Low physical energy is usually the easiest problem to diagnose if not to solve, as it is often the result of low sleep, little exercise, or other sources of stress that lead to tension within the body. Simply taking the time to take care of yourself with a little yoga and a good night’s rest can do wonders for a writer’s productivity.
Poor mental focus comes into play when there are problems in your life that you are dealing with, but also from having too many distractions present in your writing environment. Establishing a regular writing routine and maintaining an effective workspace can help to keep you focused and remain on task.
Finally, suppressed emotional motivation can prevent you from getting started on a day’s writing, even if you are well-rested and otherwise free of distraction. This type of blockage manifests most intensely near the middle of a project, once it begins to hit home just how much work still lies ahead before you will finish. Although everyone has natural variance in their motivation levels, setting manageable, daily goals can help.
How to get rid of writer’s block
Now that we have defined writer’s block and separated its main components, it’s time to discuss what to do about it. A number of people have asked me how to get over, get out of, get past, or cure writer’s block, but I am afraid that there is no simple solution that will magically make it disappear overnight. Creating and maintaining a set of healthy writing habits is a skill that you will need to develop and strengthen over time.
That being said, there are several effective strategies that can help:
Establish a daily writing routine
You can reduce your susceptibility to all forms of writer’s block, simply by establishing an effective daily routine. Human beings are creatures of habit, and once you build up some momentum by creating a daily writing routine, it can help carry you into a productive day of work, even when your energy, motivation, and focus are well below their peaks.
Make sure that your writing environment is clean, spacious, and free of distractions, and try to write near the same time every day for your core block. If your home is not conducive to your creative process, find somewhere else to work. Ensure that your workspace is comfortable as well, so that you can maintain your energy and focus for as long as possible.
Pair maintaining a productive environment with setting a goal for writing one hour every day, while leaving yourself with plenty of options for what to do next. Even when you don’t feel like working, just getting started for a few minutes on a small task can often jumpstart your muse and result in a prolific session. Remember that writing a book isn’t a job or a race and that no one is standing behind you and tracking your progress with a judgmental frown.
Learning to court inspiration throughout your day
Although I have just finished advising you to write at the same time each day as part of a core routine, most of you probably already know that part of the writing process tends to happen as you go about your daily life. You can be in the grocery store or chatting with a friend when the next big idea strikes, and productive writers learn to pounce on these tidbits and jot them down before their muse escapes. Carrying around a small notepad or digital equivalent is a great way to capture ideas on the fly and many writers find that this habit results in significant progress on a story, simply by going about their daily life.
Part of the reason for this is that we are immersed in countless stories that are embedded into our everyday interactions, and developing an eye for spotting them is like casting a net into a river. Every now and again, a great catch will simply float your way. Keep the pad near your bed at night as well, so that any ideas that come while falling asleep or even in dreams are easy to capture too.
Starting is almost always the hardest part of any given day of writing, for once your inner muse finds the slightest bit of inspiration, she often opens the door to a productive day of work. Additionally, thinking about writing hundreds of pages can be rather overwhelming, but writing just a few pages each day isn’t so bad. Learn to focus on the task before you and not the months of work to come. That being said, don’t distract yourself once the words start flowing. Get out of your own way and just keep writing once you enter a productive space.
Every time you feel like taking a break, encourage yourself to push just a little bit further, as many times the urge to stop will retreat after a few more minutes. To strengthen this trend, avoid procrastinating during your scheduled writing time whenever possible, as this will tend to stress you out and make your writer’s block worse over time.
In order to facilitate a healthy daily writing routine, I recommend that you get into the habit of keeping a comprehensive list of the various of parts of your novel that still need some work. In addition to writing down ideas, keep this list of potential writing tasks (starting places) with you as well, so that when you sit down for the day, you will have lots of options for where to begin as well as other tasks you can switch to if you feel yourself running out of gas.
Create short writing assignments to conquer the blank page
Many people find that it is much easier to complete a brief writing assignment than to stare down at a blank page and force the words to come. While I have included as many examples of these as I can in this guide, learning how to creating structured tasks for yourself is a powerful way to help focus your energy and maintain steady progress. Remember, there is no need to write a novel in chronological order, so pick a part of the story that excites you each day.
Examples of self-created assignments might include:
“Write a two paragraph description of a character’s daily routine.”
“Decide how I want to open and close this scene.”
“Outline the core events of this chapter, then write a few sentences describing each in greater detail.”
Full length sample exercise: Talk your way through a scene (by explaining it out loud to an imaginary audience) until you find a good place to begin writing. Simply start describing the events as if you were chatting with a friend over lunch. Every time you come up with a good idea, write it down as a bullet point. If a concrete line of description or dialogue comes to mind, jot that down too, then see if you can write the sentences that come before and after.
What to do when you have writer’s block
Review/list the things that still need to be accomplished until you find a task that appeals to you.
If nothing catches your interest, try working on a totally new part of the book.
If all else fails, simply focus on revision for today.
“Whenever life is overwhelming, ignore everything else and just focus on the next tangible step.” – Bryan Dickerson.
On writing and flow
Have you ever sat down to write, play a game, or work, only to realize later that hours have passed without you even being aware of the minutes ticking by? Or been so engaged in something that everything else seemed to disappear? If so, you have likely experienced the condition known as flow, which is kind of the opposite of encountering writers’ block.
In psychology, the experience called flow, also known as “being in the zone,” is mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, total-involvement, and enjoyment of the task. In essence, flow is characterized by a complete absorption in what one does and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.
Without intrinsic motivation it is virtually impossible to establish flow, but when motivation is high and the task is challenging, flow can be achieved naturally. You can’t force flow or expect that it will be there as part of every writing session. However, I bring it up here because it is one of the ways you can accomplish significant progress on your novel without having the process feel like work. Learning to court the experience of flow will not only make your daily writing as effortless as possible, but can lead to extra productivity without feeling like you are exerting more effort.
Using these techniques, even severe writer’s block can be mitigated and managed over time, allowing your novel to keep growing a little bit every day.
That’s it for the introduction to my approach to the wring process, now it’s time to dive into the details with the first major section of this guide, “The Planning Process.”
So you have taken the plunge and decided to write a novel but don’t know how to get started. Perhaps you have been sitting there, staring at the pristine expanse of an empty page for hours, waiting for inspiration to strike to no avail. Allow me to assure you that there is no need for alarm. Blank-page syndrome is a common problem for fledgling authors to grapple with and I am here to help you get the ball rolling.
Over the next several entries in this guide I will show you how to plan a story and will outline the various steps to writing a book. By the end of this post you will have a solid grasp of the stages involved in crafting a story and will have begun to form a plan to take your book from start to finish.
But for today, let’s focus on the big picture and talk about how to organize writing a novel and how to start writing a book today.
How to organize writing a novel
As you have undoubted already realized, writing a book is an enormous project. A grand labor of love, requiring hundreds of hours to draft and then revise many thousands of words. Standing here at the base, looking up at this towering mountain of work looming before you can be intimidating, even downright overwhelming. But fear not, for with the right approach and a bit of daily effort, you can climb the peak before you know it and have a great time along the way.
As completing a book entails such a significant amount of effort, it is critical that you learn to organize yourself and work efficiently so that you can continue to make constant progress throughout the span of the project. With that in mind, putting some time into planning out your approach before you start writing will save you a great deal of stress and wasted minutes down the line, enabling you to eventually meet your goal. Or, put another way, learning how to organize writing a novel is the first step in completing your story.
In this orientation section, I will first provide an overview of what I consider to be the three core aspects of the writing process (each of which will be further explored in later posts), and then suggest some helpful ways to get organized and then show you how to start writing your novel.
The steps to writing a book (Core aspects of the writing process)
Any noteworthy project requires careful planning to reach a successful conclusion and writing a story is no different. The good news is that you have already completed a major portion of the planning of your novel, simply by deciding to write one. With only a bit of effort, you can learn how to plan a story that readers will love.
Aspects of the planning process include:
Brainstorming: Writing down ideas or story elements as they come to mind without any formal organization.
Worldbuilding: Fleshing out aspects of your narrative so they are rich and crisp in your mind, such as developing characters and constructing settings.
Timeline and plotlines: Structuring key events and scenes by determining their order and overall position within the story. This helps you to know where things are headed as you draft your early text. It is generally helpful to outline a scene before attempting to draft it, especially longer scenes involving multiple characters and complex events.
Drafting new text
Nothing is more iconic to the writing process than committing ink to the blank page. Different parts of your novel will involve drafting:
Scenes composed of action-based sequences.
Dialogue and characters’ inner monologue.
Interpersonal relationships and character interactions.
Description, narration, exposition, and summary.
Revising existing plot, scenes, and text
Many writers will tell you not to revise your story until you have completed a full first draft. I find this advice to be generally unhelpful as going back and tinkering with your existing text can help you to:
Refresh older parts your story in your mind.
Add key details that lead to new ideas.
Place yourself in the reader’s perspective when evaluating your story and balancing your narrative.
One key caveat is that you should not attempt to revise a piece of text while you are still in the middle working on the initial draft, as spending too much time playing with the words themselves instead of deciding what happens next can kill your inspiration and momentum.
Aspects of revision include:
Embellishing: Improving word choice, adding colorful details, and fleshing out scenes and dialogue.
Pruning: Removing unnecessary text and even entire scenes to help improve the overall flow of your story and maximize the reader’s interest.
Proofreading: Correcting spelling errors, grammar, formatting issues, and typos from completed text.
Finishing a novel will require alternating cycles of these three processes, but deciding how much of which to do in what order is something that will develop naturally as you become more adept at the writing process. Of course, there will inevitably be more drafting at the beginning of a project and more revision at the end, but all three elements will remain in play until the novel is complete. This is a good thing, as having options for what to do next on any given day will help you to maintain momentum in the midst of a long project.
While you are still standing at the starting line, it is good time to discuss the organizational tools that will help you to stay on top of things once your pages and notes begin to pile up. The goal is to create an organizational system over time that makes it easy to brainstorm and allows you find things quickly as needed, including:
Binders and files: Create a filing system that facilitates your creative process.
Whiteboards: Having more physical space than is available on your desktop is incredibly helpful. I suggest you start by reorganizing your office space by using magnetic whiteboards.
Notepads: I highly recommend carrying a notepad (or digital equivalent) with you wherever you go in order to jot down ideas on the fly. You will find that getting into the habit of recording stray thoughts while going about your day results in significant progress on your story over time.
How to get started writing a book
Once you have put your initial organizational framework into place, it’s time to get started on your novel and take the first steps to writing a book. Congratulations! You are now considerably further than most people ever get in crafting your story. There is no right or wrong way to go about these early steps as you establish your daily writing routine, but it is important for you to work efficiently in order to stay motivated and make constant progress.
During the initial stages of story-crafting, most of your time will be spent planning, brainstorming, and drafting onto the blank page, with small amounts of revision mixed in to add breadth and depth to existing scenes as well as to review your overall progress. You may already have some text written or characters and scenes in mind, but even if you are still deciding on core elements of your story, I will show you some solid techniques begin making daily progress.
Never force yourself to work on any given task if you feel totally uninspired, as this will make your hobby start to feel like a job and begin to sap your energy and focus. Find a task that excites you and put some work into that instead, as you will naturally perform at a higher level and work longer without feeling drained afterwards.
If you are not sure what part of your story you want to develop on any given day, try the following exercises:
Meditate/brainstorm on what parts of your story you find to be the most interesting, engaging, or exciting
Identify early scenes that are important to your story and list them along with any key events or character interactions you know will be included.
Then jump right in and start writing a scene as soon as you have at least one in mind that inspires you. Simply put your pen to paper at an interesting place in the narrative and keep on writing down what happens next until you run out of ideas. Sometimes you will only wind up with a few new paragraphs, but often you may find that you have written many pages without even realizing that time is passing.
Each time you complete a new scene or are finished drafting for the day, brainstorm for a few minutes and decide what happens next (either add to the current scene or skip ahead to the next major event). This will not only help you to develop your plot organically, but will give you more options when you begin your next drafting session.
Add text to as many existing scenes as you can, then go back and look at your outline
Continue to work on the overall plotline for your novel a little bit every day. You can begin to divide these scenes into chapters and subchapters eventually, but until then just list these plot events in order.
Take a revision pass over your existing content.
If you don’t have any drafting or outlining that inspires you, go ahead and take a pass at revising your existing content instead. Even early on in your project you can often add additional paragraphs to scenes in development, as well as flesh out important events and character interactions that will help you to build and embellish your settings and characters.
Read your work out loud as you revise, as this can help you to catch errors that you would otherwise miss as well put you in the perspective of your readers, at least as far as pacing and mood are concerned.
As your story grows and gains depth, you will often find yourself thinking about a scene as you go about your daily life. This means that a scene can mature in your mind over time and when you sit back down to work on it later, you may discover that you have gained additional insight and creativity on that section of text. As I mentioned before, keeping a notepad with you whenever possible will assist in this process.
Establish a daily writing routine (How to write everyday)
Although you may catch yourself working on your novel at various points throughout your day, most people find that establishing a core writing routine dramatically improves their overall consistency and productivity over the course of constructing a novel. Learning how to write everyday will ensure that you make steady progress and eventually meet your goal.
Aspects of a solid writing routine include:
Cultivating effective writing habits.
Setting aside a dedicated hour per day for writing (ideally around the same time).
Removing as many distractions as possible from your writing environment.
Setting a goal to only write for one hour every day. Anything else is bonus points.
Having fun so that your writing doesn’t turn into work. Focus on whatever excites you the most today.
Keeping your writing tools close at hand and making them easy to find and use.
Tracking your daily progress on a calendar or journal to boost motivation.
If you do happen to find yourself in a place where you can’t think of any scenes to draft, organize, or revise, see the following articles on overcoming writer’s block and finding ideas for a number of helpful exercises.
Hello, my name is Bryan Dickerson and like many of you, I am an aspiring author and novel aficionado. Allow me to officially welcome you to my blog and writing guide. Here you will learn how to write a book from start to finish in this comprehensive guide.
Writing a novel in just one hour per day
After talking to my friends, family, and countless random strangers about my writing process over the last several years, I have come to realize that many people have always wanted to write a novel, but either don’t know where to begin or believe that they don’t have the time or ability to write a book given their busy lives.
After all, drafting hundreds of pages is a considerable feat, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account the challenges inherent in creating a world, filling it with people, coming up with a plot, writing dialogue that flows, and a whole host of other tasks that come along with the job. In fact, just thinking about all of the time, effort, and knowledge required is pretty intimidating, maybe even a little bit scary. I mean, you might put in all that work and your story doesn’t turn out well, let alone take the form of something that you can sell to compensate you for your time.
Can anyone write a book?
Yes! I am here to tell you from personal experience that most of you already possess the skills that you will need to write a cohesive novel or shorter work, simply from being a life-long consumer of story. In fact, it is more than possible to complete a novel within a reasonable span of time, averaging only an hour per day on the project. Of course, not every book that gets written will go on to be an international best seller or even purchased by a major publishing house. However, with modern self-publishing techniques including digital distribution, anyone can write a book they can be proud of and that is easy to share with family, friends, and the rest of the online world. And who knows? You might just pen the next blockbuster hit.
Now, I don’t claim that this process will be easy for everyone. Indeed there are many challenges fundamental to the writing process that you will have to overcome while drafting and revising your novel. But I firmly believe that with the right attitude, plan, and resources, almost anyone can write a story that is meaningful to themselves and can be enjoyed by others.
I hope that some of the ideas contained within this guide will be of use to experienced writers as well, as I have gathered and consolidated a prime selection of writing tips and techniques from many sources, both online and in print, as well as my personal approach.
How long does it take to write a book?
It depends on both the length and genre of your work, but most people can finish an average-sized novel (70-90k words) in less than a year by using my method.
Ok, so what is this guide actually about?
My goal is to divide the enormous subject of story-writing into manageable portions. The plan is to teach you how to write by breaking down the various elements involved in writing a novel into concrete stages. Within each post, I will first provide a general overview of the topic at hand, complete with definitions and examples, and examine how each subject relates to the overall goal of novel-writing. I will then take a deeper dive into some of the key components discussed, concluding with a number of concrete exercises intended to help you to internalize these concepts and jumpstart your daily writing practice.
By following this guide you will learn:
How to start writing a book today.
The key steps to writing a book.
How to organize writing a novel.
How to write a fiction, with a little extra on fantasy novels.
The elements of descriptive writing, dialogue, action, and inner monologue.
How to improve your writing skills in critical categories.
Novel writing tips and tricks.
Writing exercises for every stage of the journey.
Why am I doing this anyway?
I am a lifelong consumer and lover of fiction (especially science fiction and fantasy). A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to make my own contribution to the genre and taught myself how to adapt the skills I learned from writing in other areas (work, school, etc.) to the field of epic fantasy, which I have been particularly drawn to ever since learning how to read at an early age (more about me). It took me nearly three years to plan and draft my first novel (as well as most of the second). However, my novels run over 200,000 words each. This should be good news for many of you, as most books are significantly shorter than epic fiction novels and should take considerably less time to complete.
Having recently finished my first novel, I have decided to share what I have learned along the way in a format I hope will be easy to understand and comfortable to digest. After working on this project on the side over the last year and some change, I am excited to have the first full installment in my story-writing series completed and ready for your viewing pleasure. Included in these posts are a number of insights I have gleaned during my novel-writing journey, which I hope will be of use to you as well. I appreciate your interest, comments, and feedback and promise to respond when I can, as well as use them to continually improve this site.
Check out the next sections in this overview before jumping into the guide:
I then break down each of these major stages into fundamental pieces that are easy to absorb as concepts, complete with brief writing assignments to get you started at each point along the way. The core goal of this initial installment is to get you oriented and organized by providing a unified framework that will take you all the way from early brainstorming to a revised draft of your novel, ready to begin shopping to agents or self-publication.
All content is the original writings of Bryan Dickerson and may not be copied or reprinted without the author's express consent. However, you are most welcome to link to this blog and share my posts via Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms.