Writing a book is definitely a daunting journey to undertake. You have an epic story swirling around in your head, but how do you get it from your imagination to the screen (or paper) without feeling completely overwhelmed?
As a writer who got her start publishing poetry, making the transition to novel-writing seemed overwhelming, but something I definitely wanted to do. So what are some good first steps to help you go from the seeds of an idea to a full-fledged novel?
Step One: Take the time to plan
So, how do you start writing your own book?
I know, I know—you’re dying to jump right in and start writing your first chapter, right? I was the same way. I thought if I just started writing, the rest would take care of itself, and the nebulous grand fantasy I had envisioned would work its own way out and I would go with the flow.
And for some, this may work. Some authors are born pantsers (writers who fly by the seat of their pants, so to speak). I also assumed I would be a panster, as I’ve never been much of a planner, letting the waves of creativity toss me about with its directionless tides.
But after doing some research on different novel-planning templates, I decided planning my novel would be a good fit for me, as my YA fantasy was going nowhere. I kept writing and rewriting the first few chapters, changing directions every few days and never being happy with the result. I was spinning my wheels. But I had never taken the time to really plan the end of my novel, its themes, characters, their arcs, and if it would be a series or not.
Once I began outlining my novel, a whole new, much better idea began to take shape, changing a nebulous idea for a YA fantasy to a concrete idea for a YA sci-fi dystopia. By taking the time to plan my book, (beginning, middle, end, themes, main characters, setting, etc.), I now have an outline that keeps me on track and helps guide the action in every chapter.
Having this sense of direction has helped me look forward to writing again. For a while, my book had started to feel like a chore, because I wasn’t enjoying writing it. Now, with a clear direction, I can’t wait to dive into this new world I’ve created.
If you already have your own way of outlining your novel, that’s great! Do what works for you.
If you need some help getting your thoughts organized, however, there are many templates for free online and available through writing software programs like Scrivener.
Some great sites with free templates:
National Centre for Writing Resources
12 Creative Writing Templates | Evernote
How to Outline a Novel: the Master Guide (With Template!)
The Novel Factory Free Novel Templates
Jami Gold’s Worksheets for Writers
Step Two: Write now, edit later
Once you have your planning done, dive into your first chapter! It’s such a great feeling to get that first chapter written. Even one chapter will make you feel accomplished.
One of the most difficult aspects of writing for me (and I’m sure many of you out there) is not going back to edit after every chapter. But if you do, you’re going to get bogged down in the same chapter and begin to lose sight of your original vision.
Do you have a chapter that you think could be better, or did you get off track? Again, that’s ok! This is the first draft, so don’t worry about everything being perfect. Your early chapters will no doubt change, but leave that for later after you have progressed your story somewhat.
Just remember: no words you write are wasted. It’s all practice, micro-steps to the bigger picture. No practice is ever a regret!
Tip: When you do edit, don’t delete what you decide to cut—save deleted sections or chapters in a folder for later. You never know, you might use it again later, or the ideas could be a jumping-off point for another story altogether.
Step Three: Don’t give yourself a deadline (but do set goals)
For some people, setting a deadline is exactly what you need to get you to write, and if this is what you need, then, by all means, set meaningful and realistic deadlines for yourself.
However, many writers, myself included, find deadlines to be stress-inducing creativity killers. If this is your first novel, and you don’t have a deadline with a publisher, why stress about it? Enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll get more written.
But that being said, you do want to set goals for yourself to keep your novel moving ever forward. Small goals are realistic and very doable, such as: writing one hour a day, or writing one hour three days a week, or on weekends when you’re off work. Or give yourself a week to write your first chapter. Find what works for you and helps you feel productive.
Step Four: Don’t force yourself to write every day
I’ll never forget the line that Billy Crystal says in his creative writing classes in the comedy classic Throw Mama From the Train: “A writer writes. Always.”
For most writers, writing is a compulsion, something you literally have to get out of yourself. But some writers take this to mean you have to write every day in order to be considered a writer.
While practice is key to the craft, forcing yourself to write when you don’t have the right mindset can actually be detrimental to your performance and creativity.
If you aren’t a full-time creative writer, like Stephen King, for instance, setting a goal of writing every single day might set you up for failure. Stressing about breaking a writing streak might be detrimental to your mental well-being, motivation, and productivity levels in the long run.
If you’re writing a novel in your spare time, missing a day here there is unavoidable due to the unrelenting demands of everyday life. So instead of setting rigid schedules for yourself to write, look at each week as a new workweek when it comes to your novel, and write whenever you have the time—and the right mindset. This may mean a few minutes before work or working on a chapter after the family has gone to sleep.
What is essential to writing a book as a beginner? Stick to a writing plan that you can stick to and enjoy.
The takeaway here is quality over quantity.
Step Five: Join a writing community
Writing is no doubt a solitary pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be. Joining a writing group on Facebook or following like-minded authors on Instagram can assist you in engaging with the writing community at large, and help keep you inspired while getting support at the same time.
Other writing communities, like the self-publishing platform Fictionate.me, allow you to self-publish either your finished manuscript or work-in-progess. This means you can engage and get feedback from other writers and readers of your genre to give you invaluable insight into your novel, while lending the same support to other writers.
The key is finding what works for you. Writing advice is meaningless if it doesn’t directly help you, so if you find something that doesn’t work, try a different approach. If this is your first book, you’re still learning, right? Have fun, be productive, but most importantly: take the first step, and write.
A writer writes. Always.
Heather R. Parker is a published poet, essayist, freelance writer, and avid reader. She is the author of a poetry collection entitled Fallen Whispers. In 2019 she was named one of the Top Ten Micropoets of the year by Nightingale & Sparrow literary magazine and included in the anthology of the same name. She lives in Georgia with her family and a delightful menagerie of animals. Formerly an English teacher, Heather is now a full-time freelance writer working on her first novel.
Follow more of her work at
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