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  • Writer's pictureJ. R. Erickson

Write Anyway: How to Start Your Novel

I occasionally get emails from readers who have questions about writing. As an aspiring writer, I often turned to authors in all steps of the process to glean tips and tricks to get words on a page. Before I wrote Ula, my first published novel, I penned thousands of words-likely hundreds of thousands, though I didn’t keep track back then. I wrote one novel all the way through, but it was rubbish and I never attempted to publish it. When I say rubbish. I don’t mean that I thought the story was weak or the characters were undeveloped. I’m talking gaping plot holes and point of view shifts and an overall confusion about what on earth was happening in the book. Before I wrote that novel, I probably started five others that I never finished. The point is that there is chronology to becoming a published author. When you’re in it, it’s difficult to see a transition occurring, but I promise you that it is. With each story, scene, character, and full novel that you write, you get closer to the one that you will publish. You develop your skill with words, just by being in contact with them-which is why so many writers recommend reading heavily-which I advise as well. Reading helps develop your writer mind and I believe it also deepens your ability to perceive the world in new ways.

I find that starting a novel is the easy part. My experience goes something like this: an interesting scene comes to my mind (usually the scene is character driven), I write the scene down in great detail, I let the scene sit for a while until a larger story starts to appear around the original character. For instance, I wrote the original scene for Ula more than ten years ago. That thousand word scene began as a murder mystery, but later, I realized that my main character Abby would discover a supernatural world when she started to investigate the murder. That concept quickly transformed into a secret island inhabited by witches. I originally thought the Born of Shadows Series would be three books long. Instead, I’m currently writing the fourth book with a fifth book semi-plotted out. One of the most awesome elements to writing a novel is how it takes on a life of its own. Trust in that unfolding.

There are many ways to produce the first idea for your novel. As I mentioned, mine happen randomly, but are always rooted in something in my personal reality. When you experience a strong emotion, pluck a story from that space. In the course of our lives, we will all experience birth, death, love, joy, sorrow. Emotions are universal and they resonate with readers. Take a strong experience that you’ve had and give it to someone else. Imagine their story. Write it down in pieces. Write lots of little scenes, write moments, memories, write an outline with a huge plot arc and many little sub-plots. There’s no right way to do this, especially at the beginning. When you’re a few novels into your writing career, you may have systems in place that work for crafting new novels, but in the beginning, allow a lot of flexibility, but be rigid about one rule: write. I write every single morning for at least an hour. I wake up at 4am most days because I have a toddler and a dishwasher to unload and toys to clean up. Let me stress that I’m a morning person by nature-I don’t set an alarm. If you hate mornings, that will not be your ideal writing time. For me, writing has been a journey towards knowing myself. At this point, I feel confident about what works for me and what doesn’t; however, I try to greet each day with an open mind. From that space, I discover new techniques to write better. My hope is to start sharing that information with all of you.

Tips for Starting Your Novel

  1. Jot down scenes, ideas and characters when they arise. Be detailed.

  2. Create a specific time for writing every day and stick with it. Even if you write badly or feel uninspired, you may be able to edit the scene into something useful later. If not, you’re still supporting your developing writing habit.

  3. Try Scrivener. I only discovered Scrivener a few months ago and I love it. I skip around while writing novels and Scrivener makes it easy to move scenes and chapters. You can try it for free for thirty days and if you decide to buy it, the investment is minimal.

  4. Have faith. When I start a novel, I often don’t have a clue where it’s going. Surrender to the discovery. The more you write, the more you will learn about your characters and their adventures. Believe that it will come to you even on the days when you struggle to write a single word.

Do you have questions about writing? Or tips to offer other writers? Share them in the comments. 

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