Ask Vivek: How To Write A Novel

How To Write A Novel

Last week, I received a question (thank you!) about how write a novel—where to begin and how to finish.

This is a question I asked myself a lot when trying to map out my first novel, She of the Mountains. I think part of my draw to other literary forms like short stories and poems has to do with how daunting writing a novel feels. The process is so intimidating that even though I have done it once, I worry I will never do it again.

But it most certainly can be done! Here are some thoughts and ideas to help support you in your process.

  1.     I am not someone who outlines because part of the magic of writing for me is the discovery that happens when I am writing. That said, it is worth think about details like: Where does your novel take place? Who are the main characters? What is the intention behind your novel or the central theme or conflict? Spending some time mapping out these ideas before writing, even if you change your mind along the way (which most likely you will), will be useful.
  2.     I also approached my novel a bit like a puzzle. I made a list of all the pieces I needed. This can be a form of outlining. For example, I knew there had to be a section where the characters meet and another a section where the characters fight. Then I wrote about these sections separately. When all the sections were done, I began to organize them in my preferred order. The work then became about writing the sentences or paragraphs required to “glue” these sections together. This method was effective because it made the process less overwhelming. I didn’t start on the dreaded Page One and then have to build from there. Instead, I focused on breaking the novel into smaller parts, wrote each part, and then brought it all together.
  3.     While I think outlining can be helpful, I am hesitant to over recommend it. This is because staying in the outline mode can be seductive. You could plan forever. But at some point you have to take a leap and write your story!
  4.     Think about what you need to write. Do you prefer to write at night? In a cafe? In a notebook? I learned that I wrote better in the morning and at home. This meant blocking off mornings in my Google Calendar to write instead of going to the mall with friends. Writing and finishing a novel required making these kinds of sacrifices.
  5.     Time can feel limited, especially with other commitments like homework. But try to avoid putting off working on your novel until the right moment comes along. Don’t wait to write during Christmas or summer holidays, or after you graduate. I kept putting off my novel like this with the confidence that I would write it when the time was right. But eventually I discovered that there is no such thing as the right time to write a novel. My waiting for the right time was a bit of a procrastination strategy. It sounds silly but it was quite surprising to realize that my novel wouldn’t write itself. I had to carve out time to write!
  6.     There might be days when you write only one sentence. This is okay. More than okay! This is part of the process. The most important thing is that you committed to the writing and will show up again tomorrow.
  7.     For more inspiration, next month is National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo)! I haven’t tried it so I asked writer and actor Nathan Carroll to share his experience with it:

“Doing nanowrimo was one of the best things I've done because it allowed me to accomplish my lifelong dream of completing a novel. I think it's a smart strategy in how it removes self-editing and self-doubt or criticism from the creative process. It focuses on quantity over quality for a first draft, with the idea being that both increase when you focus on quantity. I found this to be true because there was no room to constantly evaluate. My biggest piece of advice would be to pick up No Plot, No Problem. It is written by the person who came up with the idea. It lays out the process wonderfully. Try to get ahead on the word count. Don't be afraid of writing more than the quota, especially in the first week.”

Thank you again for your question. Please keep sending me questions and I will keep answering them here!

Lastly, one of the best novels I have read recently is The God of Small Things. What are your favourite novels? Let me know in the comments!