A Newbie Writer’s Guide to Starting Their First Novel

Do you have a story you want to tell, yet you’ve never written a word of fiction? Don’t worry. You’re not alone! That’s where every writer has to start.

I understand how overwhelming all of this can feel, because I’ve been there. When I first started writing nearly a decade ago, I felt nervous every time I thought about sharing something I wrote. Yet at the same time, I had to get it written down. I literally wasn’t able to focus on anything else.

Soon thereafter, a childhood friend shared some of her writing with me, so I decided to do the same in return. She encouraged me to post it online, which was scary at first, but I did it. The positive feedback I received gave me the motivation to finish that first story, followed by numerous others. Over the years, I gradually got better at writing, more confident that the stories I had to tell were valid.

That’s my story, but even the most well-known authors have to start somewhere. When J.R.R. Tolkien was teaching at Oxford, he wrote the first sentence for The Hobbit in an exam booklet a student had left behind. Because The Hobbit was so popular and his readers wanted more adventures, Tolkien’s publishers asked him to write more books about hobbits, which eventually developed into Lord of the Rings. Without those publishers encouraging hin to write a sequel, the genre defining epic fantasy series would not exist.

(If you’d like to read more about J.R.R. Tolkien’s journey in developing Lord of the Rings, you can do so here.)

Ready to start writing? Here are a few strategies that will make it easier and more enjoyable.

1. Try to write daily (or at least consistently)

Personally, I’ve found this to be most important. Think of writing like it’s a skill set you are learning. If you don’t practice regularly, how will you ever improve?

As a student, I’ve found it difficult to write on a regular basis.  That changed in 2017 when I challenged myself to write every day for the entire year. I made so much progress that I’ve decided to continue writing daily in 2018 as well.

I’m not saying that you have to keep a tally of every word you write, since that might not work as well for you as it does for me. Some people work best by putting on a timer for 10-15 minutes. Others recommend waking up an hour earlier to write, before the day has started. I’ve even met people who only write on the weekends. Regardless of what method you choose, forming a habit is the most helpful thing you can possibly do for your writing.

2. Ignore the critics

When I say ignore the critics, I’m talking about people who write comments along the lines of “This work is trash. I don’t like this character. I can’t believe you made this character do this, he should have totally done this. can totally write this story better than you.”

I hope you don’t run into a critic like this, especially when you first start writing, but it can happen. Just remember that those people aren’t trying to help you improve. They’d rather degrade the effort you’ve put into your work, either because they have a bone to pick or just have nothing better to do.

Constructive criticism is meant to be helpful, not hurtful. It is called constructive criticism and not debilitating criticism for a reason, since it’s intended to help you improve. Constructive feedback is more along the lines of “I don’t understand CHARACTER’s motivation. Can you explain to me why they act this way?” The comment might not seem positive, but it obviously comes from someone who’s taken an interest in your story and wants to help you improve. That’s a good thing!

3. Have a plan

When I first started writing, I had no concept of planning. My earliest stories were full of plotholes since I had no destination in mind. (Okay, so I’m still guilty of this sometimes…)

Some writers like to write spontaneously (Pantsers) while others prefer to plan out every tiny detail and scene (Plotters). Both are equally valid ways to write a book. The thing both types of writers have in common is some type of goal, a reason for why they’re telling their story. This is important, even if it’s just a specific scene like a heated kiss or a hated character’s death. Even if you only write down five bullet points before you get started, having something to guide you will keep your plot much more coherent.

4. BE A COPYCAT

So, I’m certain we’ve all been told in one way or another that we have to create completely original stories. We should never do anything that’s already been done, right?

Wrong.

People who think this way clearly don’t understand how ideas are generated. All literature is inspired (in one way or another) by what came before it. Shakespeare wrote plays based on ancient Greek tragedies. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was inspired by heroic narratives from Norse Mythology. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was heavily influenced by the Wars of the RosesBeowulf is similar to the Odyssey, and Homer’s Odyssey inspired Virgil’s Aenead.

If you want to write a story that draws heavily from history or literature, go for it! It’s nothing that the most illustrious authors of all time haven’t done. Still determined to come up with something completely new? That’s fine, too. There’s nothing wrong with either option, as long as you’re telling your story in your own unique way.

On that note, beware of plagiarizing somebody else’s work. There’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from other writers, even borrowing a plot point or attempting to mimic some element of their writing style. But if you’re going to be a “copycat”, put your own unique twist on it. Don’t copy someone else’s words or claim their ideas as your own.

5. Have fun

It’s very important that you enjoy what you’re writing, because writing is hard. Make sure you genuinely care about your plot, your characters, the genre you’ve chosen to write. Otherwise, there’s little chance that you’ll ever finish it.

If your current story doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to try something new. Writing is all about trial and error, especially when you’re first getting started.

Do you have any tips for new writers? Feel free to join the discussion!

Author: Katherine

Katherine is a moderator and blogger at Story Scribes. She spends her free time trying out different creative interests such as baking cakes, playing piano, and writing. She is currently writing a series about dragons that doesn’t want to end.

4 thoughts on “A Newbie Writer’s Guide to Starting Their First Novel”

  1. *applause* I particularly appreciate the point of being a “copycat” in a sense. There’s nothing new under the sun. What’s key is how we develop it into our own work. Although not technically a “newbie”, I found this insightful.

  2. Sound advice for writers both new and experienced. Especially appreciate the reminder to not focus too much on “being original”. I wish you well in your daily writing for the year 🙂

  3. I think #2 is probably the one I wish I had known when I started writing. The distinction is hard to make sometimes, even as a more experienced writer, so it really is invaluable to start learning the difference early.

  4. This was a wonderfully written article, full of useful tips for all writers, not just newbies. I especially liked the part about “copycats” – many (perhaps even most) new writers learn through imitation. Developing your own unique style/voice is something that comes through practice – it’s not something many of us can do right off the bat.

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