You're ready to put pen to paper and start writing a novel…but how?
Maybe you’ve already got an idea, and you’re not sure how to start turning that idea into a novel.
Or maybe you’ve got an idea, but every time you sit down to start your story, you’re coming up empty.
Maybe you don’t have any idea where to even start, and you just want to know how to get started writing your next novel.
Sound familiar? You're not alone!
Writing a novel is daunting, and getting started is often the hardest part.
Today, we’re talking tips and tricks for how to start writing a novel.
Here's how to start writing a novel:
- Find inspiration for your novel
- Brainstorm your novel's story
- Outline your novel
- Start with a fiction book template
- Start drafting your novel
#1 – Find Inspiration For Your Novel
It's time to get inspired!
Before you can get started on a draft, you’ve got to have something to write about.
But how do you find something? Where do you get inspiration, and how do you pick just one idea to turn into a novel?
Here are some effective ways to find inspiration to start your novel:
#1 – Read, Read, Read!
One of the most valuable tools in a writer’s arsenal is reading. Not only is reading the best way to learn story setting and structure, character development, and sentence flow, but it’s also one of the best ways to get ideas for your own work.
There’s nothing new under the sun–the thing that makes stories interesting is how you write them. It’s completely normal, and in fact, very useful, to pick up ideas and concepts from other books you read.
Of course, you can’t rip off someone’s plot, characters, and style wholecloth, but reading in a wide variety of genres is a great way to learn new tricks and find new things to write about.
#2 – Look At More Art!
In the same way that reading gets your creative gears turning, so too does watching movies, checking out art museums, listening to podcasts, and so on.
Reading is absolutely vital to becoming a stronger writer, but it’s not the only tool in your kit.
Consuming art in other mediums helps you see the world in new ways.
You know when you watch an action movie and you leave the theater feeling amped? Harness that inspiration and write down some ideas! Write down an idea for a story based on a sculpture or a painting. Once you start looking for stories in different art mediums, everything can become inspiration.
#3 – Scroll for Inspiration
We don’t all have access to art museums, but if you’re reading this now, chances are you’ve got access to the Internet. People often talk about the Internet as a purely distracting tool, and while it can be abused as a force for distraction, it can just as easily be a force for connection.
Scrolling Pinterest for aesthetic boards that capture certain moods and checking out Tumblr for character art can be a great way to jog your mind. Plus, it’s a ton of fun to make your own! Great ideas can come from putting two powerful images beside one another.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s great for your creative process to scroll Twitter for hours on end, but hey, if you’ve got tools at your disposal, use ‘em!
Make an aesthetic board with some images that appeal to you. Write a paragraph or two stream of consciousness about what you’ve put together–you may surprise yourself with what you find.
#2 – Brainstorm Your Novel
You’re writing your ideas down, right?
It may sound simple, but it’s absolutely crucial. The same way a dream can dissolve into thin air minutes after you’ve woken up, so too can ideas slip out of your mind. While you’re getting ideas from inspiration, make sure to write all of these little nuggets down. Use a Moleskine notebook, if you’re fancy, or else the notes app on your phone will do just fine.
Now you’ve got some ideas written down! Awesome!
Whether you’ve got a full elevator pitch, a piece of dialogue, or just a character you like, it’s time to start fleshing out your idea.
This means it’s time for the brainstorming phase, where we come up with ideas for the plot, characters, and setting.
Here are a few different methods you can try to brainstorm:
#1 – Mind Mapping
If you’re a visual learner, mind mapping might be a great place to start. For this, grab a piece of paper, and put your idea in a circle in the middle. The smaller you start, the better–you might start with a character, or a single setting, or one plot point.
From there, draw a line out and write the next thing that comes to mind. What does that character want? What’s special about the setting? Keep branching out into different points until you’ve got a huge map of ideas, information, and plot points!
You might make one massive mind map for your entire book, or smaller ones for individual characters, settings, or plot threads. Remember, the idea is just to get all of your ideas down.
When you’re done, type the info on your map up into a document (or write it down on paper, if that’s your jam), and voila! You’re ready to go on to the next phase.
#2 – Stream of Consciousness
If a mind map seems like it might be too restrictive, or if you get stuck between different points, stream of consciousness could be your new best friend.
The process is simple: put your idea in front of you, set a timer for a small amount of time (try starting with five minutes), and write down whatever comes into your head. You don’t have to pay attention to grammar, sentence structure, or coherence–literally write down whatever you think, even if all you’re thinking is ‘I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know there’s a dog maybe.’
When your time is up, review what you have and start again. Working in five or ten minute sprints is a great way to make sure you’re keeping your head in the game. Experiment with different units of time until you’ve found what works best for you.
Keep going until you’ve got some characters, plot, and summary to work with for the next stage.
#3 – Writing Exercises
Stream of consciousness and mind-mapping are both great ways to get all the stuff floating in your head out onto paper, but sometimes, you get stuck. If nothing’s working, going to writing exercises can unclog whatever’s stuck in your creative system.
Use our creative writing prompts to get started. Get your idea, and write that prompt using your idea. Forcing yourself to do that will automatically bring other elements of your idea into focus. You’ll have to create a setting for the exercise to take place in, and you’ll have to create characters.
Writing exercises offer structure and direction. Even if the thing you wrote doesn’t make it into your manuscript, it can help give you a more concrete idea of your characters, setting, or plot.
#3 – Outline Your Novel
An important thing to note here is that different people move through this process at different speeds. Some people spend ages in the brainstorming phase before they move to an outline. Some people skip the outline entirely and go straight to drafting. But you should outline it’s good for you
Related: How to Outline a Book
When you’re finished with your brainstorming phase, you should have a more solid idea of what you’re going to do. Although you’ll always be discovering new things about your world and characters, having brainstormed in advance means you’ve got more to work with now, and now we need to take all of that stuff and put it in order. It’s time to outline.
A note here: some people do the brainstorming and go straight to drafting. That’s totally fine! Different people have different methods. But if you’re having a hard time figuring out how to get started writing your novel, an outline is a great way to set yourself up for success.
Instead of thinking of it as a set of rules that you must adhere to, think of it as guidelines. Your outline is here to give form to your ideas. If you decide to deviate from that outline as you get to know your characters better, that’s cool! Outlines can be fluid and ever-changing. But having one means that when you get stuck, you’ve got something to fall back on.
With all that in mind, here are a few different methods for outlining your novel!
#1 – Whiteboard Method
The whiteboard method, used by bestselling indie author Jenna Moreci, will be awesome if you loved the mind-mapping method. Jenna uses a whiteboard in her tutorials, but using a section of your wall, a piece of posterboard, or the floor works just as well. You’ll also need a ton of index cards.
For this method, put every scene on an index card. These can be color-coordinated to represent different subplots, or left plain. Slap the index cards on the board, and rearrange them in the order you want. Easy!
This method is great because it helps you visualize plot holes–literally. If there’s a spot where something should go, the whiteboard method will reveal it.
Learn more about the whiteboard method here!
#2 – Snowflake Method
The snowflake method, created by Randy Ingermanson, encompasses both the brainstorming and the outlining face. All you’ll need for this one is a computer, or a pen and paper.
This method is pretty involved, so we won’t go over the whole thing here, but the idea is that you take a one-sentence version of your character’s storyline and expand it into a paragraph summary. From there, you investigate the character’s goal, the conflict, and keep going until you’ve got something much bigger and more detailed than what you started with.
Read more about the snowflake method here!
#3 – Bullet Points
Sometimes, simple is best. If you want to get started on your novel but you’re lost trying to navigate one of the more involved methods, try slapping some bullet points down.
It might not be as fancy as the other two, but just taking the time to write down the order you want things to happen in helps you start to view your novel as a story, instead of as a mess of ideas.
If working on a notebook is too constricting, try picking up a poster or a dry-erase board for maximum editing potential. Just make sure you’re backing everything up on a document somewhere!
#4 – Working Backward
Even with the perfect outlining method, starting your story can be difficult. Whichever method you’re using, one trick to help you find out where to start is to start from the end.
Often, we have an idea for the climax of a novel, or how the story ends. You might have an idea that’s just ‘two people fall in love, and at the end of it, there’s a huge fight!’ Instead of getting lost trying to get to that fight, start from the fight and work backward.
#4 – Use a Fiction Book Template
The easiest way to start writing a novel is to use pre-made resources that help steer you in the right direction.
There's no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to formatting and organizing your story (but of course, you're at full creative liberty to do so if it's part of your process!).
If you need a starting book template specifically for fiction, we have just the resource for you.
#5 – Start Writing Your Novel's Draft
Congratulations! You’ve gotten an idea, you’ve brainstormed, you’ve outlined, and now you’re in a much more confident place to start writing your novel. This is where you draft–and to be honest, just like with the rest of these tips, there’s no tried and true ‘correct’ method.
Related: How to Write a Novel
Even so, if you find yourself staring at a blank page, here are some tips for putting those first words down:
#1 – En Media Res
Don’t waste time mulling through exposition or backstory if it’s keeping you from getting to the good stuff. En media res means ‘in the midst of things,’ and starting en media res means starting in the middle of the action. If you’re bored writing it, your reader is probably bored reading it, so skip the boring stuff and cut to the chase!
#2 – Working Backward
Starting from the back of your outline and working forward can help flesh out the plot, but it can also keep your drafting process interesting. If you’ve got your scenes mapped out, try working from the last scene to the first. You might not do your whole manuscript like this, but it can give you ideas for how to set up your final chapters.
#3 – Keep Some Perspective
Remember that this is a first draft! It’s not going to be great. You’re probably going to rewrite the whole thing. Your first sentence of your first draft doesn’t have to drop jaws. It just needs to exist, so you can get on with the next thing. Take a deep breath, plunk something down–even if it’s terrible–and keep writing!
Ready to start writing a novel?
Writing a novel is hard, and there’s no perfect way to get started. You’ll have to tinker with different methods to find what works best for you.
But if you’ve been having trouble getting a good start, it can help to know where to look for inspiration, to brainstorm your ideas, and to make sure you’ve got an outline to back you up. Have fun, and good luck! Before you know it, you'll be working on your next milestone – learning how to publish a book!
Do you have any tips for writing your first scene or chapter? Share them down below!