August 8, 2011

How To Write A Novel

There are millions of great books out there that will tell you how to write a novel.

Witness exhibits A...
...and C.... (and these are just randomly selected drops in the bucket!)
But I'm going to tell you the real way, the way that doesn't get told in those books.  Pay close attention now because this is worth millions of dollars and I'm giving it to you for FREE.  Because I like to share :)


Turn on your computer.

While it's booting up and sorting itself out (shaking off the cobwebs as it were,) make a pot of coffee.

While the coffee's brewing do not do anything so constructive as think about your novel.  Instead, play with the dogs, organize your daughters' nail polish alphabetically or by color (without devoting too much energy to what it's doing on the kitchen counter,) or watch Ellen Degeneres on YouTube in her cameo Harry Potter 7 role.  (Actually, you should do that last one no matter what!)

When the coffee is ready, bring a cup to the kitchen table your office and sit down in front of your computer.

Check your email.

Open the word document with your story in it, but don't look at it yet!  It's not ready to be looked at yet.  It just woke up.  It has sleep in its eyes and bed head.  It needs a minute, if you please!

Read and comment on a couple of your favorite blogs.

Sip your coffee.

Decide the coffee is too cold, take it to the microwave for a warm-up, come back and sit down in front of your computer again.

Think about how your chair is really uncomfortable - an obstacle to the creative process, truth be told - and fantasize about the ergonomically designed Chair Of Awesomeness you will buy when you sell your novel and get a $50,000 advance.

It's important to think realistically.

Check your email to see if anyone commented on your blog yet.


Deep breath.

Look at your NIP (Novel-In-Progress for the uninitiated) but don't look it straight in the eye.  Keep your head slightly averted lest it think you're issuing a challenge.
Read the very last sentence you wrote yesterday and get ready to type onward full speed ahead the way you're supposed to.

But decide you're not quite sure where to go.  So go back and read the last paragraph.

Wow.  You wrote that pretty darn well!  Maybe you should read a little more of your awesome prose, just to get in the mood.  You know.  Get the old juices flowing.

Read all of the chapter you're currently writing.  And maybe the one before that.  Maybe even start from the beginning so you can really get into it.  Change a few words.  Cut out a sentence and add another.

Sip your coffee.

Check your email in case anything that really demands your attention has come in since you last checked, perhaps an email from your agent telling you that there is a dog-eat-dog bidding war going on for your current ms on sub.

Did I mention it's important to think realistically?

Look at your computer clock.

Gracious!  You've been working for a whole hour already.  What a disciplined worker you are!  But you have read that people who work at desks for a living are Some-Giant-Percent more likely to die of a heart attack, so you'd really better get up and stretch and take the dogs for a short walk before you get back to work.  For your health.

Walk the dogs.

Return to your computer like the disciplined worker you are.

Look at you NIP.

Place your fingers on the keyboard... (music swells in the background as the audience realizes that you are, at last, about to Really Start Typing!!!)

... and realize you're STARVING!  In your zeal to get to work you have entirely neglected breakfast, the most important meal of the day.  Your brain needs fuel to be creative!  Really, how could you short-change yourself so?

Go find something sweet and breakfasty, preferably with something healthy, like fruit, involved.  Mmmm!  Raspberry Danish!  Perfect!

Okay.  Seriously.

Fingers on the keyboard.

Here you go.


Type type type.

Type type type type type.

Phew!  You're working now!  The words are really flying!  You've written a whole paragraph in under 4 hours!  Stephen King, look out!

But darn!  Look at the time!  You've still got to get to the grocery store, the dry cleaners, the post office and the bank, put gas in the car, vacuum dog hair off the surface of your entire house, and be ready to meet the school bus by 3.  Not to mention what the heck are we having for dinner tonight?

Good thing you got so much done so fast!

Check you email one more time in case an editor has written to tell you she sold world-wide rights in every known language for your last book and, when you see she hasn't - yet! - close your computer.

Repeat every day for as long as it takes to get to the end of your novel!

Wasn't that helpful? :)

Please share your tips for how to work productively and how to write a novel (or a picture book or early chapter book or poetry or whatever you write!)  Alternatively, tell us how to get dog hair out of the car upholstery in 1 easy step because that would be VERY helpful too! :)


  1. Yeah, that's kind of how my writing time goes sometimes. But at least when you're reading a writing-related book you can pretend you're doing something productive. Still, it's pretty hard to escape the fact that writing requires that you actually write something. Ha!

    Andrea Mack (

  2. So true, Andrea! But I am reading Hooked. I forgot about that. You're right - that should count for something :)

  3. So true, so very true, since most of my writing is done inbetween a lot a differentt things, I don't always hav to daily with errands unless it's on the weekend, but so true to life! :-)

  4. So true, so true to life. That is what I do on the weekends when I work in my WIP. :-)

  5. Ha, I thought I was the only one who wrote like this! All kidding aside, I try to get up before sunrise and get at least five pages down. It was lovely meeting you at Eileen's workshop Saturday!


  6. Cynthia - glad you can relate :)

    Laurie - thank you so much for stopping by! So nice to see you here. It was great meeting you, too, and I was so impressed with your writing (and the speed with which you did it!) - I am a SLOW writer. Coming over to check out your blog!

  7. This was spot on in so many ways (and BTW that Ellen link was hilarious). Great post.

  8. Thanks, Kari Marie - so glad you enjoyed it! And I love Ellen - she's always hysterical!

  9. Bahahaha! I LOVE this post, Susanna. It's just so true. If you didn't live in another country I'd think you'd been peeping through my windows!

  10. Cally - I'm so glad to know that a writer of your talent who has actually completed her novel works the same way :)

  11. I'm not sure which Cynthia just emailed to let me know the comments weren't working, but they seem to be working now, so please try again :)

  12. Ha! Did you put a hidden camera in my house last week or something? Nice post :)

  13. Jess - I'm actually kind of relieved to see how many of you smart, talented writers seem to work the same way I do :) Maybe there's hope for me yet!

  14. Very funny! Life has a way of getting in the way of work. Same for me, but I go to the bus at 8, 12, and 3!

  15. My goodness, Jenny! You should just park at the bus stop with your laptop, bills, laundry, mail, coupon clippers etc. and stay put! (Or maybe your bus stop isn't as far away as mine :))

  16. I've read a few of these books. Some have had a few good tips. But the main thing is just writing and motivating myself to write. You demonstrate exactly what it's like!

  17. I've read the middle one, Theresa. Do you recommend either of the others? Because reading about writing is a legitimate way to not write :)


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