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How to Write Your First Novel

Five tips for literary greatness.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #148

Today's topic is how to write your first novel.

Since you’re listening to this podcast, you probably love the English language and the written word. And if you do, you probably have an itch to write that first novel. Well, you're not alone. The dream of writing a novel, either for personal satisfaction or to make money, has been prevalent in our culture for decades, if not centuries.

So, with five novels under his belt, Scott Sigler knows how to get it done. His advice for you is surprisingly simple, and slightly disturbing. Here's his five-step plan.

Step 1: Write every day

Step 2: Write a bad book first

Step 3: Finish the bad book, then put it away for six months

Step 4: Start writing your “good” book

Step 5: After six months, read that “bad” book, learn where you're weak, and address those weak areas.

Step 1: Write Every Day

Is that impossible? Probably for most of us, but you need to try. Schedule the time, at least an hour. It'll take prioritization to make it happen, but if you really want to write that novel, it’s what you have to do. Writing is like building any other skill, like building muscles—the more you do it, the better you get, the stronger you get.

Step 2: Write a Bad Book First

Why write a bad book? Because a bad story is easier to write than a good story, and the goal here is to teach yourself that you can finish a novel. There is power in finishing, and here’s why:

Many people set out to write a novel. They outline, they plan, they start with best intentions, but when they get to their first major writing roadblock, the majority of them quit. Why? Because writing a novel is hard. People become so invested in their story, so passionate about it, that when they hit the difficult part they don’t know how to get around it. They get frustrated, and they quit.

However, if you set out to write a “bad” novel, when you get to that sticky part all writers hit, you can just power through. Bring in a guy with a gun. Whip up a betrayal. Beam in an alien. Anything to move the story forward and keep you writing. The goal isn’t to win a Pulitzer prize, the goal is to finish the book.

Next: What To Do After You Finish the "Bad" Book

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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