How to Write Your First Novel

Five tips for literary greatness.

Mignon Fogarty
5-minute read
Episode #148

Step 3: Finish the Bad Book and Put it Away for Six Months

Just finishing the book puts you at the top of the class of most aspiring novelists. Once you're finished, put that novel away and don’t look at it, not even a peek, for six months. Don’t let anyone read it. Not even your significant other. Trust me on this, just leave it the heck alone. Even though you set out to write a bad novel, odds are your human nature will kick in and you’ll secretly think you’re pretty darn talented. But trust me, put it away. Don’t peek. If you’re right, and it actually is good, you’ll find out in six months.

Step 4: Start Writing Your Good Book

Now, while your bad book is incubating in cold storage, start your second book, your real book. What you’ll find is that it’s easier the second time around. You’ve got experience writing a novel, the words will come a little faster, the plot will flow a little better. You’ve built up those writing muscles; the reps come with less teeth-gnashing effort. And here’s the kicker—when you hit that difficult spot, when you get stuck, when you’re frustrated and it seems too hard to continue, you will continue, because the little voice in the back of your head says you’ve done this before, you know you can finish a novel.

Remember when I said finishing the bad book gives you power? This is that power in action.

Step 5: Read That “Bad” Book, Learn Where You are Weak, and Correct Those Areas

So you’re working on your second book, your real book, and you think you’re pretty hot stuff. It’s okay, you’re among friends, you can admit it—deep down you think you’re the next big thing. Keep on thinking that until the six months is up.

After six months, pull out your first manuscript and read. The moratorium was there so you could forget what you thought you said on the page, and see what the page actually says. This will give you an experience almost identical to that of any reader. What you find here will shock and disturb you. Are you really that bad of a writer? Yes, you are. However, you’re almost in the home stretch. Read the bad book, and pay attention to the areas where you're really horrible. Run-on sentences? Flat characters? Stilted dialogue? Twenty-three pages where nothing happens? This is your boot camp, soldier. The things you learn from reading your own writing, after you forgot what you were trying to say, will do more to build your skill than all the writing classes in the world combined. It’s magic, because this isn’t a Dick & Jane example, these are your words, your writing style. Find your weakest spots, and you attack them. Learn how to break up the sentences. Spend more time developing a dynamic character. Make dialogue that sounds like real people having a conversation.

This process will shed immense amounts of writing fat, the stuff that you don’t need to tell the story. It’s also an ego-check that will eventually benefit your reader—now that you know how painful it is to read fatty work, you won’t want to expose another human being to the same painful ordeal.

Congratulations! Now you’re writing for the reader, not writing to hear yourself talk.

Step 6: Repeat

Finish that second book. It’s much better, isn’t it? Finish it, then go back to page one and start editing the heck out of it. The second book is actually your first novel. I suggest re-writing it, from cover to cover, at least three times before you let anyone—even the aforementioned significant other—take a peek. Guess what? Now you’re a writer! Keep building those muscles, keep writing, keep getting better. Most people don’t land a publishing deal until they’ve written three or four full novels, so don’t get discouraged. This process takes time, but when you print off that finished novel and hold the pages in your hands, it is one of life’s great experiences.

Administrative Stuff

If you want to learn more about Scott Sigler, you can go to www.scottsigler.com, or just email him, scott@scottsigler.net.

Image: Journal Entry, Joel Montes de Oca at Flickr. CC BY 2.0 Generic.



About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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