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How to Write Your First Novel in 5 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 23, 2020 • 3 min read

There’s no one formula for writing a novel. The process of writing a book can take months to years, and along the way, you’ll probably encounter obstacles. Even New York Times bestselling authors struggle when setting down a new story idea for the first time. It’s normal to lose your way, so allow yourself to make mistakes, to delete passages and plot lines, and to reconsider earlier events. You’ll be able to fix most problems you encounter with a bit of work.



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How to Write Your First Book

Whether you’re writing a thriller, collection of short stories, sci-fi or fantasy novel, or non-fiction book, completing your first book can be a challenge. Here’s a rough plan of how to write your first book, step-by-step:

  1. Write the first draft. Once you’ve figured out your book idea, the hardest thing is to just start writing. Filling up a blank page can be daunting, but you’ll need to get something down in the first place—you can always edit later. Remember that even the best books started off as rough drafts. The writing process is different for everyone, but it can help to have a designated writing space, whether it’s a coffee shop or your kitchen table. A writing schedule—such as a set number of hours per day—or daily word count goal can help you prioritize your writing time. Some writers like to freewrite their way to a plot and main character, not sure where the book will go until they reach the end, while others use mind maps and outlines to brainstorm, research, and organize their new books. However you decide to do it, it’s important to have a regular writing habit.
  2. Commit to a rewrite. As author Neil Gaiman says, “The process of doing your second draft is a process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.” Once you have a rough draft of the entire book, the hard work is done, and it’s time to self-edit. Editing can turn a good book into a great book, so keep up the productive writing sessions you had when working on your rough draft. This is the time to change your chapters around, solidify your point of view, and pin down your characters’ backstories. Don’t be afraid to rewrite your early chapters or revise your characters. Maybe the idea itself needs to evolve. This is all part of the process of editing, and it can be frustrating. But you should commit yourself to your idea, and don’t give up on it. Abandoning the thing that really inspired you is lazy editing.
  3. Get feedback. Successful writers rely on others for feedback on their writing. For published authors, this person is often a trusted editor, but even if you’re a first-time writer, you don’t have to do it on your own. Writing groups are a great place to meet other new writers, share writing advice, and swap manuscripts. You may also want to hire a professional to copy-edit and fact-check your book, to catch any grammatical and factual errors before publication. If you’re working with a publishing house, they’ll arrange this for you.
  4. Publish your novel. There are two main routes for publishing your book: self-publishing and mainstream publishing. If you’re seeking the support of a mainstream publishing house, you’ll most likely need to find a literary agent, someone who can bring your manuscript to different publishers and help negotiate your book deal. You can skip that process if you’re self-publishing, but you’ll have to figure out (and finance) everything on your own, from your book cover design to marketing.
  5. Market your novel. Congratulations, you’ve published your first book! But it’s not over yet. If you want people to read your book, you’ll need to market your book with book tours, social media, email lists, and podcast or radio interviews. And while you’re doing all that, you can start thinking about your next book!

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