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Novel Writing Survival Guide

Updated on April 19, 2015
A novel
A novel | Source

Poll!

Are you a technophile or an old-fashioned?

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Your Survival Kit

No novelist is complete without their novel-writing survival kit: a few key items can help see you through from start to finish in one piece. I've created two versions of this list - one for technophiles, and another for those more comfortable with old-fashioned approaches.

The Technophile Survival Kit

  • A laptop
  • Good writing software (MS Word won't cut it!)
  • A phone/tablet/PDA
  • USB memory stick
  • A3 paper

A laptop is what you'll be writing your novel with, so make sure yours is in good working order with a nice clean keyboard (no stickiness, please!) and good screen resolution so your eyes won't get tired.

Writing software is key. There are plenty of good examples out there, but for a writer who often works in a disorganised fashion the best software I've found is Scrivener. It comes with a 30-day free trial, which is ideal if you're doing Camp NaNoWriMo this July.

You'll also need a small electronic device - I like my phone, because it's always to hand - for taking notes. Jot down small, digital notes (Handrite is nice software, free on Android, or perhaps OneNote for Windows Phone users) whenever an idea strikes you!

Backing up your novel is key - so make sure you invest in a new memory stick as flash memory degrades over time.

A3 paper is the only thing on this list which is optional - some people will plan entire novels digitally, but I still find you can't beat good old pen-and-paper for getting your ideas down initially.

The Good Old-Fashioned Survival Kit

  • A small notepad (A5 is ideal) and a selection of good quality pens
  • A larger, hardback notebook (e.g. A4)
  • A3 paper
  • Post-It notes

Your small notepad is for planning, jotting down ideas, writing when you're out and about, etc. It's your go-to device for novelling, and is something you should always have to hand.

Your larger notebook is what you'll actually be writing in - you'll want something sturdy and with a lot of pages; I've suggested hardback so that the pages don't come out as easily.

A3 paper is ideal for planning (I've written another Hub on planning novels, cough cough). It lets you see all your ideas at once, which is great for when you're not sure where your ideas will take you.

Post-It notes are optional, but I find they're ideal for days when you can't carry your A5 notebook around (e.g. all those formal dinners you'll get invited to as a famous writer). Write down ideas, one Post-It per idea, and use them for planning as well.

Survival Tip 1: Plan!

Planning your novel is the MOST crucial step in writing a novel. Like they say, "fail to plan, plan to fail".

I've written another Hub on planning your novel using a fractal methodology, but search around and find a method you like, remembering that every writer is different.

Use your A3 paper and Post-Its to plan, then stick your plan up in your writing space where you'll be able to see it at all times.

Most importantly, stick to your plan. If you ever feel yourself procrastinating, or tempted to write about something else, don't. That's not how novels get finished. Remember you've always got your phone or Post-Its to write down new ideas on, which you can revisit later after you've finished your novel.

Managing your time effectively means you'll reach your goals a lot quicker
Managing your time effectively means you'll reach your goals a lot quicker | Source

Survival Tip 2: Time Management

The majority of people who never write their novel, or never finish their novel, state that they simply don't have time.

Let me tell you a secret. That's lies.

We all have the time to finish our novel.

Let me take NaNoWriMo as an example. It encourages people to write a novel in a month. I can already hear the cries of "impossible!" but no, let me break it down for you. A short novel is approximately 50000 words. Over 30 days, that's 1667 words a day. Sounding a little bit more reasonable? Yes. Now, let me tell you that a person with average typing skills can knock out 1667 words in about an hour and a half.

There, much more reasonable. Because we've all got a spare hour and a half in our day - it's the hour we're watching soaps, or napping, or making up excuses not to go jogging. And the best part is that if you simply can't give up your Simpsons re-runs then you can write whilst the television is on! Everyone can find an hour and a half in their day for writing. It's important that you carve out that time and dedicate it to writing each and every day - novels don't get written by people staring into space thinking about writing their novel.

Survival Tip 3: Editing

Let me make this perfectly clear: writing time is not editing time. They use different words. They're totally different things.

But seriously, use your writing time to actually put words on paper. If you feel like you can't, try making it to 100. Then 200. Before you know it you've written 1000. But whatever you do, do not go back and edit.

We're all our own worst critics, and the editing process is definitely a necessary (if painful) part of the novel-to-print pipeline, but your writing time is not time for you to edit. If you feel you absolutely must edit, carve out another chunk of time, before or after writing time, for editing. That way you'll keep yourself satisfied without writing and re-writing the same paragraph for months and months.

Reward yourself - writing a novel is hard, and you deserve it!
Reward yourself - writing a novel is hard, and you deserve it! | Source

Survival Tip 4: Rewards and Challenges

So there's many a different way to reward yourself after a hard day's novelling. You could take a walk, have a bath, eat some chocolate... But I'm not here to tell you how to reward yourself, I'm here to tell you that you must reward yourself. What you're aiming to do is create a positive feedback cycle which will encourage you to write more; by rewarding yourself for writing, you're setting a good example to yourself to continue writing.

If you're more motivated by the stick than the carrot, perhaps say to yourself you can't watch an episode of your favourite show until you've done 500 words. Knowing how to motivate yourself to write is one of the biggest challenges, but once you've figured out what works, stick with it! Keep going! And you'll finish that novel in no time.

Another way of motivating yourself is to join a challenge (such as the aforementioned NaNoWriMo) or set a deadline, perhaps for an upcoming writing competition (start buying writing magazines and reading fiction websites to see when there are competitions which you could enter). Having an end-date in mind will not only make the process of writing go a lot quicker, it will also keep you on track (but remember to continue rewarding yourself as well!)

Survival Tip 5: Finishing

A novel is never a finished piece of work.

You reach the end of the story, you wrap up your characters' plot-lines, you leave the reader feeling warm and fuzzy.

But you're not finished.

There's re-drafting, and editing, and re-drafting, and editing... It's an endless cycle.

Eventually, though, you have to call ENOUGH! and actually send your book off to the publishers. Knowing when to stop is an art form, and you won't get it right on your first try so expect a couple of rejection letters in the process. But eventually you'll learn when to stop editing, when you've refined your piece to perfection, and then you'll be ready to submit it to a publisher.

Good luck, and happy writing!

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