Be Madly Driven: How to Start Writing Your Novel

Despite my motivational blog yesterday, I didn’t get much writing done as I was feeling under the weather. After half sleeping through work (thank God I didn’t have anything important to do) and buying a ton of healthy food, I opted to go to bed early instead of attending to my story.

A couple of you expressed various difficulties you have getting started on your own story. As someone who hasn’t even finished her first draft of her first book, I can hardly give you professional writing advice. However, what I can share is how I got started.

From all I have researched, it seems that writing the first draft of any story is always the hardest part. I would argue that the second hardest part of the writing process is committing yourself. Before writers even begin, the numbers are against them. I once read that, of all the people who say they will write a book someday, only 1% actually follow through. Of those who do, 1% will see their book professionally published.

Getting started

With these dismal chances in your mind, I’m going to start with the simplest and most difficult advice. Be madly driven and know your body’s limits. When do you write best, morning or night? Make your choice and plan a couple of hours every day to write. Some nights, you will do little more than stare at a blank page, but it’s still worth while. So long as you are thinking of your story, you are ahead of everyone who only dreams. You have to know your body, though. This has been one of my hardest lessons to learn and, honestly, I have yet to master the art of body maintenance. If you deprive yourself of sleep, good food and fitness, you will fall apart. You will exhaust yourself, which will result in more writer blocks and dwindling motivation. Writing a book is already hard enough. You can’t afford to lose your motivation, so take care of yourself.

How to overcome the plague of self-doubt

The most important thing to remember here is that good writers need a healthy dose of self-doubt. The second you read something and say to yourself, “this is great; I’m a genius,” be worried. I’ve heard it from writers, bloggers and seen it myself. More often than not, the writing that brings you the most anxiety and self-doubt is the writing that other will love.  Don’t let self-doubt stop you. You need to it be a great writer.

This photo, “Writing tools: a pen, a few…” is copyright (c) 2014 Tammy Strobel and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Picking one idea out of many

I relate to this all too well. I’d say I spent the last couple years struggling with a ton of ideas. After I started one, I’d wonder if I should actually be starting another. Nothing gets done that way.

Here is my recommendation to all who have this problem. This is something I did last year and it has worked well for me. Take a day and write out all of your ideas. Don’t write a book. Instead, write out every plot, every twist and every concept that you have yet to work out. I used a physical note-book, but if you’d rather use a Word Document, it would probably be easiest to create a separate document for each idea.

Now, everything is in front of you. You have given your ideas a physical existence. Pick one and run with it, knowing that you have created a space to record new ideas. Trust me, it will happen. You’ll be in the middle of your story when you suddenly think of a brilliant idea for another. Make a note of that in the appropriate note-book or document, and then move on with the story you are working on.

This is how you get started. It won’t be easy and the numbers are always going to be against you. That’s just part of the writing game. Those of us who are writers, write knowing our chances. Don’t write for someone else or in the hopes of making money. When we write, we write for ourselves. We write because we have to give our stories life and because we will go mad if keep them locked inside.


48 thoughts on “Be Madly Driven: How to Start Writing Your Novel”

  1. This is really great advice. Thank you! Have you read “No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Baty? The book was mentioned in a few others I read, so I checked it out. He does an excellent job providing a guide to writing a complete rough draft in 30 days. I’m using it to help me through my own novel challenge.

    1. I have not heard of it, but will quickly ad it to my to-read list. Completing a rough draft in 30 days!? That almost seems to good to be true. And here I am hoping to have this finished by the end of the year.

      1. It’s pretty cool. Look up National Novel Writing Month in November. The book was written in support of that. Right now they’re doing Camp NaNoWriMo, It’s basically the same thing, just in the month of April. Provides and online community for support and motivation. The goal is to write 1,667 words every day for 30 days and have a 50,000-word, complete rough draft at the end.

        1. I’ve heard NaNoWrMo and almost did it last year, but then my computer crashed on me. I’ve since learned that I write best with old fashioned pen and paper, making it difficult to know how many words I’m writing. I’ve also found that if I try and schedule myself to that extent (write so much per day) the self-doubt kills me. I just have to let this story happen. Maybe I won’t write every day. Maybe a week or two will go by where no work gets done. That’s okay. I have other things to do. But, if I just keep working, I’ll get it done.

          Now that you’ve mentioned NaNoWrMo, I may set an additional goal…. a stretch goal…. It’s be great if I finished my first draft by November. Then, I could use NaNoWrMo for the first part of my editing phase (typing it all up).

            1. That’s a challenge for me as well. I’m not going to say that I don’t get distracted sometimes, because I do. But if I set myself goals that dictate each day, there’s no way I’ll stick to it. I’ve tried.

              Honestly, though, I’m still trying to find my method. Some things work and some things don’t. I’ll get it figured out.

  2. Reblogged this on charityjoy77 and commented:
    Another great blog! This one helped me realize I have the same issues as many other writers. That encourages me actually! My biggest problem, so many books in my head it’s hard to focus and finish one!! I love the tips here!

  3. Thanks for dropping by my corner of the blogosphere.

    Nice post, by the way. I find that a great way to start and keep a routine going is to pick a beverage (coffee, tea, Scotch) and commit to writing for however long it takes you to consume that cup or liquid. Someone recommended that to me at a writer’s conference and it’s held me in good stead through 3 novels now. Happy writing!

    1. That sounds like a plan. I wish I had more time. If I order black coffee, I always have to leave for work before I finish it. Maybe I’ll go back to my caramel macchiatos.

      Actually, I really like that idea. I could drop everything, my phone, my blog… I drop it all until I finish that cup of coffee… then I blog. I might try this out.

  4. Great advice, especially about writing out all your ideas. I was struggling with the same thing, a friend who is a real writer suggested the same and it has really helped. It has allowed me to organize my ideas and story better, get a better sense for chapters, areas that need further development.

    1. I have this system of notebooks and sticky notes going. As I write the story I chose to work on, if I suddenly get an idea for something later on, I’ll write it on a sticky note and stick it on the story. I do the same with all the ideas I have. Some have a beginning, middle and end and others are just concepts. If I think of something and want to add something new, I just grab a sticky note. It seems to be working well for me so far.

  5. As a writer working on my first draft I can totally relate to this. I have had so many ideas and finally wrote them all down last year. Then I started working on the story that I felt the most connection to. This is great advice. I’m definitely going to reblog this post to share with my friends. Aloha ~ Cassie

    1. This sounds exactly like what I have done. Although, here we are in April and I only have three chapters of my first draft written. I’m still trying to find the right method that makes it all work. Still… one chapter a month isn’t that bad. That can easily turn into a whole story. I have to look on the bright side. I can’t kill myself with lack of sleep just to write every day. I can’t skip months at a time without writing anything. I need a balance. Writing a book is such a unique undertaking. I feel like it’s similar to falling in love. It’s different for every writer.

  6. I e- mailed your blog to myself, so that I can go over it again. For the last how many years, (I have stopped counting) I think of writing a book. So far nothing.

  7. Good advice. I have never had the ‘I’m a Genius’ moment, and instead am usually plagued with self-doubt about what I write. Still, though- I keep going and will continue to do so. And on the bright side, finishing my book will be the only way I will ever join what is referred to as the 1%!!

    1. Haha! I’ve never thought of it that way. Yes, let us make our way to the 1% (of people who say they will write a book and actually do)

  8. For what it’s worth, you have like a one in 70 million chance of winning the lottery and yet people do that everyday without thought at all. You have a one in 785 chance of publishing your novel. In comparison, that should make it easy to keep writing. Lol. I know, reality is somewhat different than chances though.
    As someone who has four finished novels with four more in process I’ll tell you this. For the first draft, just write it down. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, getting it perfect, etc. Just get the story written down. Once you’ve told the story you want to tell, in whatever way you want to do that (some people use outlines, story arcs, etc – I start and let my characters tell their story instead) then you can go back and clean the whole mess up.
    One of the best books on novel writing I’ve ever read is “The Successful Novelist” by David Morrell (the guy who wrote Rambo and more recently Murder As A Fine Art)

    1. That’s what I’ve heard and that’s why I’m trying to do. I’m hoping that, once I’ve finished one, each first draft I write from that point on will be easier. I expect the first draft to always be the hard part, but if I can say I’ve done once, then there won’t be any reason why I can’t do it again.

  9. Good advice. I personally love a real book to tract ideas but I also add them digitally so they are searchable. Haha. I love Evernote because if something happens with hardware you can still access in online.

    I’d also say don’t be afraid to use as many ideas as work in the story because there are many more ideas coming down the pike! Cheers.

    1. After writing down all my ideas, one of the things I quickly got used to was simply running with all ideas during the first draft. I chose to work on one of the oldest and simplest ideas I had, and have already discovered it’s far more complicated than I thought.

  10. Great advice! The greatest thing I’ve learned about starting out is to allow doubt to talk, but take it’s advice like you would a peer reader. Bits and pieces make sense to change, but overhauling every time you feel dim about the direction of your story is overboard.

    Keep the wheel spinning and the grinding going!

      1. I agree. And I believe you will wield your doubt as a strength instead of a hinderance soon enough.

  11. Very grounded advice, thank you for sharing. I’ve been trying for a year or so now to reenergize my writing. I noted a couple here have suggested NaNoWriMo, I have yet to complete the 50K words in 30 days, but it is a ton of fun trying. Great blog, looking forward to your future commentary as well 🙂

    1. There’s a suggestion I forgot to add! Start a blog. The reason I started this blog in the first place was to reenergize my writing. Having done very little over four years of college, it was hard to just jump back into my stories. Starting a blog was a great way for me to stretch my creative writing muscle.

  12. all of these are great points in regards to how to get into the word. personally, I love the blog idea because you are self promoting yourself rather than trying to impress an editor. sometimes though that can be a good thing to show you do have a little bit of no how in regards to the word. the secret to any writing is to find your niche. and yes, writing is all about your story that you want to put out there as that makes it like no other story.

    1. Finding that niche is so hard. There’s really nothing easy about writing a book. It’s a unique undertaking for each person. I’m pretty sure that no two writers write the same way or for the same reasons.

    1. Haha. WordPress does kind of count as writing, doesn’t it? My blog has become just as important as my writing these days. It’s hard to balance the two.

  13. An interesting read, TK, on the approaches to pursuing a book, a novel in writing, we all have a different style when it comes to the tackling of the first draft. At my end, I’ve been weighing up and collating the various explorations from over the last couple of years, to three concepts experimented with in short tales, and story based poetry which came about. Just now wrapping up the process of mapping the different events, triggers, and characters explored, into three standalone novels. A little different to most approaches, but I wanted to see how the concepts, and characters felt to handle before galloping ahead with a first draft to each. They are on their way now though. All the best with your writing.

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