There’s nothing quite as tough and overwhelming as starting your first novel. I know this because I’m guilty of ditching plenty of story ideas in the past, all because I couldn’t get over my first sentence. Thinking back to it now, it was silly of me to give up on what could’ve been a good story just because of a single paragraph. If you’re anything like me, I’m telling you now to hold on to those story ideas – there’s still plenty of hope.
Every writer knows that the first paragraph is a novel’s make or break moment. It’s a high hurdle all writers need to leap over. When done right, it can compel your readers to turn to the next page. Which is great because it means that you’ve successfully piqued their interest. But when done poorly, everything can go downhill from there. The worst thing that can happen is having a potential reader close the book and return it to the shelf without even giving the story more time to develop.
Don’t get me wrong though, I think there are plenty of books that have terrible beginnings but wonderful endings. However, I also believe in giving your readers a great reading experience rather than having them suffer before letting them in on the good parts. I think that I have a fair amount of endurance by giving a book a few chapters to impress me, but I’m sure not everyone has the same amount of tolerance.
When starting your first novel, it is essential that you build a strong foundation for yourself as a writer. I think that as long as you have a good set of habits, you are not far from succeeding and reaching your writing goals. Below are some of such good habits that might help writers get through when writing their first novels.
8 Habits Writers Need When Starting Their First Novel
1. Get Inspired
Inspiration is the fuel that your writing runs on. When starting your novel, you are most likely overflowing with tons of inspiration and excitement. But if you’re anything like me, that feeling starts to wane when writing becomes too difficult. While other authors may tell you to gear up with data and research first, I think that it’s equally important to gather sources of inspiration before writing your novel. Whenever you’re feeling unmotivated, your research alone isn’t going pick you up from your slump. However, bits and pieces of inspiration may just be the push you need to keep writing.
To gather inspiration, you might want to try creating a visual board. Collect photos, magazine cut-outs, maps or any kind of material that catches your eye. Stick them onto a wall or a bulletin board; feel free to get extra creative. Just make sure that it is located in a place where you often do your writing.
My personal approach is to create a Pinterest board. I often do my writing outside of my home and so having an online visual board really helps me out. If you’re just starting your first novel, I highly recommend using Pinterest as a way to gather some inspiration. It’s fast, easy and the website also contains a lot of beautiful and inspiring photos. Be careful not to spend too much time looking for inspiration, you’ve been warned!
2. Do Your Research
After equipping yourself with sources of inspiration, it’s time to get down to business. Most readers can tell whether or not an author has done their research for the story. This is especially true for writing that requires some factual information like historical fiction or biographies. Have you ever read a book where some details and ideas just don’t match up with the events of the story? One can easily avoid this mishap just by doing some careful research.
When starting out your first novel, allow yourself some time to dig up information related to your story. A well-researched novel is one that is believable, even if it’s written for the fantasy genre. Your world-building concepts make sense and they are also coherent with the overall theme of your story. Remember that your readers pay attention to even the smallest details.
3. Learn From Other Writers
Good ideas and inspiration alone won’t get your story completed. To finish a story, you would need to actually write it down. While I do not condone copying other writers’ styles completely, it doesn’t mean that one cannot learn a thing or two from them. You’ve probably heard this advice a million times before but it is true when they say that in order to become a better writer, you’d need to read a lot. Explore different types of genre or even other forms of writing. This way, you get to discover new things that you may end up liking.
A lot of writers say that they just don’t have enough time to read, thinking that they should just be writing instead. There are plenty of ways to incorporate some reading time into your schedule. However, as a writer who is just starting their first novel, I would suggest taking a closer look at the books you already know. Make a list of your favorite books and authors and figure out what you like most about them. Is it the author’s brilliant plot twists, or is it the witty dialogues?
List down as much as you like and you’ll soon discover your own personal taste. This list will help you find your own voice in your writing later on. Personally, I like to keep a reading journal where I list books I’ve read and what I liked or disliked about them. This is a great exercise for writers to pay closer attention to the books they read.
4. Organize Your Ideas
I used to be a pen and paper girl and I still am but the only difference is that I would type my writing on the computer every day. This helps me organize my ideas and story my files in a way that would help me save a lot of time whenever I need them. A lot of writers underestimate the benefits of being organized and I can understand why. Why spend an hour typing down something you’ve already written by hand when you have plenty of actual story writing to get done?
As a writer, you already know that creating a novel requires a lot of editing and re-writing. When you’re trying to put some order into your story, it’s quite difficult to do so when your workspace is too messy. It’s hard to think when everything is all over the place. For me, I discovered that storing my files on the computer helps me manage my story material a lot easier.
This may not work for you and perhaps you prefer keeping your files on paper. And that’s totally fine as long as you are comfortable with your own system. I believe that finding your own organizing system is a very beneficial habit to hone. Not only does it help you write with ease, it gives you better access to your ideas whenever you need it.
5. Write Drunk, Edit Sober
Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not encouraging you to drink alcohol when you write. ‘Write drunk, edit sober’ has been a popular writing advice for quite some time now. And no, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should party before you write your novel.
Some people become more confident and behave recklessly after having a few drinks. Although not the best role model, there’s something that can be learned from a drunk person. When starting your first novel, you should learn how to let go of your inhibitions or else you’ll get paralyzed with fear just as I had been. Give yourself creative freedom, break rules or better yet, forget them and just let the words flow across the page. What’s important is to get something written onto that piece of paper first.
After you’ve written whatever needs to be written, then you can come back to your work and edit whatever needs to be edited. You’ll find that your best work shows itself when you allow yourself to be free and to write from your heart.
6. Let Someone Else Read Your Work
I know some writers who have accomplished their stories from start to end and I’m sure that whatever they’ve written is fantastic. But I won’t ever really know because no one has ever read their works, including myself. I understand that there are people who write for themselves – much like the purpose of a diary. However, I personally think that it is a waste to have a story written but never shared.
I used to be terribly shy about publishing my work online. Maybe it was the fear of getting criticized that stopped me before. However, I later realized that the comments of others are a valuable lesson for me. Without knowing what others think of my work, I wouldn’t have known what I need to improve on. Bad reviews may sting for a while but if it’s for the sake of growing as a writer, I think it’s worth it.
To be a good writer, you need to develop a certain thickness to your skin. Don’t be afraid of the opinions of other people. Their feedback is a great source of lessons you can learn from.
7. Keep Writing
Starting your first novel is just the beginning of your writing journey. While finishing your project, you will eventually meet a lot of roadblocks ahead. Whether it’s a writer’s block or negative feedback from your readers, you need to become persistent and continue writing anyway – especially on days when you feel like giving up.
Plenty of writers end up regretting discontinuing their previous projects. Imagine what could have been if you only pushed yourself a bit further to finish your story. Even if you don’t feel like it, at least try to get something done. No matter how little you’ve written, a few words can bring you closer to the completion of your novel.
8. Stay Healthy
It seems that all writers are doomed to an inactive lifestyle. They’re glued to their working desks and they tend to spend long hours in front of their computer screens. This is obviously an unhealthy way to live and can cause more harm in the long run. In fact, it is said that a sedentary lifestyle can actually shorten your lifespan!
I think that it’s not enough to become a good writer but it is also a top priority to be a responsible one. It’s not just about doing the right thing as a writer but it’s also about taking good care of oneself. A healthy writer is more likely to produce good work simply because they have more energy and motivation than those who aren’t. Nobody likes being sick and it’s always a good idea to take a short break once in a while. You’ll come back more refreshed and energized after doing so.
Starting Your First Novel
Every writer has their own way of getting their story written. It’s not necessary that you follow these habits exactly as they are. But I do hope that they can help you out as you accomplish your first novel. What’s more important is that you learn more about yourself and see how you can improve as a writer. Now it’s your turn – are you planning to start writing a novel soon? Tell me about your story and how you intend to begin writing it in the comments below.