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How I Wrote a Novel and You Can Too

By Melissa Uhles

Have you always dreamed of writing a novel? Have you written the first chapter and then moved on to other things because you were stuck? You are not alone. Writing a book is HARD!

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I’ve written three novels, a novella and I co-wrote a romance novel and nonfiction book with Amber Roshay. That’s nothing compared to the output of other authors, but it feels like a lot.

For years I had ideas for a book. Like many people, I vaguely thought I had a book in me and that one day I’d finally write it from start to finish.

Then when I turned 39 and my kid was in kindergarten I finally started and finished a novel. It was called ​Dating Maggie​​​. When the day came that I held the paperback in my hands, there was nothing like it.

Here’s how I did it. I hope these tips will help you too.

I Started From the End Goal

I wanted to write a full rough draft, edit it and submit it to publishers until someone agreed to publish it. Admittedly, I researched publishers before I got deep into writing the book. Some would advise against this, but it helped me.

What I learned was that romance was a popular genre and one of the only ones where you could easily submit directly to some publishers without an agent. While I was willing to send out to a few agents first, I was impatient and wanted to submit directly to publishers.

My idea for my first novel, was loosely based on some real life experiences I’d had when I was in my 20’s and living in L.A. Some of the themes were going to be jobs and dating but I imagined it would be more chick-lit than romance. However, once I realized that romance was so in demand I decided to shape my story into a contemporary romance.

Are you are also writing a romance novel? You might want to check out my list of romance publishers that take unsolicited submissions.

Write Every Day

For the first time in my life I decided to try the sage advice of having a daily writing practice. I told myself I’d write 1000 words per day. It was easy for me to get that done in just an hour each day. Since my son was only in school for half a day, I still had time to do some household chores before picking him up.

Committing to this practice meant that I was able to finish a first draft in about six weeks. My novel was on the shorter side at 50,000 words. But this is a length is accepted by many romance publishers. And with ebooks, sometimes shorter is better. But 50,000 words is still a lot of stinkn’ words!

I was proud of myself. But there was so much more work to do.

Read Your Draft and Spruce it Up

This might be the time where chapters get moved around and scenes get cut. I found that by the end of writing my draft I was more clear about character traits, so I put more detail in when I went back to read it through.

I’m always in a bit of a hurry to write a first draft. When I got to the second draft, I was fixing plot holes and fleshed out more details.

Find Beta Readers

Getting outside feedback on your draft is essential. This is the step that may stop many writers in their tracks. Sharing your words puts you in a very vulnerable position. There is a chance you will get your feelings hurt. I myself, am naturally very sensitive. But you have to develop a thick skin.

That said, choose a friend, family member or writer that will be honest but respectful. If you can get at least two people (although the more the better) to give notes, you’ll be off to a good start.

Let them know ahead of time what sort of feedback you are looking for. You don’t need a proofreader at this point.

Here is my cheat sheet that you can give to your beta readers

  • Do the plot points making sense?
  • Are characters believable?
  • Is the dialogue realistic?
  • How is the beginning working?
  • How does the end strike you?

Let it Rest

My co-blogger Amber refers to this period as similar to letting a bottle of wine age. It will be better with time. That said, don’t rest too long if this is your first book because you want to make sure you get it done.

If you can wait a few days or a week and go back to it, that’s ideal. The point is, you’ve worked so hard for so long, your fingers and mind need a rest.

Also, once you read it after resting you will see it more like an editor and not an overly sensitive writer. You’ll have time to mull over your beta readers’ notes in your head and after you get mad about the critiques, settle down and figure out what they were probably right about.

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Rewrite

I’m sure you’ve heard writing is in the rewrite. It’s true!

Once you’ve read the notes from your beta readers, it’s time to figure out what advice you will integrate and what doesn’t feel right.

You’ll also want to fine tune by looking for repetitive words. Here’s a challenge for you, go through your manuscript and use the find and replace function to see how many times a word like “that” or “felt” or “was” comes up. If it turns up an insanely high number of occurrences, try replacing some of those words.

There is a book I bought that helps a lot with this. It’s called The Emotion Thesaurus. It’s a terrific tool because there is nothing like writing a novel to show you how limited your vocabulary is.

In this step I also focus on making sentences more lovely and compelling.

Another thing to be mindful of is to “show” more than you “tell”. This is a note I received from a few editors early on and it was frustrating. It’s still hard to figure out the balance. Showing is describing a scene in a way that’s akin to how it would look in a movie. Telling, is just saying what happened. Showing is more compelling to a reader, supposedly.

Here’s a quick example to explain what I mean.

Telling: John was drunk.

Showing: John glugged down a full snifter of brandy in ten seconds flat.

See the difference?

Also, listen to your gut here. What I’ve learned after writing other books is that when my gut says something  isn’t working, it’s not working and I should listen and fix it before I show the manuscript to my betas.

Final Polish

Feel free to let your book rest for another few days after you’ve finished your second or third draft. In the last step (final polish) you’ll want to go in and focus on grammar, punctuation and fixing any other typos.

Maybe you feel confident about your writing for the most part but worry about your grammar. That’s why Amber created the Grammar Refresher Course. It will quickly get you up to speed on stuff you’ve forgotten since getting out of school.

You might also consider using a app like Grammarly to help with things that Word or Google Docs won’t catch.

Reading your book out loud or backwards can also help you catch errors.

One More Beta Read

This step is optional, but if you can talk at least one person into reading the final draft to see if there are any glaring errors, that would be super.

Format

If you plan to submit to publishers, study their format requirements prior to submission. They vary a bit. Here are some general rules:

  1. Put your book into a Word document
  2. Use a 12 pt type like Times New Roman.
  3. Insert page breaks in between chapters.
  4. Use *** or # to show a change of scene or POV
  5. Set paragraph indentations, don’t use the tab function.
  6. Single space your manuscript
  7. Your title page should have the title mid-way down the page and your name underneath. Your contact information can be put in the right hand corner.

If the publisher requires an outline, check out my video for how I do those here.

You may be planning to self publish but you will need to follow the same guidelines to make sure your book will look good when you put it up on Amazon or Draft2Digital.

I hope these tips serve you well on your novel writing journey!

Have you started writing a book? Tell us about it in the comments.

If you need some motivation to get your bottom in the chair, join our FREE WRITING CHALLENGE: Write 3K in 3 Days. We’ll send you inspirational emails with writing prompts every other day to help you get a bunch of words on the page.

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Are you looking for novel writing tips on how to write your fiction, romance or non fiction book? Well, these amazing tips will show you how to write a novel fast. #novelwritingtips #writingtips #writingromancetips @penandparent.com
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