3 Ways to Kickstart Your Novel
5 minutes read
Someone famous whose name I can’t recall once said: “Success is 10% talent, and 90% hard work.” I think the same principle can be applied to writing a novel – you take a measure of the natural ability we all have for storytelling, commit to doing the hard work of getting your novel finished, et voila – success! Right?
Ok, perhaps it’s not that easy. It definitely wasn’t for me. In fact, when I started writing my debut novel Bad Love, I didn’t plan for it to be a book at all. I just had a story I wanted to tell about a young woman’s journey towards finding love, losing it and grappling with the ramifications of the different types of love that surround her – romantic, familial and a love of place. I knew I wanted relationships to be at the centre of the story, but did I believe it could become a novel? Probably not.
Back then, I was in a full-time public-sector job, writing bad poems whenever I had a spare moment, barely able to consider ‘being a writer’. If I thought too much about the prospect of writing a novel I would certainly have given in to the time-honoured tradition of authorly procrastination by rewatching box sets of Dawson’s Creek and Smallville for the 100th time. And perhaps Bad Love would have remained as a few pages of scrawl in a notebook I purchased from a Barnes and Noble in New York in 2016.
But for some reason, the story kept coming. It persevered, so I did too; partly because of my passion for writing and partly because I was in love with the story, and I was desperate to know what would happen if I just kept writing.
Sometimes, that can be a roadblock for us writers; you know there is more to write, but you’re afraid to keep going because what if the story you’ve had in your head all this time doesn’t pan out? Or what if it goes somewhere you weren’t expecting? Or worse still – what if the story is better than anything you could have imagined, and all you need to do is write it?
A lot of the time, the prospect of success can be just as terrifying as failing. But as the saying goes, you really don’t know until you try. So, if you’re ready to take that leap, here are three steps that might help you on your way to kickstarting your novel:
1. Write out some sweeping statements
What is your story about? This is the question. There is no novel without a story. I know that sounds obvious but it will also serve as an anchor when you’re writing and you feel like you’re getting a little lost.
Writing exercise: Take a pen, some paper and find somewhere quiet to sit. Think about your story and try finishing these three sentences:
My story is about….
I want to explore…
It’s important to me that…
2. Write around your story
What’s your point of view? This is not simply about narrative voice, but about you as the writer. What exactly makes this story so special or important or necessary that you want to write it, and that you have to be the author? What is it about your particular point of view that will make your story incredible?
Writing Exercise: Spend five minutes freewriting (don’t think, just write) the following scenario: Two people meet for the first time.
Note: Write this scene from one character’s perspective. Afterwards, read it back, and then rewrite the scene from the other character’s perspective. Then decide which narrative you prefer.
3. Beg, borrow and steal
Where will you begin? Starting a writing project can be a daunting prospect, even if you have the story fixed in your mind and you know exactly where it’s going. Putting those first few sentences down can feel like pushing a boulder up a hill – a boulder made entirely of our own expectations that each of these words needs to be perfect. So, here’s a great mind trick I have picked up over the years: think of your first draft as Draft Zero. Not Draft One – ZERO. That means that yes, you have written words, and yes, they are on the page in a certain order, but they are only at the very beginning of their development stage, which means that they’re allowed to chop, change and move before you even get to Draft 1. They’re at the start of their journey, just as you, the writer, are at the start of writing your novel
Writing Exercise: Read the first line of three of your favourite books. Jot down what about the first line makes you want to keep reading. If you’re feeling brave, try to imitate the style of your favourite first line, to create a first line for your own story.
Remember, It doesn’t matter where you begin, only that you do begin. Whatever happens after that? Well, you can figure it out later, because by then, you’ll have started writing your novel.
Maame Blue is a Ghanaian-Londoner and author of the novel Bad Love, which won the 2021 Betty Trask Award. She has been a scriptwriter on a Venezuelan telenovela remixed for African audiences, and her short stories have appeared in Not Quite Right For Us (Flipped Eye Publishing), New Australian Fiction 2020 (Kill Your Darlings), and Joyful, Joyful (Pan Macmillan). Maame is a recipient of the 2022 Society of Authors Travelling Scholarship and was a 2022 POCC Artist-in-Residence. She teaches on Faber Academy’s Kickstart Your Novel and Getting Started: Beginners’ Fiction courses, and is passionate about helping fledgling writers find their voices