How to Write a Novel

7 minutes read

Writing a novel can seem like a daunting task.

And it’s true that it’s no mean feat: as a creative endeavour it takes an astonishing amount of time and commitment, and that’s before you even think about sending it out into the world to be published.


If you’ve always dreamed of writing a novel but are overwhelmed and unsure of where to start, here are some key things to think about along your writing journey.

Find your idea


Unsure of what to write about? Often writers will start with what they know, especially when writing their first book. Whatever you decide on, make sure it’s something you really want to write about – not just what you think you should write about. It can be wise, too, not to worry too much about current publishing trends. The odds are that by the time you’ve finished writing, revising, submitting and eventually having your book published, the trend will have passed.


What are you most interested in? What are you most excited by? Hone in on this. There will be an inevitable stage when you grow tired by your idea, so the more invested and interested you are in it at the start, the more likely you are to see your creative project through to completion. If you can’t decide on what to write about, you could try freewriting or some mind-mapping exercises to get you started.

The most precious thing you can have in making a novel work is momentum. And you need therefore to treat it in your life like a job of work that needs to be done. And it should be exciting too. [...] Time is precious in life but as long as your novel is preoccupying you and you’re thinking about its shape and its characters and where it might go tomorrow, then you’re also, I think, writing your novel. So on a practical level I also recommend that every writer should have a notebook and a pen in their pocket — the phone isn’t good enough!

Richard T Kelly

Writing a Novel course tutor

Plan Your Novel


Planning your novel will look different for everyone. Some novelists will produce detailed outlines before setting pen to paper and others will start writing with no idea where the story is taking them, discovering what happens as they go. Wherever you lie on the planning spectrum, it’s usually a good idea to have some idea of your characters and their motivations (who are they, what do they want?), the main conflict (what’s stopping them from getting what they want?) and the overarching structure.


In terms of outlining your plot, there are many forms this could take. Some novelists will draw up a synopsis outline, an in-depth outline, or follow the snowflake or the bookend method (knowing what happens at the beginning and end and then discovering how you get there through writing). Structure-wise you could follow the 3-Act Story Structure (Act I = Setup, Act II = Confrontation, Act III = Resolution), or use the Hero’s Journey. Deciding which works best for you can take time and can even differ from novel to novel.

I have several keywords that are very much a part of my teaching. The first is stay inside the story. And by that I mean not be distracted by the outcome, the way it’s going to be received. Staying inside the story means being with the characters on their journey, going through the process of whatever the aspiration of the character or the impediments the character might face – staying with it. Another thing I say to students is be quite sure whose story it is, and why you’re telling the story.

Shelley Weiner

Writing a Novel course tutor

Write the First Draft


Perhaps the most important step of them all: write. When you get to this stage, it’s important to just focus on getting it all down on the page. We’ve put together some tips for writing your first draft here, but the essential thing to remember at this point is not to judge. Just write. Get it all down on paper, keep the momentum going and then you can edit it later. It can be useful to set yourself some sort of writing routine at this stage, or a word count goal, but the realities of this will look different for everyone.

I think if you’re writing a novel, whether on the course or not, the main thing you can do for yourself, particularly at the beginning, is feel free to make messy art in a way. That you just have to go for it, that you just have to sit there and you have to write. And you don’t immediately edit yourself and you don’t listen to that critical voice that we all have — anyone worth their salt as a writer has that critical internal voice, you have to learn to mute it. So just write — even if it’s for five minutes, ten minutes — just put something on the page, don’t criticise yourself.

Joanna Briscoe

Writing a Novel course tutor

Revise and Edit Your Novel

When you’ve finished your first draft, put it away. After a reasonable amount of time has passed, when you’ve maybe forgotten a lot of what you’ve written, take your manuscript back out of a drawer or open the file on your computer. Now reread and revise your novel. Be ruthless.


Sarah Moss has said that she writes a full draft and then deletes it before writing it again properly: ‘I even delete it from the trash can. It’s like being a dressmaker – mocking it up in a cheap fabric, to then make it in silk later.’ While you don’t necessarily have to be this ruthless, do try to not be too precious about anything that you’ve written: if it doesn’t serve your story, take it out. You can always set it aside for something else.


Some general things to look out for while revising are pacing, character development and plot holes. Have others read your novel and give you notes. You don’t have to act on all of their suggestions, but stay open: if you find the same issue being raised by beta readers over and over again, chances are other readers will have the same issue. Some writers find it easier to print out and bind their drafts and make notes as they read through. You might prefer to edit on screen. Or, you might like to do some of both, depending on where you are in the process. There’s no set amount of drafts you have to do – it differs from writer to writer, but when you read through and can’t think of anything else you would change, then you’re finished (for now!). Read more about the different types of editing and how best to go about it here.

Next Steps


Make sure to celebrate once you’ve completed your final draft! But be aware that the work isn’t completely finished yet. The next step is preparing your submission for agents, potentially going through edits with your agent, and, if your manuscript is accepted for publication … going through yet another editing process with your publishers. But for now, take a break and congratulate yourself on a job well done.



Writing a Novel is designed to support aspiring fiction writers to develop their craft over six months, with courses in London (at Faber’s HQ in Hatton Garden), Newcastle and online.


A six-month programme of seminars, sessions will cover all the essentials of novel writing – including character, story, structure, plotting, voice, dialogue, conflict and more.


Find out more about the next iterations of Writing a Novel here.


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