How I Write A Novel

Everyone writes a novel differently. This is my process and it is by no means the right way to do it. It’s just what I’ve found works for me.

Step 1) I get an idea. Or a character starts talking to me. Or I think of a title.

Step 2) I scratch down whatever comes to mind. This scratching begins an ongoing documentation as I capture the elements of this particular story as it emerges. This includes character’s names, locations, unique aspects, plot twists, random bits of dialogue, what the main character wants, any themes I want to dig into, etc. (This can go on for months or years.)

Step 3) Once enough has emerged and I begin to feel like I’ve got something worth working with, I take a legal pad and brainstorm everything possible that I think might happen in this story. Per one of my writing mentors, Susan Meissner’s advice, I try to have 40 things.

Step 4) I walk away from that list and see what happens—what my subconscious does with those items.

Step 5) I write down whatever from that list has made the cut—and anything else that has come up in the interim—on index cards. I like index cards because they can be moved around. This becomes my scene list and will be what I work with from now on.

Step 6) I start writing. I write in order, start to finish. There has been only one time I got out of order and that was when I was really sad one day and didn’t feel like writing anything happy. So I flipped ahead til I found a sad scene and wrote that. Ideally, I write 1000 words per day for 90 days and at the end of that time, I’ve got a rough draft.

Step 7) I read over this rough draft and make many, many corrections and changes. This goes on for as long as I have until the manuscript is due.

Step 8) When I’ve looked at the document so much I can no longer see it anymore, I press send and, through the miracle of the internet, send my manuscript winging its way to the office of my editor. I try to be happy, take a break from writing, and not immediately jump into another project, though by then several other ideas are usually begging for my attention.

Marybeth’s third novel, THE GUEST BOOK, is this month’s featured novel. We’re giving away a number of prizes so don’t forget to toss your name in the hat if you haven’t entered.

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.


11 Responses to How I Write A Novel

  1. ShellySCantrell July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Is it any wonder that just yesterday I was feeling the nudge (again) to write my first novel; but my main concern was that I didn’t/don’t know where to even begin; and then I wake up to find MBW’s (an author whom I admire)”how-to” on writing a novel.

    Hmmmmm… I don’t think I’ll wait for a 4×4. The 2×4 was WORD enough. : )

    Thanks for the continued inspiration and mentoring through She Reads!

  2. Josey Bozzo July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Thank you for this. I think it may help me with the writing process.

  3. Julie Kibler July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Our processes sound very similar! Seems to work pretty well! Enjoyed reading this.

  4. Heather July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for sharing your process!

  5. Ariel July 31, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I have to say, after knowing Marybeth for four years, that she is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. She lives and breathes Story. I can’t think of many things more fun than watching your best friend become a prolific author.

    Cheering you on, MB.

  6. Judy Christie August 2, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    What a great post, MBW! Funny that I read it right after pulling out a fresh stack of index cards. No wonder we get along so well! Enjoyed “The Guest Book” greatly. Love your voice!

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