So You’ve Decided To Write A Novel – Here are 7 Tips To Get Started

7 Tips for Preparing to Write A Novel

For Pantsers AND Plotters and #NaNoPrepMo

Whether you’ve just decided it’s finally time to write that book you’ve been thinking about on your own or you’ve been bit by the NaNoWriMo bug, starting a novel can be intimidating!

It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants), a plotter, or something in between, there’s still stuff you can do to prepare yourself before you start writing.

Plotters, you have your to-do lists, but even you can get stuck. Here are some things that may be on your list, and a few things that might not be.

Pantsers and plantsers? You might not want to do all the planning that the plotters do. You might be just along for the journey to see where the story takes you. BUT! That doesn’t mean you have to be left out of writing prep!

That said, here are my top 7 writing prep activities.

1. Outlining

Clearly, the plotter’s first choice and the fear of every pantser, but outlining can be as extensive — or as sparse — as you want it to be.

– You can have 10 pages of notes for every chapter
– A basic “[Main character] wants [objective] but [obstacle] stands in their way.” statement
– Just pre-write a query letter!
– Even most pantsers find having a starting point and an end target at least moderately useful.

(Here’s my level of outlining)

2. Beat Sheets!

The cousin of outlining. These help you check your pacing — whether you’re going for a 3 act, 4 act, or another sort of structure.

Jami Gold has a great collection of Beat Sheet Worksheets to help you plan out your story’s emotional arcs AND plot arcs.

OR — save the beat sheet and use it when you’re pantsing to decide what to do next!

3. Mood Boards

Gathering together pictures that suggest your characters, your settings, your wardrobe, and your world.

You’d think this would be most helpful for those writers who are more visually oriented — literally helping them see their story. But, my imagination isn’t very visual, and I say that mood boards can be INVALUABLE for those of us whose imaginations are more conceptual.

If you have a vague idea in your head of a character’s look or the settings, you can google image search until you have something that works for your story — then you can use that image to help describe your people, places, and things to your readers.

4. Character Sheets

It’s official. I’m a geek. I’ve been playing D&D and its cousins since 2000. But even if it’s not a true ‘character sheet’, writing out your characters strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits is very helpful when you’re deciding during the story how your character will react.

You can use things like Myers-Briggs designations, star signs, or zodiacs to help flesh out your character and keep them consistent.

5. Creating a List of Names

I can spend weeks picking the perfect name for a main character. During NaNoWriMo, I’ve definitely lost hours of writing time trying to come up with names for characters, places, and my magic system.

Two NaNos ago, I decided to save a lot of time by just giving everyone placeholder names: Alice, Bob, Carol… I went through the entire alphabet and ended up naming the enemy country Canadia. It helped me accomplish a NaNo-and-a-half, but it had consequences (yep! 75k!). The editing this is going to require has me scared off starting that rewrite. Don’t make my mistake.

This year? I intend to have a list of at least 20 random names that fit my story and world that I can grab-and-go with once I start writing. So far I’ve got 6.

6. World Building

Is your story happening in the real world or a made up one? Do the laws of physics work the same?

Having a good idea of how far apart places are, the transport times, and key landmarks is super helpful.

I spent a couple hours last NaNoWriMo figuring out how far it was from Loxley to Nottingham. And the number of times I’ve redrawn my fantasy map because of average pilgrim walking paces versus bicycle paces… is more than twice.

I also have 2 moons in one of my worlds, so I keep an eye on the tides and the moon fullness in regards to the aforementioned travel times. It can get tricky!

7. Minimize Real World Distractions

I’ve mentioned this before, but for me? Having a stocked fridge, clean clothes, and straightened house when NaNoWriMo starts means I can ignore those things for longer while I dedicate more time to writing.

It usually takes a week or so after a good clean for my house to start really getting piled up.

I try to keep my calendar light, preload the Panera app on my phone for write-ins (getting hungry? Keep writing and the food will come to me), and work hard to build up momentum. Once I’ve got a good streak going, meeting that daily word target, I don’t want to break it.


And that’s it! Are you starting a new novel? Tell me about it!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Feel free to friend me: morganhazelwood!

( Are you new to NaNoWriMo or an old hat? )


So You Finished Your Rough Draft, Now What?

Nano is over and with that, the urgency for many writers seems to dissipate once they hit December. For me? The first week of December is often time to catch up on all the chores I let slide while trying to get my words in.

This year, I’m also adjusting to a new sleep schedule for the new job I started the last week of November. And prepping my home for the holidays my family celebrates…

But what about my writing? What about yours?

The Next Steps

Well, the next step depends on you. What do you want to do next? There are two main options and either could be right for you.

First – Take time off

In years past, I’ve taken December off and started again, to finish my work-in-progress (WIP), in January. For many of us, with family obligations or kids having breaks, December is a hard time to create new habits and is rough on the old ones. Be kind to yourself an give yourself permission to take the month off. Or to only work on your writing when you have free time, rather than scheduling everything else around your writing.

Maybe you just need an afternoon. Maybe you only write during NaNoWriMo. Most of us fit somewhere in between.

Second – Decide what your next project should be

NaNoWriMo has a traditional goal – write 50,000 words in 30 days. Not everyone follows those goals, but they’re there if you want to.

But November is over. That means it’s time for you to decide what you should work on next.

Finish your novel

So, if you were writing a rough draft in November, whether you won or not, it’s likely that you still have a ways to go to finish your novel!

Some of you wrote 100,000 words or 500,000 words, some of you barely squeaked out those 50,000 words, and some of you… well, you made some progress. You put words together on paper and you’ve got more than you started November with. Be proud of yourself.

But. Modern novels, at least YA and Adult novels are longer than 50,000 words. usually, they START at 65,000 words, and more fantasy things with a lot of world building can be as long as 120,000 words.

There’s a good chance your story isn’t done yet. In which case, your next project might be finishing your NaNoWriMo project!

Edit your novel

Perhaps you’re like me, this year. For the first time ever, I managed to FINISH my rough draft during NaNo. (With 50,612 words, but still.)

Maybe you’ve decided that you’ve written a novella and you’re okay with that.

Either way, it probably shouldn’t see the light of day, or even the eyes of a supportive alpha (pre-beta-reader) before you’ve done a read through and edit.

While gunning for word count and trying to skip editing, writers often end up with confusing word choices, sentences that are out of place, and plot holes you could drive a tank through.

If nothing else, do a line edit to make sure your story is readable. If possible, do a light revision, checking the pacing, verifying that the story order makes sense, and minimizing plot holes.

Start something new

Maybe you’re sick and tired of that novel from November.

The deadlines and panic, (or simply the concept itself), sucked the enthusiasm and joy from the story for you, leaving a lifeless husk of a story on your hard drive.

Maybe you pushed the Nano inhibition limits and are left with something you never want to see again.

Maybe you didn’t even do NaNoWriMo.

Maybe you just need a break.

In any case? Were there any other story ideas that started flirting with you? Trying to distract you from your NaNo project? And ideas that have been rolling around in the back of your head for days, or weeks, or years?

Go ahead and give it life!

Finish something old

Did you abandon or neglect an older project in favor of the new and shiny project for NaNoWriMo? Or choose to take a break for NaNo so you could come back to it fresh?

Maybe NaNo had nothing to do with it, but you still have that old story, sitting in a drawer somewhere.

Now could be the time to pull it out, reread it to see where it’s at and decide. Is it worth saving? What does it need? Massive revisions? Line edits? The ending written? A new first chapter and a coat of fresh paint?

Third – Set Achievable Goals (either now, or after a break)

So, now you’ve decided what you’re working on next. How do you find that momentum you had during NaNoWriMo? You set yourself some achievable goals.

For finishing your novel or starting something new

Word count goals, as you may have discovered, are helpful.

Outside of NaNoWriMo, I’ve usually set a smaller goal than 50,000 words. Obviously, your goal should be based on your life, your writing speed, and your availability.

  • I’ve aimed for 10,000 words before and found that actually a bit short–as soon as I started getting into the writing flow, my words for the week would be done.
  • 20,000/25,000 was a manageable goal with downtime, but steady progress. In which I could take a few days off.

For editing or finishing something old

I spend a lot more time editing than writing. But editing per word is hard to track, you’re adding and deleting… so what sort of measurement can you do? Editing pages!

Even if you delete some, or add some. You can still see how far through the original draft you’ve come.

  • I’ve aimed for editing 10 pages per editing session.
    • Some evenings I’ve managed 3 editing sessions before bed.
    • There have been times I’ve managed 1 editing session in a week.
  • Don’t forget to take the time to plot.
    • Go through your novel, summarize each chapter, and look at the big picture.
    • How is the pacing?
    • Are there plot holes?
  • Feel free to take time off from story editing and just do search-replace style editing.
    • Look for crutch words(very/just) or passive voice (am/is /was/were /be/being /been) and see if you can replace with stronger verbs.
      • Note: I usually try to halve my count for every overused word, so I keep track. I like metrics, I may have mentioned before.

What Is Morgan Up To?

Now, shortly before NaNoWriMo, I got the most treasured type of rejection letters on my novel, “Flesh and Ink”. The one with feedback. That I had a good idea how to implement!

So, my plan for this month is to write a new first chapter and update the old first chapter to work with it. Beginnings are hard. Pacing is tricky, and since my story is fantasy, it’s hard to set the scene, describe the stakes and consequences, and introduce you to the characters and world without feeling like I’m cramming everything in, and sprinkling info-dumps on top…

Wish me luck! And best of luck with your next project.

What 1 Writer’s NaNoWriMo Looked Like

What My NaNoWriMo Looked Like This Year

On this, the last day of November, the last day of NaNoWriMo, I will start my day with a mere 1,500 words left to write.

I’ve tried to fit my words without having them take over my life and the NaNoWriMo word sprints are really helping with that. I’ve done 21 shared word sprints this month, averaging about 500 words per 15-minute sprint. So long as I have a good 15-minute break before I try to start writing after a sprint, I’m pretty okay.

But then? I look at my notes and see that last November? I wrote a sequel to my original novel. And…I not only wrote it, but I wrote a Nano-and-a-half worth of words. 75,000 words.

This year? My story did not flow that easily.

Was it the characters? Was it the world building?

The tense, the adherence to the basic Robin Hood timeline that stymied me? I don’t know.

Maybe I’m just calling it quits too soon?


They say that every story is different and I’ve come to truly appreciate the truth in that.

So, let’s look back at my NaNo writing this month.

  • October 28th, I went to the Northern Virginia NaNoWriMo kick-off meeting, seeing many familiar faces from last year and several new ones.
  • November 1st, I started writing [Finding Robin], a gender-bent Robin Hood story that’s been percolating in my head for a few years.
  • November 5th, I made it to the local library where a 1-5pm write-in was occurring. It was full of people typing, many with headphones, making progress. The silence was overwhelming and intimidating. I spent 80% of it researching. A nano friend showed up halfway through to share my table. The last 20 minutes of the write-in were spent chatting with those who were left, mostly us moderate extroverts.
  • November 9th, I got a personal laptop so I could participate in write-ins without abusing my work laptop. And because I’d put in my 2 weeks notice already…
  • November 16th, one of my sisters and her husband visited me from the West Coast. I still squeezed my words in!
  • November 17th was my last day of work, at the company I’ve been with for over 2 years.
  • November 20th, I made it to a Panera write-in. I was on the early side, only 1 person was already there. I ate, and the crowd started filtering in. It was full of people who knew each other. Reunions between peeps who were only in town for the holiday break. I sprinted a few times, got my words in, then bailed. They were friendly, but I had a Justice League plans!
  • According to my calendar, Thanksgiving week was going to be light, leaving plenty of time to write. In reality? It was pretty durn full!
  • Culminating Saturday, November 25th, I ended up overbooking and while visiting friends from out of town, midnight hit with me having gotten NO words done. It’s the only day I’d missed all month.
  • November 26th, I spent 8 hours trying to get 2 days worth of NaNo in… (Have I mentioned I’m not a sprinter?)
  • November 27th, I started my new job. Closer to friends and family, and cheaper housing. With a MUCH earlier wake-up time.

Tonight, I will finish NaNoWriMo2017. This month, despite my missed day and having written far past bedtime more than once to finish my words, I’m still on schedule.

Did you do NaNoWriMo this month?

If so, how well did your words flow?
Do you write better in your own world or established worlds?
Let me know!

How To Write: You Do You!

How To Write: You Do You!

The Many Writing Proverbs

There’s a caveat that goes with pretty much all writing advice about what you SHOULD do, and it goes like this: “unless that doesn’t work for you.”

It seems to go hand-in-hand with the advice about what you SHOULDN’T do’s caveat, which is “if you do it well enough, you can break all the rules.”

‘Cause, remember, all the people giving this advice swear by the adage, “if you know how to write a book, you know how to write that one book.”

I can spout off writing proverbs and rules all day:

  • Write every day – unless that doesn’t work for you.
  • Avoid adverbs, use stronger verbs instead – unless you can make it work
  • Passive voice must be avoided at ALL COSTS- unless you can make it work

So, I’ve been spouting all this advice. How about I tell you how I’m actually doing?


My Nano Status

So far, this NaNoWriMo, I’m keeping up with my words. Getting over the daily target, sometimes by the skin of my teeth, never really getting ahead. The steady, forward progress works for me. I’ve got that 1-2 hours a day to devote (or carve out) for it, and I make it work.

What If You Can’t Find The Time?

“Write Every Day” – writing proverb

Many of you can’t find that sort of time reguclocklarly. Instead, you carve out larger chunks once or twice a week and slug your way through thousands of words in a go.

I’ve written over 3,000 words in a day maybe 3 times ever? That’s not how I work. But if you can make it work–more power to you!

Some of you can only find 10-15 minute blocks, on your lunch break, on your commute, whenever you can squeeze in some words. I’ve done that here and there, but I know how hard it is to keep it coherent and track your line of thinking. I’m impressed by you!

What If You Can’t Write Enough Words?

“Write until you hit your word count target” – writing ‘proverb’

(Okay, that one might just be an adage of NaNoWriMo, not actually a writing proverb.)

Many of you can’t write fast enough or find the right words, and the monthly word target is slowly slipping further and further from your stalled out word count. Research is distracting you. Or the next plot point is eluding you.

Don’t be discouraged! Is your word count higher than it was last week? Then you’re still moving forward!

Some people revise the target and make it work in their lives, not outside of it. And that’s okay.

Maybe 30 in 30 is right for you

Some people are aiming for 30,000 words in 30 days, not the full 50k. And that’s still pretty durn impressive.

Is 5 in 5 a thing?

Maybe it should be.

Is 5,000 words in 5 weeks something you could be proud of?

It’s still 5,000 more words than you started the month with. (Plus, it’s a nice round number with a cutesy rhyme, how can you go wrong with that?!)

Should You Participate In Writing Sprints?

Writing sprints are kinda a new thing for me. I’d ‘participated’ in them once or twice before. Some rando on twitter would say ‘go’, and then ‘stop’. Or I’d time myself, but there was no accountability.

This time, I checked out the NaNoWriMo Word Sprints and set up a couple with friends. Usually, starting them at the nearest quarter-hour without much prep time.

I’ve done about 7 now and I’m REALLY liking them. Tonight, I got my words in before this post with 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off, with a little bit of clean-up and internet browsing in my downtime.

I create the sprint, share it, and then go. I’ve got a set stop time– that seems just a little too long, a touch of competitiveness — both with any other sprinters who clicked my link to join the sprint and with my past records of how many words I got in that time frame before, and usually, in the 3-5 minutes after creating the sprint, before it starts, I think ahead about half-a-scene’s worth, to decide exactly where the scene is going.

When my computer cheers for me to start, I’m ready.

I’ve decided 15 minutes is the sweet spot. Any longer and I’d be taking breaks, I know. I’m already starting to flounder and contemplate where to go next. At 10 minutes though, I’m still in the middle of my initial thought.

But for some, sprints are stressful. Or discouraging when you see other people’s word counts. Maybe when you’re online doesn’t synch up with your friends? No matter your reason, it’s perfectly fine to write without sprints.

(Note: Friend me here and I’ll post my sprints on my fb page here so you can join me!)

What About Write-ins?

Some people love them. The focus on writing, everyone there working on the adult version of toddler parallel-play. Being surrounded by people who understand the writing bug and are focused on their writing can be very invigorating for some people’s writing.

Some Write-ins are chatty and social and next-to-no-words get written.

Some write-ins are silent, and you hear everyone typing away while you’re sitting there wordless, feeling like a loser.

Some people enjoy the time out of the house, the change of scenery, and make it work for them.

Personally? I like the slightly chatty, but mostly focused ones, where I can get cookies to snack on.

Hating write-ins doesn’t make you a bad NaNite. Loving them doesn’t mean you’re suddenly an extrovert.* (P.S. Extroverts can be writers, too! Ask me how I know.)

musical-notes-music-notes-symbols-clip-art-free-clipart-images-2Writing Soundtracks!

Some people love soundtracks. They almost spend more prep time making their playlist than writing any sort of outline.

Some people enjoy playlists. I like to hit Pandora, find a seed-song that sets the mood for me, and roll from there.

Some people can’t write to certain kinds of music. Maybe they find music with words they can sing with too distracting. Maybe musicals? Maybe classical? Find what you can and can’t work with.

Some people like rocking out. Some people prefer to jam privately, with headphones.

And some? Some can’t do BLEEP with background noise. They need silence to focus. And that’s okay! [I totally get this! I can’t edit to music, I need the silence to think.]

In Conclusion

There are as many ways to write as there are writers. You do you.

P.S. Check out my NaNoWriMo Posts from the Past!

Maintaining Your Writing Momentum
Tips For Finding The Time and The Words
So You Want To Be A Writer
Twas The Week Before NaNo
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
An Outline To Write By (for Plantsers and Plotters)
How to win NaNoWriMo
3 Things That Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo early
Craft Vs Professionalism

NaNoWriMo: Maintaining Your Writing Momentum

Maintaining Your Writing Momentum

Well Begun Is Half Done

We’re just over a week into NaNoWriMo at this point and whatever excitement and glory and energy you brought into this project are likely starting to burn out. This is turning into, maybe not quite a chore, but your words are starting to feel like a promise that must be kept, an obligation.

With 3 weeks left, even those who’ve gotten off course know that there’s still hope to get their words in, but now is the time to buckle down.

If you started off with a sprint and you’re ahead of the game? Don’t get too cocky! Remember the tortoise and the hare. See if you can keep your lead (or grow it), leaving wiggle-room for any impediments life decides to throw your way.

If you’ve been making your daily or weekly word count goal, sometimes that can be the inspiration and momentum you need to keep going. Once I have a streak of check-marks, I have added motivation to not miss a day.

This is the point where writers who only write when inspired often drop out. Inspiration can get you in the game, but for most of us, it’s not going to get us over the finish line.

The only way to get those words out is butt-in-chair. Without sitting down to write, you’re not gonna make it.

Best of luck!