How to Write a Novel

If you type ‘how to write a novel’ into Google you’ll get reams of information about structure, characterisation, editing, publishing and all sorts of technical bits and pieces that are fundamental building blocks for constructing a novel. However, no one really gives advice on the myriad of odd, unnecessary issues you’ll face along the way. There’s a lot of them, but in this post I will focus on just three.

I began my novel about nineteen months ago. Some of you may be thinking I must be close to finishing it by now, but you’d be very, very wrong. I’ve written a first draft and am on the second, but I also blog weekly, have a full-time job, a social life* and generally contend with the chore that is reality. Ideally I’d run away to somewhere remote like Iceland so I could finish writing (tried that and failed) but it never works out the way you want it to. Because of this, one thing that really affects me as a writer is:

The pressure of timing.

I have no deadline, but there is a continual list of to-dos that never seems to decrease in size. I don’t believe it matters whether a writer has the luxury of endless time, no time at all or specific scheduled points in which to finish it – it feels like a long process no matter how you approach it, and some parts just never seem to come about at the right speed. You never get the ideas at the point in which you need them, it always takes six months to finish one pesky sentence that you feel should have taken six seconds and whether you have a looming deadline or not, the pace of completion is just all wrong. Novels skew time. Writing is like being in another timezone that your body never quite acclimatizes too; you’re confused, disorientated and just when you think you’re getting the hang of things it switches around again. Trying to be creative and exist in one perpetual timeline is impossible. Also, Googling things such as ‘How long should it take to finish a novel’ is never helpful, and I’m ashamed to admit just how often I’ve done that.

Not only is your timing all over the place but you also have a billion different voices talking to you at once (figuratively speaking). Your characters, your friends, your enemies, your role models, your hateful self, your doubtful self, your optimistic self, your future accomplished writer interview response self…all of these different voices want to impact your novel in some way. Therefore another huge hurdle in writing for me would definitely be:

Finding one voice.

This isn’t a stylistic or narrative voice that I’ve struggled to find, but the tone and the undercurrent upon which the plot floats atop. I’m talking about finding one path, one idea, one coherent authoritative backdrop to the whole darned thing that will eventually shine through in your synopsis. You read Nineteen Eighty-Four and you can picture one scene, one figure, one emotion. The ‘voice’ is a being unto itself, and to sculpt one when you are being influenced and put off simultaneously by everything and nothing is bloody difficult. The ability to mash together billions of internal screeches and whines into one distinctively unique, sultry warble just plagues me. And that leads me in to the next big problem that wears me down:


This one is very prevalent with writers. Well, you’re not human if you write fiction (or even non-fiction for that matter) and are not continually plagued with uncertainty. I might not doubt the plot, a character or even sometimes an entire chapter, but there is always something wrong, something that could be bettered. What if you changed this for that? What if no one gets it? Questions upon queries upon considerations upon deliberations. I’m doing something I love that also makes me wonder why I’m doing it, and it is intense and nonsensical and emotionally frustrating. I don’t think self-doubt is necessarily the trait of a perfectionist, just the trait of someone who is passionate about what they do.

So before you take on the momentous task of beginning your first novel, consider the less discussed issues you will have to deal with. Or failing that, seek an addiction or therapist to take the edge off.


*Of sorts

E.J. Babb created Dystopic in 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. She is the author of These Unnatural Men, FOREGROUND and The Festivities of Morkwood.

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