Which is the best way to write your first novel?

As a debut author, as well as a professional editor and proofreader, the different approaches authors adopt when writing their books is fascinating. I am so fascinated that I published a whole blog series about it! Working with and connecting with so many authors recently got me thinking: if you are a new author, which is the best way to write your first novel?

The Experiment

Trying to understand the different writing processes in a more in-depth way, I intend to approach my novel experiment analytically, with myself as the metaphorical guinea pig. Writing your first novel can be a huge undertaking. However, my experiment is to try to write two books at the same time, using different processes for each. I will measure their success in terms of:

  • Total time taken to write;
  • Publishers’ acceptance or rejections;
  • Publishing costs and time frames;
  • Marketing success or failures;
  • Total sales within a set period.

This list is not exhaustive and may be added to during the experiment!

The Two Novels

I began writing Novel One during NaNoWriMo 2018. Novel Two was created in January 2019. I am aiming to finish them both during 2019 – exact deadline to be confirmed!

These are the ways they are going to differ:

Which is the best way to write your first novel?

Novel One is my own original structure. Involving shifting timelines, non-linear chapters and six intertwining protagonists, it is a psychological thriller containing dark themes and graphic sex and violence. Written in past tense from a 3rd person omniscient point of view, the reader is party to all thoughts, feelings and actions of all the characters.

I began writing it as a pantser with no set plan at the beginning. 17 (short) chapters have been written so far. I re-read and edit chapters as I write more, so it is constantly being tweaked and reshaped.

Novel Two is a deconstructed structure. It follows a linear timeline and one leading, unreliable protagonist. The story is written from her first person point of view, in the present tense. It is slightly lighter than Novel One and does not contain extremely graphic sex or violence. It will probably fit best in the mystery genre.

I spent three hours creating the storyline and characters before tightly outlining 35 chapters prior to starting to write. I try not to re-read or edit chapters as I write more. Instead, I simply pick up where I left off with each writing session. At the time of publishing this blog I have written 10 complete chapters since 31st January 2019, averaging about 800 words per day to achieve a total word count, to date, of just over 9,000 words.

Initial Observations

Novel One started brilliantly. Although I didn’t hit the 50,000 word target to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo, I have written over 15,000 words so far. Constructing a character crossover grid to remind me who does/says what to whom and when was also essential! I am conscious I am doing too much telling and not enough showing. Interestingly, it is writing Novel Two that has led me to this observation.

Dialogue doesn’t feature in Novel One anywhere near as much as Novel Two. This is something I am going to work on as I feel it would add depth to my characters’ interactions. However, I am thoroughly enjoying writing nastier characters and darker themes in Novel One, despite their actions and motivations being completely removed from my own reality!

As a planner rather than a pantser by heart, Novel Two is much easier to write so far. The first person viewpoint for one main characters lends itself perfectly to the mystery genre. I can plant clues and red herrings and weave sub-plots throughout, without giving too much away about the other characters.

My logical, methodical brain really enjoys the linear storytelling. I know more or less what I am going to write in advance due to all the chapters being outlined. Of course, I am fleshing out or altering certain details as I go, but the framework is already in place. The fact that Novel Two contains slightly lighter themes than Novel One means I am not having to censor myself as much. Therefore, the words and sentences and paragraphs seem to be forming more easily.

Intended Outcomes

Write a book.

The driving force behind this experiment is my lifelong desire to write a novel and hold a copy of my own book in my hands! Best seller lists are not necessarily my aim; I just hope to write books that people enjoy reading. As an obsessive reader myself, there really is nothing that compares to being enraptured by a great story. I believe in the power of both fiction and nonfiction books unreservedly.

Become a better writer.

This is important to me. By writing two different books using different approaches at the same time, I hope to be able to tune into my own writing styles and preferences more quickly. Although I love reading grisly crime thrillers, I may enjoy writing soppy romantic fiction the most eventually – the joy is in the journey! I am also, maybe quite bizarrely, looking forward to rejections from publishers. Constructive criticism or even general feedback can only benefit me as a writer. I feel rejection is a rite of passage for any future success!

Invest in my business.

As an editor and proofreader, I am viewing this experiment as a valuable training and continuing professional development exercise. Despite my years of English and English Literature teaching experience, and more recent editing and proofreading training, I have not yet experienced what it feels like to personally complete the writing and publishing process. By doing so, I feel it will elevate my expertise further.

Connect with other authors.

By putting this experiment ‘out there’ I hope to connect with and learn from other authors on their debut novel journey (or the trickier second or third book journey!). If I can help or inspire or motivate other writers the same way I have been inspired and motivated by authors myself, the experiment will have had an element of success!

Make some money.

This is last on the list for a reason. Making money is not the driving force behind this experiment at all. I feel compelled to write, so I am going to write regardless, However, if any future books I publish do sell and I earn some money from writing, I will be overjoyed!

My author journey

Join me on this experimental journey! I will be documenting my progress on social media – Facebook and Instagram. Receive notifications of updates on my novel experiment by following my blog here.

If you enjoyed this blog, take a look at my other writing related posts:

5 easy ways to make your first novel better!

5 ways joining a writing group can make you a better writer!

How to write a nonfiction synopsis