Five Writing Lessons I’ve Learned in the First Half of Writing a Novel

41,861 words written in 42 sessions spread out over a two-month time frame, my novel progresses. I am over half way, whatever comfort that might bring.

I think it’s the plot that keeps me writing this time – I have such belief in the idea and the concept that I feel I have to follow it through. If it doesn’t work, it will simply be my inability to pull it off, my lack of skill, or my inexperience. The story is strong – my writing is the wild card. This both motivates and scares me.

But no matter how the finished product turns out, I’m learning lessons along the way. Five, to be specific:

1) 1000 words a day is a worthy goal, both ambitious enough to stretch me and feasible enough to keep me without excuse.

2) I am not an outliner. Every day I sit down to write, excited to see where the story will go and what will happen next.

3) The key to staying present in a story is consistency and quality – for me this means 1000 words, at least 5 days a week.

4) When I get stuck, I go small – Anne Lamott’s one-inch picture frame comes to mind.

5) And most importantly, STOP LOOKING BACK. Too many times I want to go back and rework something, rewrite a chapter, change a character. This time around, I make note of the changes I want to make but I JUST KEEP WRITING. This, I think, is the sole reason this story is still going. Too much going back, too much revision-in-action, steals the life out of the process, stalls my momentum, and eventually kills the story. This also gives me something to look forward to doing in the second draft.

Have you ever wanted to write a book? Have an idea for a novel, or maybe the frame work of how to tell your own life story, stuck in your head?

Don’t worry about the mountain of publication off in the distance.

Set regular goals which suit your lifestyle and still stretch you.


What are you working on right now? What are you learning through the process?

14 Replies to “Five Writing Lessons I’ve Learned in the First Half of Writing a Novel”

  1. Almost all of my energy right now is devoted to getting my business to the point it can support me. If and when that happens, writing will take over my evening free time and I can work on the novel I’ve been tinkering with for a couple years. Right now I do my writing where and when I can, which makes focusing and making any actual progress nearly impossible. I need more hours in the day.

  2. Shawn, that is exactly the kick in the butt I needed. I have started a novel — a fiction thriller, which, like you the story line is excellent I think, but I have been so discouraged re my writing that I have not been back to it for two weeks. This was the encouragement I needed. Off to do at least 1000 words.

  3. Thanks for sharing this post. I have found also that it helps me to be committed to writing everyday to keep going even when I may not feel like it. It is great to have a goal set before you so you have to keep doing it.

  4. Just enough light for the page I’m on–sage advice, Shawn. Because I usually think so much further ahead, and consequently get overwhelmed.

  5. These 5 tips are great! although I am quite the outliner, sometimes probably to a fault. When I get stuck I outline. I think I should try your tip of “going small” when I get stuck, see where it leads!

    1. Outlining definitely works for some people, but my best method for getting unstuck is to zero in on one detail and go from there. Thanks for the comment!

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