A Look Inside the Writing of a Novel

Photo by John Sanderson of Sanderson Images

It happens in long stretches of disciplined days, where much goes according to plan. It happens in late evenings when the children are finally asleep and Maile is writing in the bed beside me. It happens while I’m waiting at long athletic practices and on the front porch and sometimes in the early mornings when it’s only Leo and me sitting at the dining room table.

This is how a novel gets written: in the cracks and crevices of an ordinary life. In both scheduled and unexpected bursts, until 100 words pile up to 1,000 words, and chapters form and arcs are fulfilled and characters emerge while 80,000 or 90,000 or 100,000 words come together, like atoms gathering.

When I wrote Light from Distant Stars, I decided to keep a journal every day. I wrote a short entry each morning before my novel-writing time, sometimes about life, sometimes about writing. It was a warm-up for me, a time to stretch my mind before diving into that day’s work.

I would like to give this journal to you – all you have to do is preorder Light from Distant Stars from any of the following book sellers:

Aaron’s Books, Lititz, PA – call 717-627-1990
Baker Bookhouse
Barnes and Noble
Hearts and Minds Bookstore 

Then, enter your information here:


…and the PDF of my journal entries will magically appear in your inbox. It’s not available anywhere else. You can’t buy it. The only way you can get it right now is by preordering Light from Distant Stars.

Also, everyone who preorders will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card to the bookstore of their choice and a signed copy of four of my other books: The Day the Angels Fell, The Edge of Over There, Once We Were Strangers, and How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp!

I hope you enjoy the journal! Here’s a little excerpt:

Is there ever a perfect time to begin writing a novel?

For at least the last month or two, I had today, January 8th, earmarked as the day I would begin writing my next novel. Mondays and Fridays will always be difficult days for me to get my writing in – I’m in between co-writing jobs at the moment, which means I need to drive for Uber and Lyft on those two days to make some extra money. Making enough to feed six children is no joke. But I planned on getting up early, writing my at-least-1000-words for the day, and then moving on to ridesharing.

Is there ever a perfect day to begin writing a novel?

Our younger two took longer than usual to fall asleep last night, so I didn’t fall asleep early, as planned. Leo was up multiple times in the night. My (ambitious for me) plan to wake up at five o’clock faded quickly. I had imagined the perfect morning – me, sitting in a quiet living room, children asleep, radiators hot, my fingers gliding over the keys. Instead it was a chaotic morning, making breakfast, waking up the older kids, folding laundry, and trying to get out the door to an 8:30am meeting with a friend.

Is there ever a perfect day to begin writing a novel?

I’ve never run a marathon, but is there ever a perfect day to run a marathon? Do you ever wake up to perfect temperatures, zero mental and emotional qualms, a body that feels ready, all after a perfect night’s sleep? I suppose it happens. I suppose there will be days that go perfectly during the writing of this novel. I suppose.

But this morning was a good reminder to me. I must fit the writing into not-so-perfect days. I must find a way to write through the self-doubt and hesitations. If I am going to write this novel, there can be precious few things I put ahead of it. So, even on a morning that doesn’t go as planned, I push everything else back. Everything else must wait until I get my words written for this day. This is the cost of writing a novel. This is the price I must be willing to pay for the next three months. Four months. Six months.

Now, I begin. And beginning a novel is one of the most wondrous things in the world.

6 Replies to “A Look Inside the Writing of a Novel”

  1. I caught this: “It happens in long stretches of disciplined days, where much goes according to plan.” And sometimes it doesn’t!
    This is an accurate description of writing a memoir too, as I’m planning to launch Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl in September.

    Great reflection, Shawn!

  2. I enjoyed this excerpt so much and look forward to reading the rest. I may borrow your idea to journal the process, as I restart the writing of my novel later this summer. Thanks for the inspiration. I’m honored to be part of the launch of your book!

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