How To Write A Novel

Many people wish to write novels, but don’t know how they should get started. Perhaps they believe that they’re not good enough writers, or that they’re not intelligent enough to do it, but I’m here to tell you: you can do it. This is a person who has wept many, many tears and has spent many sleepless nights brooding over the idea that he was incapable of accomplishing the completion of a novel. I have since written several novels, and am in the process of writing several others (one of which you can read as I write it right now). I’m a busy autistic college student with an anxiety disorder who still writes every day. I’ve been through the gauntlet; I assure you, nothing can stand in your way. If you want to write a novel, do it, and let nothing stop you.

I will guide you through the writing process by telling you the process that I myself use. This is a guide to not only write a novel, but to write a good novel. Writing novels is a talent that anyone can develop, and though it isn’t easy, I guarantee that it is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling things you’ll ever do.

First, you need an idea for your book. Well, where do you get ideas?

The way that get ideas is to simply ask myself, “What sort of book would I like to read?” and then, if that book doesn’t yet exist, I take it upon myself to write it. In fact, that’s the entire reason I write: to read the books I want to read but that don’t yet exist. If, for instance, you want to read a story about two of your favorite characters getting married and sharing a domestic life together, write a book about that. Don’t worry that it’s based on another’s work; fan fiction is literature, just like anything else, and even if you wish to write original novels fan fiction is a great way to hone your writing skills. After all, the best way to improve at writing is to write, no matter what it is you’re writing.

Once you have your idea, plan out your novel. This isn’t a strictly necessary step, and you can skip it if you like, but in my experience you want to do it if you want to save as much time and have as few headaches as possible. Planning out your novel gives you guidelines, establishes the rules of your world, and minimizes frustration. If you have a general idea of where your book’s going to go, you’re going to minimize the time you’re frustratingly wondering what to do next, or revising parts to accommodate your new ideas.

The way I plan out my books is by using the Snowflake Method, which is described in advancedfictionwriting.com. Basically, the Snowflake Method is planning out your plot and creating your characters in the broadest strokes possible, then getting gradually more and more detailed about them until you know everything about them. If you’re writing a book in a science fiction or fantasy setting, I would also recommend establishing ALL of the rules of your world and writing them down before you begin writing the novel itself. That way, your rules will be consistent throughout your work and your readers won’t feel cheated.

Once you have your world built, your characters made, and your plot established, the next step is to sit down and pound out your first draft. There’s no shortcuts or workarounds on this step; the only way to do it is to do it. This is easily the most frustrating and difficult part of the process, but it’s also one of the funnest and most fulfilling, and I can tell you a few ways to make the frustrating parts more bearable:

First of all: relax, don’t worry about quality, and throw your perfectionism out the window. This is from someone who would like nothing more than to pen the apotheosis of human artistic achievement; perfectionism is your single greatest enemy. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way, after spending several years of his life fighting a losing battle to achieve perfection. Don’t worry about quality; there’ll be time for that later. Your only concern for the moment is to write the book. It doesn’t matter if what you write is any good; the only thing that matters is that you’re writing. If you get tired or frustrated, take a break from your manuscript until you’re up to working on it more. Sleep, or have a good meal, or read another book for a while. Take all the time you need; your manuscript will always be there for you when you come back to it.

Next, write as often as you can, and take all the time you need to finish it. Even if you can only write a couple of sentences every day, remember: you’re still making progress, and some of the greatest literary masterpieces took years or even decades to reach completion. You will only fail if you give up.

But most importantly: never, everEVER destroy ANY of your work. If you write anything, no matter how cruddy it is, KEEP IT. Even if you DO give up on it, you must still NEVER destroy or abandon your writings. Once again, take it from someone who learned the very, very hard way: there is NOTHING that will induce more regret and despair than wishing you hadn’t thrown away your work in a fit of despairing rage, weather because you want to keep working on it or because you want to see and remember what you created when you were younger.

Once you finish your book, go back and edit it until you have your final draft. Flesh it out, add details, and refine it until it’s well and truly completed; you’ll know it when it happens.

Once you have your completed book, you can share it with others, put it online, or try to sell it to a publisher. What you do with it doesn’t matter that much, though; what matters is that you’ve done what many others have only dreamt of doing. You have written your very own novel.

Almanac: Confucius

I really wish that people would stop mythologizing other human beings. Just because you respect someone, and just because they were wise, does not mean they are infallible. This is true of anyone; from Jesus to Gandhi to Confucius. In fact, I think that holding our heroes up as paragons of humanity is THE single best way to fall short of their (as well as our own) ideals.

The point of my preamble is this: I have a very, very deep respect for Confucius. However, I am not a Confucian, in that I do not venerate him as a religious figure. However, I do find his philosophy and reasoning to be sound enough to study him, so you could call me a Confucian in that I consider myself a student of his. By the same token you can call me a Christian or a Buddhist, since I am a believer and studier of many of Jesus and Buddha’s philosophies, as well.

I hope that people reading my writings will receive some of the messages I’ve imbued in them. One of the central themes of all of my works is that everyone’s knowledge will always be incomplete. Omniscience is impossible, but it is still an ideal worth striving towards. I think that learning can be a wonderful thing, so I don’t find it tragic in the slightest that we’ll always have something new to discover. After all, to quote Confucius, “Isn’t it a pleasure to learn, and put to practice what is learnt?”

Most of Confucius’s teachings are attributed to him by the Analects, a collection of of his dialogues and other orations. In the Analects, Confucius weaves an ancient form of humanistic philosophy. He, of course, spoke the Golden Rule: “Do not do unto others that which you would not have done unto yourself.” He believed, as I do, that sincerity, education, and patience were some of the greatest keys to living a meaningful life. Of course, he believed in the Chinese folk religion of the time, but as I mentioned before I don’t believe this holds much relevance. So long as you have a basic understanding of human nature, I couldn’t care less what you believe. I also happen to think that no matter how intelligent or wise you are, if you grow up in a religious community, you will tend to be converted (at least initially) into that religion.

One thing I find fascinating about Confucius is that he was considered a “troublemaker” during his own time. His contemporaries believed that he was corrupting the minds of the youth, which closely mirrors the opinions of Socrates’ and Jesus’ contemporaries. Confucius was sent away from a royal court for counseling the monarch against living a hedonistic life, then he proceeded to teach what knowledge he had gathered.

People have always complained about the youth and their new ideas, and have been distrustful of change. That is the way it has always been; there are no “good old days.” Hedonism and backlash against painful truths are things that have always been with humanity. I believe that philosophers of the past are worth studying, not because we should go back to what their times were like, but because they gave examples of how one might find happiness and fulfillment even in such counterproductive circumstances. I am of the belief that mankind has always had the capacity to do the right thing- and that mankind’s nature is to search for another way, because the only way to do the right thing is very difficult.

I doubt that there’s a “secret” to happiness in the traditional sense; the “secret” people are searching for is nothing more than a way to cut corners and move more quickly in a process that is, and can only be, very slow and gradual. This is why I believe patience is such a tremendous virtue; happiness is a journey, not a destination. It is something you must work for at all times in order to maintain it. It might sound trite, or cliched, but that’s because it’s true, as well as something that we humans have always known.

More important than patience, I think, is honesty. Since Confucius’ time, the cultures based on his teachings- Japan and China, notably- have elevated nearly to the point of godhood, and as such have lost sight of his teachings. Or rather, they never had sight of them to begin with, and now that Confucius is dead they can wring any meaning from his words without being corrected by him.

I don’t believe they’re alone in this, however; the Christians of the US are guilty of these sins, as well. Despite the fact that Jesus was more critical of the cruel, hypocritical, and exploitative than anything else, those who purport to follow him often preach hate and intolerance in his name. Greed is all too common among religious leaders, and hypocrisy is par for the course. I wish to say to fire-and-brimstone preachers, “If you want to see depraved, evil men; if you want to see someone who’s going directly to hell; if you want to see someone who is doing the Devil’s work, look no further than your nearest mirror. You are more of an asset to Satan than the vast majority of Satanists are. You spread cruelty and injustice in this world. You make lives worse and create needless suffering here on this earth. If the God you preach of is real, he is the SINGLE evilest thing to ever exist, and you are nothing more than a pawn for his malice.”

Humility is another virtue that Confucius taught. Be humble enough to admit that you don’t know everything, and don’t pretend that you speak on behalf of God. God doesn’t need you to speak for him. God doesn’t need anyone to speak for him. We have the tools necessary to discover the secrets of the universe ourselves; in our hands, eyes, ears, and minds. I am countercultural because cultures are based on dogma; we humans should abandon our cultures and simply search for what the truth is, welcome change, and be willing to admit it when we are wrong.

I deeply respect Confucius and Gandhi and Jesus; not because they are venerable, but because they knew how to achieve happiness. I know because I’m happy, even though my childhood wasn’t. Dogma and fighting over details distracts from the spirit of the ultimate truth: that we are all brothers, and that kindness, wisdom, and patience are the one and only path to happiness and fulfillment.

Here’s to Confucius; a man who, like many other men, uncovered the secret of happiness.