How to Write a Novel Redux

It has come to my attention that many readers of my post on how to write a novel are under the misapprehension that it is a description of how I write novels.

It is not.

It wasn’t even an accurate description of how I wrote them back when I wrote it. Lo, those many years ago.1

The novel I’m writing now makes no use of a spreadsheet,2 I did not borrow the plot for it,3 and the first sentence does not begin with “the” or “once upon a time”.4

I wrote the how-to-write-a-novel post for two reasons:

  1. I thought it would be funny. Maureen Johnson had just written a very amusing how-to-write-a-book post and I wanted to try my hand at the genre.
  2. I was also responding to the beginning writers who’d written asking questions about novel writing. Thus I was thinking about what might work for them. A common complaint was that they could never think of a plot. Hence the borrow-a-plot advice. Also they worried about the length and how to organise such a big amount of words. Hence the spreadsheet advice.

Personally, pretty much every novel I’ve written has been produced differently from the previous one. I have no set methods. Though I have lots of madness.

The novel I’m writing right now is the first one I’ve written with Scrivener and that’s making a huge difference to how I’m writing it. I’ve certainly never written a book completely out of order before. The last scene is already written though many from the middle are not. For me that is very strange.

I’m sure there are people who write each novel in the exact same way5 but most of the writers I know say they find each one different and have to figure out how to write it as they go.

I am the same.

  1. Well, okay, almost two years ago. []
  2. Scrivener renders spreadsheets unnecessary. []
  3. I’ve never written a novel that way, though I have written a number of short stories that retell ballads. One you can find here and another one will be published as part of Love is Hell later in the year. []
  4. None of my novels do. Though Magic Lessons begins with “once”. []
  5. There are some who write the exact same novel over and over again. []


  1. brina on #

    Yay! Scrivener love. I love Scrivener so much I want to hug it every time I open the application. Seriously? It has completely organized me, because I always write everything all out of order, but Scrivener makes it magically possible to do this without losing your mind. I want to bow down and worship that lovely program.

    Now I need to go read your fake advice on how to write a novel, though I’m no longer writing one. I’ve switched! To non-fiction! And I’m writing it in two weeks, I swear to all that is holy.

    (Thankfully, I have material from other projects that works perfectly in this one, which will reach the 75,000 word mark easily.)

  2. Gina on #

    How do rite then now?

  3. Gina on #


  4. Gina on #

    How do you Write theM now?

  5. Claudia on #

    What is your madness like? I am trying my hand at writing a shortish novel so I am interested in finding out about different processes.

  6. rebecca on #

    i agree that scrivener is the best thing ever invented in the history of humankind. with the possible exception of tacos.

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