How to write a novel

(A step-by-step guide to finishing a novel in 13 easy years)

  1. Get an idea so original and powerful that it changes who you are as a writer.
  2. Begin planning and execution on your concept. Fall madly in love with the project.
  3. Spend a few months writing like a maniac, amazed at what is coming out of you. Get used to your identity as a writer; this is what you need to be doing!
  4. Receive devastating personal news. Watch your life shatter into jagged pieces.
  5. Make yourself continue writing anyway, even though it’s much more difficult now. Complete a few more chapters while in this state of mind.
  6. Receive even more devastating personal news. Forget about the pieces of your life that you were trying to pick up, because they’re gone.
  7. Force yourself to keep on writing as you try to rebuild. Tell yourself it will be therapeutic.
  8. Stop writing because it’s become too painful and you don’t even know who you are anymore. Resolve to continue your novel as soon as you’ve stabilized.
  9. After a year or so, return to the project. Reread the story so far and fall in love with it again. Throw yourself back into it with delirious abandon.
  10. Discover that the trauma of your personal losses is now deeply ingrained in the emotional context of your novel, and you can’t work on it without reliving it all. Lose your ability to write as the pain and loss overwhelm you.
  11. Set your novel aside again, resolving to return to it as soon as you’ve healed.
  12. Repeat steps 9 through 11 several times. Start and finish a different novel during the in-between times.
  13. Lose the last known backup of your novel while moving to a new home.
  14. Spend what feels like eternity (I dont know how long it actually was) feeling empty at the loss of it. Wonder if you can ever do something that meaningful again.
  15. Discover a backup of your novel at the bottom of a drawer. Be elated to find that it was the most recent backup, and it contains ALL the work you did.
  16. Dread to read it. You wrote it years ago. It might be terrible.
  17. Find that it’s not terrible. See that in many places your writing was clever, and experimental, and fearless. Yes, it has problems, but they are worth fixing. Dare to start getting excited about it. 
  18. Find that you’ve used a sci-fi concept that has come true since you imagined it, and is now fairly ordinary to readers. Figure out what to do about that.
  19. Dive into it with all your energy, hoping with all your being that the pain of your past won’t defeat you this time. Decide you’ll power through it even if it puts you in the hospital or kills you. Feel unbearably lucky to have lived long enough to get the opportunity.
  20. Discover that you’ve underestimated the amount of work it will take to finish it, because you have learned a LOT about writing since you started it.
  21. Do the fucking work.
  22. Finish the beast.
  23. Celebrate like you’ve never celebrated.

I’m now nearing the completion of Step 21. Want to join me for 23?


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