A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Your First Novel – How to Start

woman sitting on a bench and wrotong a book

Starting your first novel can feel like setting out to build a house from scratch. You know you need a solid foundation and a good plan, but where do you even start? As a literature graduate, I’ve been right where you are—excited but nervous about transforming ideas into a full-fledged novel.

This guide is all about making that process easier. It’s designed to take you through each step, from sketching out your initial ideas to putting the finishing touches on your manuscript. No need to feel overwhelmed; think of this as your blueprint for success, helping you piece together your story one step at a time.

Ready to get started?

Write Your First Novel

Step 1: Conceptualize Your Story

The initial stage of writing a novel involves deciding on the genre and theme. Select a genre that captures your interest, such as romancemystery, or science fiction. This choice will shape the framework and style of your writing. The theme, whether it be love, justice, exploration, or survival, serves as the central pillar around which your plot revolves.

After setting the genre and theme, craft a unique story idea. Imagine a plot that vividly brings the theme to life, filled with characters who will drive this plot forward and embody the central theme. This process also includes thorough research within your chosen genre.

By reading widely, you gain insights into common tropes and understand what resonates with readers, thereby informing your writing with depth and authenticity.

Step 2: Outline Your Plot

Organize the structure of your narrative. A commonly used method is the three-act structure: the first act introduces the characters and sets up the initial conflict; the second act develops the conflict with various challenges and subplots, enriching the narrative; the final act resolves the conflict and ties up all loose narrative threads.

Further, develop your characters and settings in detail. Create comprehensive profiles for each major character, exploring their motivations, backgrounds, and relationships. Concurrently, design the settings of your novel, ensuring they enhance and complement the story’s mood and plot.

Planning chapters is another vital component. Break your story into manageable chapters, each designed to progressively build the plot and develop characters. Outline the main events of each chapter to maintain a smooth, logical flow in the narrative.

Step 3: Begin Writing

writing with a pen

Set clear writing goals to maintain progress. Establish daily or weekly targets for word count and dedicate specific times for writing sessions to build consistency and momentum. Start writing the first draft without worrying about achieving perfection.

The focus should be on laying down the fundamental elements of the story. Allow your characters and plot to evolve naturally during this phase, as flexibility can lead to significant creative discoveries.

Step 4: Revise and Edit

After completing the first draft, take a break to return to your manuscript with a fresh perspective. Self-edit by looking for inconsistencies in the plot, any holes in the storyline, and opportunities for deeper character development. Seeking feedback from trusted readers or a writing group can provide new insights into your work.

Be receptive to constructive criticism, and be prepared to make necessary changes based on this feedback. It may also be beneficial to hire a professional editor, especially one who specializes in developmental editing to refine story structure and character issues, ensuring your manuscript reaches a professional standard.

Step 5: Prepare for Publication

prepare book for publication

Weigh the benefits and challenges of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. For traditional publishing, research potential agents and publishers. For self-publishing, explore various platforms and understand their processes. Finalize your manuscript by incorporating all revisions and feedback, and ensure it adheres to industry standards.

As you prepare for publication, develop a marketing plan that includes leveraging social media, arranging book readings, and conducting interviews to build interest and anticipation. Also, focus on creating an attractive cover and writing a compelling book description that captures the essence of your novel and entices potential readers.

Obstacles You Might Encounter (And how To Overcome Them)

Developing a Consistent Writing Routine

Life’s responsibilities often interfere, and procrastination can take hold, especially when writing feels tough.

  • Establish daily or weekly word count targets that fit your schedule.
  • Try to write at the same time every day to develop a habit.
  • Also, having a specific place to write can help cue your brain that it’s time to focus on writing.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

At some point, most writers face a moment when the words just won’t flow. This can be daunting and may cause some to question their skills or their project’s value.

  • Sometimes a change of scenery can inspire creativity.
  • Prompts, free writing, or even writing out of order can jump-start your process.
  • Give yourself permission to write poorly; you can always revise later.

Plot Development Issues

You might find your plot has significant holes, or your narrative may lack the tension needed to keep readers engaged.

  • Use tools like storyboarding or a plot outline to visualize and adjust your narrative structure.
  • Getting early input on your plot can help you see where there are gaps or pacing issues.
  • Also, seeing how other authors handle the plot can provide insights into your own storytelling techniques.

Character Development

Your characters need to evolve and grow throughout the book, and ensuring they are relatable and realistic can sometimes be a struggle.

  • Develop backgrounds, motivations, and relationships for your characters outside of the novel.
  • Sometimes, thinking about what your character would realistically do next can help deepen your story.
  • Base character traits and growth on real people to add depth and realism.

Feedback and Criticism


Learning to accept feedback graciously and use it to improve your writing is crucial but often difficult for first-time authors. Try to view your work as a separate entity and understand that critique of the work isn’t a critique of you.

Endurance and Self-Doubt

Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Maintaining motivation over months or even years can be exhausting. Self-doubt may creep in, making you question whether you should continue.

Keep track of your progress and celebrate writing milestones. Remind yourself why you started this journey and what you aim to achieve.

The Revision Process

Many writers enjoy the initial creation phase but find the revision process challenging. It can be tedious to go back through your work, make cuts, and refine your text.

  • Tackle revisions one chapter at a time or even one scene at a time.
  • Use editing tools -grammar checkers, style editors, and readability tests can help you see your work with fresh eyes.
  • Think about hiring professional help. Sometimes, a professional editor can provide the necessary insight and guidance to elevate your manuscript.


Whether you choose traditional publishing or self-publishing, each path comes with its own set of challenges, from finding an agent to understanding self-publishing platforms.

  • Educate yourself. Learn about the different paths to publication and what each entails.
  • Prepare for rejection. Understand that rejection is a normal part of the publishing process and doesn’t reflect your worth as a writer.
  • Explore all options. From traditional to self-publishing, find the path that best suits your book and your career goals.

To wrap things up…

It’s a big step, turning your ideas into a structured story that others can enjoy. Remember, every novelist began with just a vision and the courage to write it down. So keep pushing through the challenges and revisions.

Writing has a lot of ups and downs, but the satisfaction of finishing your story is well worth the effort. Stay persistent, keep refining, and take pride in knowing that you’re creating something truly your own.