Tag Archives: novels

How To Write A Novel: You Need Lots Of Bad Ideas

How To Write A Novel: You Need Lots Of Bad Ideas

Recently an aspiring author in Team Up couldn’t settle on an idea for her mystery novel. “I can’t write a novel,” she told me. “I wish I could, but I can’t come up with any original ideas. Everything I want to write has been done before.”

I asked her to send me a couple of her “unoriginal” ideas. One of them was great. A reality TV show, with six everyday people, shut up in a mansion. The group would perform scenes from famous plays. Each week a performer would be voted out, and someone new would arrive. Then someone in the group is murdered.

“Sounds good to me,” I told my student. “You’ve got lots to work with. Develop your characters, and outline it.”

Here’s the thing. Every idea you think of has probably been done before. So what? You’ve never done it before, and if ten authors wrote the reality-TV idea, they’d come up with ten completely different novels.

Want to write a novel? Get lots of bad ideas

Ideas are everywhere, and of themselves, ideas aren’t worth much. It’s what you do with them that counts.

I love marketing guru Seth Godin’s advice:

“If you generate enough bad ideas a few good ones tend to show up… So the goal isn’t to get good ideas, the goal is to get bad ideas.”

What to do when you can’t get a “good” idea

As Seth suggested, get lots of bad ideas. Then start writing.

If you’re convinced that you can’t get good ideas, try some of these tricks.

1. Try keeping an idea bank

Many writers keep an idea bank. Chances are that you won’t use any of the ideas in your idea bank, but having a cache of ideas will give you confidence on bad days, when you’re convinced that you couldn’t come up with an idea with a gun to your head.

Years ago I formed a habit of carrying index cards with me everywhere. I have stacks of blank cards in my office, in my bedside drawer, in my car, and of course, in my bag. I buy them in bulk.

Every few weeks, I sort through the pile of cards I’ve tossed into a box on my desk. One or two cards get transcribed into Evernote.

2. Good ideas are the ideas which won’t leave you alone

Would I get good ideas if I didn’t have my index card habit?

Maybe, maybe not. Jotting down ideas keeps my mind working even when I’m not writing, so carrying index cards everywhere is useful. When I sit down at my computer to write a couple of thousand words of my novel, I’ve always got a card or two which kickstarts my writing for the day.

You’ll find that when you review an idea card a day or a month later, you’ll know if an idea is a good idea for you — you remember it. Your brain wants to play around with it.

3. “Bad” ideas can become good ideas

I’m always amazed (and so are my students who know this trick) of how ideas can collide and spark something new — something you know you need to write.

You can see this process at work in authors’ novels when you’re reading. For example, I’ve just read The Switch, by bestselling author Joseph Finder. The main character, Tanner, is at an airport when he picks up someone else’s MacBook Air by mistake. The laptop turns out to belong to a senator, who doesn’t want anyone to know that she has classified information on the computer.

I read the novel in a couple of sittings. The two ideas: picking up someone else’s computer by mistake, and the computer has deadly material on it, are simple ideas. You wouldn’t call either of the ideas brilliant. On the other hand, what Finder does with those pedestrian ideas is brilliant.

So, use Seth’s insight. Be happy when you get bad ideas. Before you know it, one or two will combine, and they’ll create a magical idea which inspires you so much that you know that you MUST write it.

Have fun. 🙂

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Nonfiction Ebooks Goldmine: Write and Sell Nonfiction Ebooks In 24 Hours Or Less

Nonfiction Ebooks Goldmine: Write and Sell Nonfiction Ebooks In 24 Hours Or Less

Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 5
Genre: Writing
You're a writer. You need to make money from your words. What if you could create AND sell a nonfiction book in just a day? More info →
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Write A Novel: Include A Bestseller’s Vital Ingredient

Write A Novel: Include A Bestseller’s Vital Ingredient

You want to write a novel. You hope that it will sell well; that it will become a bestseller. I just checked, and the first five books on The New York Times Hardcover Fiction bestsellers’ list this week are all genre fiction: thrillers and crime fiction. These books, as do all books on bestseller lists, include a vital ingredient.

That ingredient is: drama.

Write a novel with drama

To write a novel which sells well, remember DRAMA while you write. Drama keeps readers reading.

Many books which are dramatic are quiet books; they don’t feature billion dollar bank heists and explosions. Pride and Prejudice, for example, which has been selling for 200 years, is a charming novel set primarily in a village in rural England.

So how do you add drama to your novel?

How to write a dramatic novel: write in scenes

Start with these elements:

  • A character with a problem he’s determined to solve
  • A setting
  • A story question

The story question is sometimes referred to as the “dramatic question”, which is misleading. To write a bestselling novel, you need drama on every page.

Check your novel now, and if you’ve written 250 words in which nothing much happens, correct that immediately — add some drama, every if it’s just a little bantering between two characters.

4 tips for writing dramatically

As we’ve said, drama needs to happen on every page of your novel. There are many ways you can do that. These tips will get you thinking.

  1. No one gets along. Every character in your novel has conflicts with other characters, or has internal conflicts.
  2. Description is used to reveal character. Again, consider Pride and Prejudice. When Jane Austen describes anything, she does it so that we can learn more about a character. For example, from Chapter 7: “The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt and to a milliner’s shop just over the way.”
  3. Focus on scenes. Jane Austen writes in scenes — this may be why she’s sold 20 million copies of Pride and Prejudice — it’s a very dramatic novel.
  4. You answer the story question, as well many many other questions which you raise along the way by creating open loops.

Want to write a bestseller? Check out: How To Write In Scenes… The Magical Secret To Writing Well And Selling More

Fiction: How To Write In Scenes
Fiction: How To Write In Scenes

Want to write wonderful stories readers love… fiction which SELLS? Our new program guides you in developing an amazing (and fun) fiction writing career: you’ll write better novels faster. You’ll also win fans who love your novels and are eager to buy them.

Read more.

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Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out our ebooks for writers.

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily. More info →
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Writing A Novel: NaNoWrimo And You

Writing A Novel: NaNoWrimo And You

You’re writing a novel, but you decided to skip NaNoWrimo this year. Or you started NaNoWrimo with huge enthusiasm, and stopped. Please don’t feel guilty. If you’re new to writing fiction, it’s almost certainly better for you to practice on short stories, rather than trying to complete even a short novel in a month.

Over the past week, I’ve received messages from writers who feel like failures. A couple wanted to do NaNoWrimo, but something came up. Several other writers started NaNoWrimo, and wrote steadily, but then stopped “just for today”. They didn’t start writing again.

Please don’t feel guilty. You’re not a failure as a novelist or anything else if you didn’t start NaNoWrimo, or if you started and quit. If you started, be glad of the experience, and cheer up. All the writing you do teaches you, and you’ve learned a lot, even if you think you’ve “failed.”

NaNoWrimo is a challenge for new novelists, because…

1. Novels are hard to control, even if you’re written one or more novels

Novels are very hard to control. Even if you’re someone who loves outlining, a novel takes off in directions you didn’t expect. Alternatively, if it doesn’t take off, and you hew closely to your outline, your characters never come alive. You begin to resent them, and stop caring about them.

Once you’ve gained a little experience, you’ll be thrilled when a novel takes off in unexpected ways, and you’ll know how to get it back on track. It’s almost impossible to do that without a few novels under your belt, however.

2. If you don’t write have a writing habit, writing 1,700 words a day is too much pressure

Here’s my goal for fiction every day: a thousand words. That’s all. Of course, I hope to write 3,000 words a day, or more, if I can. If I can’t, then 1,000 words is fine.

I’ve been writing for many more years than I care to think about, and I still keep my daily fiction word count goal low. Here’s why — pressure.

Fiction’s easy, as long as you can get yourself into a fictive dream while you’re writing. You can’t get yourself into this mind state when you’re feeling pressured, it’s impossible.

Setting yourself a word count goal of 1,700 words a day for NaNoWrimo is huge pressure.

Relax, give yourself time to build your writing muscles

Writing 50,000 words is hard. Turning those 50K words into a novel is even harder. If you’ve yet to complete your first novel, give yourself time. You have plenty of time, all the time in the world.

Here are two ways to prepare yourself to write your first novel.

1. Write ten short stories — take as long as you like

Yes, ten short stories. Take as long as you like to write those ten short stories. Writing short stories has one huge benefit: you get into the habit of completing your stories.

Some writers get into the habit of starting novels, and never completing them. Writing short stories is a great way to get into the habit of finishing what you start.

Every story hits a wall at some stage. When you have a little experience, you expect this. In fact, you realize that hitting the wall is a good thing. You’ve just got to find a way under, over, or through the wall. When you do this, you’ll complete your story.

2. Write for five minutes a day for a month

Writing fiction is very different from writing nonfiction. You need to pretend to be someone else, and write as someone else. You experience what your story person experiences, and you write about it.

Rather than scaring yourself to death by saying: “I’m writing a novel!” sneak up on it. Write fiction for five minutes a day, for 30 days. You don’t have to write more than a few sentences. Anything you get onto the computer screen is fine. You’re teaching yourself a new mindset.

Initially, you’ll feel uncomfortable. Soon, you’ll realize that imagining is fun. Then you’ll be well on your way.

You may even write a wonderful novel for NaNoWrimo next year.

Free writing programs to kickstart your 2016

Free writing programs

I won’t be blogging much between now and the end of January 2016. To help you to have a wonderful writing year next year, I’m offering you several of my older writing programs, completely for free.

Your first download is Six-Figure Writer’s Toolbox: From a Day Job to $500 a Day.

I hope that somewhere in the one of the free writing programs, you’ll have one major AHA! moment, which changes your writing life around.

BTW, an apology — the material’s unedited, so I know that there are some dead links and other kerfuffles in there. Please forgive.

Your first free download will arrive in an email message. More information here.