How to Write a Novel


I’m sure all my fiction writer friends agree that one of the questions we get asked the most is, “How do you write a novel?” First, because readers are curious as to how a story that is fresh and exciting and filled with true-to-life characters comes out of an author’s mind. Second, because they have an inkling to do it themselves.

The truth is that almost anyone can write a novel . . . but (did you guess that was coming?) it takes a lot of time, persistence, and skill. Much more than I thought when I first started writing. <click to tweet>

I sat down to work on my first novel in 1994. I had a notion for a story, and the first three chapters came pretty fast—fast enough for me to submit it at the Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference. I was worried when I attended because, “What if more than one publisher wants my story?!” The story was fresh in my mind, and the writing was exciting. I thought I was well on my way. (I laugh at myself now, but at least I did it. I put the words on the paper!)

The truth is, I was dipping my toes in a tide pool when the ocean of publication awaited. I had a lot to learn, and it took me almost ten years to learn it. My first novel From Dust and Ashes was published by Moody Publishing in 2003, and it’s still in print.

How do you write a novel? First, you have to start. If you’re waiting for permission, here it is: Sit down and begin that book, even if you don’t know much about fiction writing. The best thing you can do is to start getting words onto paper. 1) You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it, and 2) you’ll also be surprised by how much you need to learn.

How do you write a novel? Next, pick up a few good books on novel writing. These are ones I recommend:

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

How do you write a novel? If you’re really serious, attend a writer’s conference. Here is a list of hundreds of them all across the country.

Why should you attend a writers conference?

  • There are professionals who tell you want you need to know. Yes,they are literally training you to be their future competition.
  • You can often submit your writing for critique and key advice you can trust . . . unlike hearing from your friend, spouse, or mother who tells you it’s perfect just as it is.
  • You start to build relationships with key people in the industry. Need I say more?
  • You can build a network of friendships with other writers for support and help.

I have become good friends with many of the editors, agents, and professional writers  I met at my very first writers conferences. Knowing the right people has brought me work. When an editor gets a project from me on their desk, I have the upper hand over someone they’ve never met.

My writer friends have also been my support throughout the years. We’re encouraged one another and prayed for one another. We’ve critiqued our work and brainstormed books. I guarantee I wouldn’t be where I am today without attending conferences.

Think that writing a novel will take time, money, and effort? You’re right. <click to tweet> But I’m here to tell you that if you put in the investment, you just might be holding your own book in a few years . . . and you’ll be well on your way to fulfilling a dream and launching a career!

So, what are you waiting for? Today is the perfect day to start a novel!

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  1. Kris Whitman says:

    Hi Sheila, I love this post!! I have always wanted to write and thought I wasn’t smart enough. No schooling after high school and not very good in high school. But I have been writing about real life and not fiction. I am a caregiver my mother for a lot of years now and find that there isn’t much out there for people like us because we are sooooo isolated.
    Do you have any suggestions for real life??


  2. Tara Bentley says:

    Great suggestions! It’s so hard to take that first step… it’s always great to see encouragement like this. 🙂

  3. Love this post. 🙂
    I wrote my first novel last year, and am going to the ACFW Conference in September. I’m sure I have a lot to learn, but I love it!

  4. Andrea Cox says:

    Hi Tricia! Thanks for recommending those books about novel writing. I never know which ones are good and which ones to avoid.


  5. Alyssa Faith says:

    Thanks for this Tricia!! I’m actually doing NaNoWriMo in November and going to the Inspire Writers Conference in a couple weeks, so this is very helpful and encouraging.

  6. Thank you for your post. I’ve been published in nonfiction, and now I am ready to dip my toes into the pool of fiction writing. I have an idea–and need training. But will do as you suggest: Just Start!

  7. My problem is fighting with fear. Fear of never getting it DONE and fear that I’ll be rejected. Thanks for the encouraging words. I need to just keep plugging away. I know it’ll come.

  8. Hi,
    Great words of encouragement. I’ve been debating on writing a devotional, its not ideal at this very moment for my family and I. But the more I read your post about how simple it is, it realky does make Me want to get out there and start writing again.
    One question tho. Have you ever gone a while without writing ? And if so, how’d you get out of your writing rutt? I feel like I write, but it doesn’t match up on what I’m trying to portray my characters to be.
    Thanks again for this wonderful post.

  9. laura odom says:
    I am very interested in writing and have a story to get out that i think will touch lives.

  10. Great article. Great advice. I finally managed to finish my novel after having the idea twenty years ago and it’s due out at the end of the year. A huge feeling of accomplishment now exists in stead of frustration, because I was finding every excuse not to write. I will be sharing this


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