How To Write Your Novel in 20 Easy Steps

Original image by Andrea Piacquadio

I once wrote a ten-step guide to writing your novel, but that was missing a lot of crucial steps, and some writers died or got seriously injured while following it, so I decided to expand it and create the definite guide to writing a novel. Enjoy!

Step 1: Have an idea. Make sure it's a good one. Wait—that one might be a short story and you know it. Anyway, make sure your idea is actually yours. You have probably read and watched a lot of stuff over the years, so go though everything you remember and make sure that your stuff is original. You really don't want to deal with lawyers.

Step 2: Stand in the middle of the road in a strange part of town and scream "Everything's a construct!" at the top of your lungs.

Step 3: Write "The only way to write a book is to shut the fuck up, sit down, and write it," on a piece of paper. Tape that piece of paper to a wall. Smash your head against that piece of paper until the blood covers what you wrote. Have an inspiring burrito and start writing.

Step 4: Read amazing novels and get angry because you'll never be that good and maybe no one loves you. Maybe you're really a hack. Despair. Then get angry as fuck. You will never be as good as you can be if you don't try. You won't sell a book you don't write. Use your anger to fuel your hustle.

Get the fuck up and keep writing because none of your insecurities matter and you're a unicorn riding an electric rainbow while snorting blow like a feral hog with Hulk DNA.

Step 5: Yell at words. Every time "that," "very," "just," or any of those asshole adjectives show up, slap them around a bit and call their mommas names. Make sure each of them earn whatever space you're giving them in your book. Be merciless.

Step 6: Stop talking to your friends. Ignore your family. Don't reply to texts. Fuck all emails. Get in the zone. Shut your windows. Eat whatever you have around but don't go out.

Step 7: Get inside your blood. Find the ghosts that ride your veins and fight them. Let them win the first round. Then get up and destroy them.

Step 8: Pull your deepest fears outta the bottom drawer of your soul and staple them to your face with the sharpened bones of tiny birds.

Step 9: Question yourself. Question your words. Question existence. Allow insecurities to take over and pummel your body into something that resembles cold Hamburger Helper. Doubt yourself until the weight and smell of your soul reminds you of the diaper of a neglected child. Then get the fuck up and keep writing because none of your insecurities matter and you're a unicorn riding an electric rainbow while snorting blow like a feral hog with Hulk DNA.

Step 10: Listen to music. Listen to something dark and scary. Listen to the silence. Listen to the blood pounding in your head and to music from movies you haven’t seen. Listen to atmospheric black metal while walking in the woods at night holding a knife.

Step 11: Eat tacos and ponder life without soy sauce or garlic or salsa. Use that pain to create something meaningful. Remember the times you were afraid or angry or embarrassed. Remember the whiskey and the screams and the blood. Remember and dig out those skeletons. Make them dance on the page.

Step 12: Keep remembering. Remind yourself why you do this. Take a look at the dream and tell yourself the only path to success is fucking hard work. Remind yourself of every fight, every accident, every dance with fear, every time a gun made an unexpected appearance, every night spent pressing your tongue against the blood clots on the inside of your lips, every broken promise, every death that crushed you, every person that said no to you, every insult, every lonely afternoon, every time you've checked your damn bank account before stepping into the grocery story, every envelop with a colorful notice. Push forward.

Step 13: Take a deep breath and stretch. Eat a snack.

Step 14: Punch a wall until your knuckles bleed. Lick the blood off your knuckles. Punch the wall some more. Remember no one owes you a thing. Smile. Pick up a gutter flower and put it in your hair. Tell the world you can do this. Tell yourself you can do this. Fucking do it.

Step 15: Stare into a mirror until you're not sure who you are anymore.

Step 16: Dream something wild. Keep thinking about it. You can get that. Seriously. How bad do you want it? Don't tell anyone. Don't put that shit on social media. Don't talk to your friends or partner about it. Just keep writing.

Step 17: Fall in love with what you've written. Recognize what you've written sucks. Tell yourself you'll delete it tomorrow. Wake up and read it again. Fix it up a bit. Fall in love with it all over again. Write something new and hate it. Let it rest. Learn to love it after fixing it up two or thirty times. Do this over and over and over again.

Step 18: Strangle a cloud. Hug a tree. Look at your reflection in a puddle in a dark alley. Inhale the smoke of the dead. Recognize that everything that happened to you shaped who you are. Sprinkle that joy and pain and horror and love on your work. 

Step 19: Type as if the keyboard owed you money. When you hit a passage that means something, hold your breath and keep going. Kill every meaningless word. Summon demons. Talk to angels. Inhale the universe. Keep writing no matter what.

Step 20: Reply to the voices. Recognize aliens are real. They live in the closet and watch you sleep. Scream at the moon. Understand that, if there is a hell, its fire is nothing compared to what you hide underneath your skin. Move on to the next one with a new set of neon scars.

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Gabino Iglesias

Column by Gabino Iglesias

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS, HUNGRY DARKNESS, and GUTMOUTH. His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist, Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbicide, and many other print and online venues. 

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venitajohnson's picture
venitajohnson November 12, 2021 - 2:46am

This page is very informative and fun to read. I appreciated what you have done here. If you’re serious about doing this, show yourself and your writing some respect, figure out some regular time to do it, and then stick to that. Writing a book is both amazing and also, at times, a difficult slog. It’ll completely fall away if you don’t keep it up. It’s hard to hold your novel in your head, so that you can get down to work quickly and easily – if you leave long gaps between writing sessions and work erratically, you’ll be giving yourself a big uphill struggle and you’re much more likely to give up. Write down everything you know about what you want your novel to be. Jot down little half-formed thoughts and ideas and see where they take you. If there is a burning question you want to explore, note that down. If you’re fascinated by a setting or a time period or a subject, scribble notes about it. It’s through these meandering jottings that ideas will take shape. Refer here

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