What to Do Before Writing Your Next Novel | NY Book Editors

You’ve already written a novel. Now the time has come to write another one. Yay and yikes! On one hand, you’re excited. But, on the other hand, you’re apprehensive. How do you recapture the magic again? Knowing how tough it is to write a story from beginning to end, how do you prepare yourself to churn out yet another 200+ page novel?

As you know by now, writing a novel takes more than inspiration. It also takes equal amounts of will-power, self-discipline, and caffeine.

And that’s just for writing a novel. If you plan to write a good novel, you also need to do just that— plan.

How fortuitous! That’s exactly what we’re discussing in this post: Planning out your next novel so that it’s an even better experience and product. Let’s get to it.

Gather Your Tools

Writing your next novel

Before you sit down to write a novel, you need to gather your tools. To build a writer’s toolkit, identify your must-haves. Common essentials include the following:

  • Laptop
  • Notebook
  • Scrap Paper
  • Sticky pad
  • Index cards
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Highlighters
  • Library card

In addition to these physical tools, also find your perfect writing apps and online tools. Apps like ProWritingAid, Dictation.io and Scrivener can help you become the most productive writer possible. By the way, here are 11 editing tools that you need in your arsenal.


After you've gathered your tools, it's time to gather ideas.

If you already have an idea of what you'd like to write about, skip to the next section. But if you're still unsure about what story to write, here’s how to find your novel's main idea:

Watch a few documentaries on Netflix or YouTube. There are documentaries about every possible situation. Check out a documentary channel to find ideas for characters or plots.

Go people-watching. Go to the park or the mall (if you like A/C) and eavesdrop on the masses. If you sit there long enough, you're bound to find someone who catches your eye. Make up an imaginary life, past, and future for them.

Scan social media. Does your newsfeed inspire you? Probably not, especially if it's a steady stream of passive-aggressive posts from people that you only barely associate with. That's why you probably shouldn't use Facebook or Twitter for inspiration. Instead, find inspiration by checking Instagram or Pinterest. These platforms offer curated lists that can stimulate your creativity without pulling posts from your actual friends and family.

Summarize Your Story

Got an idea for your next novel? Great! Now, summarize it. But don’t take an entire page or even a paragraph. Instead, summarize your story idea in one teeny, weeny sentence.

Summarizing your story into a simple sentence can guide you as you write. Use it to identify the essence of your story and then to keep the big picture in mind.

Because you're writing this one-sentence summary before writing the actual novel, it is subject to change. You can always tweak this sentence after you've finished your novel. For now, the summary will stand as a powerful motivator to remind you of what you're writing. Read it every single day before you write your book.

Here's a simple sentence that you should read every single day as you write your novel:

This will help you stay true to the big picture of your story.

Not sure how to summarize your book idea into a single sentence? Here are three examples from the New York Times' Best Sellers list:

“In 1941, a society magazine writer turns up unsavory dealings when she investigates the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the Bahamas.”

-The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

“The Levin family undergoes dramatic events with a son in Vietnam, a daughter in protests and dark secrets hiding beneath the surface.”

-Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand

“In a quiet town on the North Carolina coast in 1969, a young woman who survived alone in the marsh becomes a murder suspect.”

-Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Outline Your Novel

Now let’s talk about outlining.

Okay, I get that this isn’t everyone’s favorite subject. Some of us are pantsers. In other words, we don't plan. We just jump on and see where the ride takes us.

If you're a pantser, you're probably rolling your eyes at the idea of plotting out your novel ahead of time. But if you're reading this post, I'm going to assume that you're not averse to doing a little bit of planning. So, here’s an easy way to set yourself up for success:

Divide your story into three main events, or disasters if you prefer.

The first event disrupts the protagonist's life and way of being. It's what happens to the protagonist.

The second and third events happen as a result of the protagonist's actions. It's what they do to get back to normal or claim a new normal.

If you're inclined, you can map out every chapter and scene. However, if you're more of a "let's see where life takes us" kind of writer, at least come up with these three main conflicts so that you know what you're writing towards. This little hack will keep you from getting stuck in a corner.

Commit to a Writing Schedule

Writing your next novel

Want to know the secret to finishing a novel?

Actually sitting down and writing it.

While everyone (who doesn’t write) thinks that writing is all about finding inspiration, you and I know the writing is about “butt in seat, fingers on keyboard.” Yeah, yeah, inspiration is important. But even more important is the deliberate act of sitting at your desk and writing whether you’re bewitched by the muses of inspiration or not. Show up every day and write. Don’t just write willy nilly. Write toward something.

Give yourself a daily goal (or deadline). For example, promise to write 1,000 words towards your novel every day. It may not feel like much but, in just three months, you should have 90,000 words and a serviceable first draft.

It’s also key that you commit to a schedule. Don’t just say, “I’m going to write every day.” That’s noble but not specific enough. You need to develop a writing schedule such as writing every evening from 5 pm to 7 pm, no excuses. Add writing to your daily to-do list to get it done.

Learn About Your Characters

Let’s talk about character development. A lot of writers learn about their characters during the process of writing the novel. That’s not ideal. It’s better to know something about your characters, especially your protagonist and antagonist, before you start writing their story.

Beyond their name, you should also know what they want and what stops them from getting that want. Learn about their backstory. Discover their motivations. Find out their fears. Map them out so that you can write a richer story from the beginning (instead of after editing).

In addition to interviewing your characters, also consider writing a scene from your character’s perspective. Or, even better, write it in the first-person point of view using the character’s unique voice. This will help you understand how they view and process the world. It’s one of my favorite exercises for taking a character from 2D to 3D.

Never Stop Improving

No matter whether this is your second novel or your 70th, you can always improve your skills for the next go around.

Be sure to sign up for our newsletter (at the top of this page) for even more writing tips delivered straight to your inbox. In the meantime, you can also check out these related posts:

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