How To Write Your First Novel (In 7 Super Easy Steps)

I recently published my first novel, “New Wave,” a young adult dystopian.

Writing this, to me, was a culmination of staring off into space, months of no social life, and causing early arthritis from typing out entire chapters on my iPhone while on the subway — but apparently, to some people (my mother mostly), I’m downplaying the culmination of this effort.

When someone hears I’ve written and published a book, he or she usually says something along the lines of “Oh, wow. I’ve actually had this book idea…” and then “How did you do it?” I’m hoping by writing this blog post, I can answer the latter and somehow encourage the former. That said, I’ll stop rambling, so you can start reading the steps I took for creating the first installment in The Islands of Anarchy Series. (And you maybe don’t want to do it this way.)

Step One: Procrastinate Like Crazy

Come up with so many ideas that most of them fall out of your head. The prime time for this is right as you’re about to fall asleep or some other really inconvenient moment when you don’t have a working pen or your phone is doing a 45-minute update.

When you are able to record them somewhere, don’t make it easy on yourself. That random assortment of journals and notebooks with pretty covers you impulsively bought and have moved with you across many states over the years? Use all of them. Very sporadically.

Then you’ll realize that this is not the 1700s and you are definitely not Jane Austen, so you can start using digital ways of tracking all of this — it will hypothetically make your life easier. Take an afternoon, organize everything in Google Sheets, and promptly lose all motivation because you’ve created this unromantic, line-by-line system.

Step Two: Read, Read, Read*

Read subway ads, magazine articles, tweets, Instagram squabbles, Harry Potter fan fiction, novels, non-fiction books written by celebrities, captions on videos and art, comics, notes, and everything else that was not written by you since your current daily portfolio consists of emails, half-witty Slack responses, and process documents. (Not that you’re complaining — you really enjoy what you do and who you work with and learn from as part of your actual career.)

*You may also watch a lot of teen angst shows and/or movies because we all want to remember that innocent time in our lives when the biggest problem was what to wear to the school dance. Also, are choker necklaces still cool?

Step Three: Sleep

Some fancy doctoring society said that you should get between six and eight hours of sleep per night for a healthier heart, but you should also, in my non-medical opinion, do it for your sanity.

When you’re asleep, you stop overthinking everything and let your subconscious do its weird projecting thing, which can actually work through your pent-up anxiety and serve as a defibrillator, bringing your creativity back to life in the form of a plot for a dystopian young adult fiction series. Wait, wha—

Congratulations! You’ve found it! Inspiration! Your favorite idea yet! Screw step one! You’re going for this!

Step Four: Let The Garbage Flow

The best philosophy for this step: “Write the crap.” (This is my own personal philosophy, and I’m not actually sure it qualifies as a “philosophy.”)

It’s not the most beautiful or clever phrase to regularly say out loud to people, but it allows you to stop focusing on perfection from the start. It’s all about ideas and the details you’re collecting in your head instead of creating that perfect first draft, which puts an insane amount of pressure that essentially takes a sledgehammer to imagination.

So, sit down in a comfortable spot with snacks and hydration within reach and go for it.

Step Five: Do Your Thing

***personal story time***

When I woke up from the dream that spurred “New Wave,” I moved from the bed to the couch and barely left my computer for six hours.

After jotting down random snippets of dialogue and bullet points for the overall plot for the book, along with notes for the next few in the series, I started to fill in the rest. My brain gravitated toward certain scenes and characters, and I fleshed them out and pieced together the rest over time. Occasionally I’d be sitting in a meeting and randomly think of a subplot I could tweak or at happy hour and have an idea for dialogue from a conversation about food — and I’d sneak off to write it down before I forgot it. I went for long walks around Roosevelt Island and listened to music to work through scenes in my mind.

Within three months, I wrote the first 50,000 words, and a friend (Hi Joe!) was kind enough to read it. I edited based on his feedback and added another 25,000 words. From there, I asked more people to critique and point out my typos at different stages as I worked toward the final draft. I kept making changes, cutting scenes that fit better for later use, and saving new versions. It was kind of a messy process, to be honest, and I’m trying to streamline it as I write my second book.

By the way, the original scene I envisioned from the dream probably won’t even make an appearance until book three. Insert shrug emoji.

Step Six: Come Up With A Plan

You’ve written the book, and now it’s time to figure out how to put it out into the world. Logistics time!

Answer these questions:

  • Who is going to design the cover?
  • How should you design the cover?
  • How are you going to format the inside of the book?
  • What legal and technical things do you need to accomplish?
  • How are you going to distribute this book?
  • How are you going to market this book?
  • How do you not sound like a pretentious asshole but let people know you published a book you secretly wrote for eighteen months?

My answers, for posterity:

  • Who is going to design the cover? Kyle Phillips, obviously. He’s insanely talented and hasn’t yet realized he should be charging quadruple the amount for the level of work he can produce.
  • How should you design the cover? I sent Kyle a description of a ~vibe~ I was feeling, along with some examples I liked in the young adult space and some paragraphs from my book (and the rest of the book, too). We shared ideas for a few weeks before he came up with a few mockups then narrowed it down to start designing. We also took a trip to Barnes & Noble in Union Square and nerded out pretty hard over spines and typography.
  • How are you going to format the inside of the book? One of my favorite romance authors, Ginger Scott, suggested I use Vellum. (And I suggest you buy her books!) You upload a Word document, and it kind of dummy-proofs the formatting process for you. It saved me from so many hours of legwork and screaming into a pillow. 
  • What legal and technical things do you need to accomplish? Copyright, barcode, ISBN, blah, blah, blah.
  • How are you going to distribute this book? I used Smashwords, which syndicates your eBook to a number of retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks, and I also used Amazon Direct Publishing for my paperback copy and Kindle.
  • How are you going to market this book? I do marketing for my day-to-day job, so this part has actually been kind of a familiar but fun challenge for me. I’m still ramping it up but have been focused on getting reviews and advertising on social media, Goodreads, and Amazon.
  • How do you not sound like a pretentious asshole but let people know you published a book you secretly wrote for eighteen months? No idea. Sorry.

Step Seven: Pat Yourself On The Back

But not before you realize there’s a typo on the book cover RIGHT before you’re about to announce it to the world and you scramble to fix it. Go you.

Hello. Thanks for reading this. Hope you enjoyed it and learned something from this “advice.” If you want to learn more about my book or buy it, here’s a link.