How to be a First-Time Novelist (without Going Insane)

Today’s guest post is by author Jenny Bravo with some great tips on maintaining (or finding) sanity:

When I first decided to tackle English as a major, I was starry-eyed and hopeful, thinking to myself, “I’m going to write a novel; I just know it.” I loved my classes, adored my teachers, and lived in a collegiate bubble where everyone had potential. For every bad critique, a good one followed close behind. No writer was left behind.

Sound familiar?

Now, almost a year out of graduation, I’m living in a new, less structured writer bubble. It’s called “The First Time Novelist” bubble. There are days when I feel I have it all together, when the writing flows and I think to myself, “This is too easy.” Then there are days when I sit in front of the computer screen, staring at the keyboard with nothing in my brain but a recap of last night’s New Girl.

With writing, there is always more to learn, always more to experience, and always more rejection to endure. So why do we do this to ourselves? Are we gluttons for punishment? No, not at all. We write because we feel. We write because we have no choice. It’s as simple as that.

Being a writer is a learning experience, and with each new step, I develop more and more tricks to getting things done. So I would like to share . . .

 My Five Insane-Proof Strategies

  1. Get Help. In college, we have teachers. Their job requires them to read and edit our work. In the real world, writing can be lonely, so we need to reach out to be heard. Recently, I started a blog, along with joining Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Through social media, you can connect with others who are going through the exact same experience as you or have already been through it. You can also find a range of wonderful articles that help improve your writing, prepare you for the next steps, and train you to craft your novel. Use your resources. Get a writing buddy! Having a second or third pair of eyes to read your work never hurts. We’re all in this together.
  2.  Set a Schedule. Knowing yourself as a writer helps you get words on the page. Maybe you are like me, and you work well with a word count goal for the day. Perhaps you could work better with a timer, aiming to write as many words as possible within a set time period. Either way, it’s beneficial to have writing goals for the day, week, or month. It will keep you consistent and productive. Consider making a writing calendar on which you track your words for the day, so that you have a nice visual of your progress.
  3.  Outline, Re-Outline, and Outline Again. There are both planners and pantsers when it comes to writing. The planners prefer to outline an entire book from start to finish, while the pantsers wing it, simply writing to see where it goes. There are also those who practice a blend of these methods. In any case, you will probably need to outline to some extent. I’ve made about three outlines for my novel so far. You have to take the time to reorganize and reevaluate in order to fill in those pesky plot holes. Make outlining your friend!
  4.  Read Your Genre. Can we all just agree that reading rocks? As writers, we need to be readers. With each new book, new standards are set, and by staying up to date, we know where our readers spend their time. Think of it as spying but in a less creepy way. Plus, reading work from authors we admire triggers inspiration . Now, of course, I am not suggesting you copy other writers, but you can mirror a writing style or tone. I even suggest reaching out to some authors you like. Check out their websites, send them an e-mail or letter, and utilize their knowledge. I’ve done this once or twice and have received wonderful feedback.
  5.  Don’t Sweat It. If you love to write, then nothing will stop you. Always remember to have fun with it. When in the writing process, you should avoid thoughts of publishing or literary agents because that will only overwhelm you and stunt your progress. While it is nice to dream of publication and  having books on the Barnes & Noble shelf, it only adds pressure. Save those thoughts for later. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “The practice of art isn’t to make a living. It’s to make your soul grow.” Don’t think about the editors; think about the readers. If you love what you’re writing, chances are others will too.

I could sit here and list a million lessons I have learned in these very early stages of writing, but that’s another post for another time. Overall, the most important writing technique is to make your ideas a reality. Just sit down and write. Should be easy enough, right?

Jenny Bravo headshotJenny Bravo is a first-time novelist from Louisiana. Recently graduated, she’s spent her last few months writing in Ireland and spending time with rhinos on safari in Disney’s Africa. She blogs here, tweets here and tumbles here. She likes new friends and warm hugs.

Feature Photo Credit: mjp* via Compfight cc

26 Responses to “How to be a First-Time Novelist (without Going Insane)”

  1. Michael M Dickson March 3, 2014 at 4:28 am #

    Great advice Jenny. When I started my first novel manuscript in August 2007, I kept a piece of paper on my computer that read: “Don’t give in to doubt. Brush it off, and keep writing.”

    I also outlined like crazy, and that helped me push past the difficult parts of my story.

    Keep writing!

  2. Leslie March 3, 2014 at 7:04 am #

    This is very helpful advice. The list is simple yet comprehensive: seek support, fill your creative cup, revisit the plan, and keep going. Love this!

  3. Elaine Cougler March 3, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    Jenny, great post. Are you sure you’re a first time novelist? Your tips are excellent and never lose sight of the fact that writing comes from the inside and even brings joy with it. Well done!

  4. Jacquie Biggar March 3, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    I’ve also found after writing my first book in which I stopped every other chapter and re-edited, sending it out to critiques and contests which had me re-editing, second guessing which had me . . . you get the idea with this second book I’m just writing it. I go back maybe a paragraph or two to get back in the flow, but that’s all I’ve allowed myself and it’s going much faster. 🙂

  5. Sherry Marshall March 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Wow, what great writing. You have absolutely ‘hit the nail on the head! I thought that my writing was just flowing every day and had a vague goal of 1000 words a day. Then my tax had to be done and then my work got busy and then…. Didn’t write for 6 weeks and now having a hard time getting back into it. In the meantime, everything else I have to do is getting done. Mmmm, I thought, possibly some avoidance happening here. Possibly to do with feeling stuck with ‘marketing’ my 1st E. book! You have Great suggestions. Thank you.

    • Jenny Bravo March 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      You are so welcome, Sherry! Your story sounds very familiar, haha! We all struggle to stay on task, but as long as we get back to it, it’ll come together.


  6. Penny March 3, 2014 at 11:52 pm #

    Wow! Hello next door! I’m in/from Baton Rouge, too (yeah, I bleed purple and gold). Honestly, reading you (and visiting your blog) put me in touch with a much younger me. Forty-five years ago I went to LSU on a scholarship to write, but was far too undisciplined and adventurous to settle down and devote myself to studying. (Like a runny egg, I was all over the Regrets? Oh, my, yes! I’m now (finally!)trying to re-discover what they were all excited about back then, and mostly what I’m finding is how sorely I miss that formal education (not to mention 45 years of intensive emersion into the craft). I’m waaaay behind! Congratulations on NOT making my biggest mistake! A degree in Creative Writing from LSU is gold! I will be subscribing to your blog and following along, gleaning all your received wisdom, and really rooting you on! Go get ’em,Jenny!

    • Jenny Bravo March 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

      Hi Penny! Geaux Tigers! Thanks so much for sharing your story and for subscribing to my blog. Your support is very appreciated! Please feel free to keep in touch. It’s great to have a fellow LSU friend!


  7. Pramod Joshi March 4, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    Hi Jenny,
    I enjoyed reading your suggestions, actually was very impressed. I am too new in to writing, in fact quite a opposite field to get in to from my technical career after retirement. This is all because of my passion for writing. When I first began, I did not think of a publisher, editor, marketing and promotions – just kept on writing. I would develope ideas in my mind during the day, and come dawn I would embrace my computer and let my idea flow on the screen. I have two published children books, and working on a novel with the same attitude. I wish you best in writing and success.

  8. Nickey March 4, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Thank you, rich insight, practical and motivating

  9. Christina Hollis March 4, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    Great points, Jenny, and it sounds as if you’re looking the writing business straight in the eye. There’s one point I’d add from terrifying personal experience. Make sure you’ve got the idea for your second book fully planned in your mind, and preferably get well ahead with it BEFORE your first book is accepted. My delight at getting The Call soon turned to O_O (and how!) when the publisher asked in the same letter for my next manuscript asap. At that point I didn’t have a single idea in my head. I hit the deadline, though. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson. Always have a little something in reserve!

    • Jenny Bravo March 5, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

      Thank you, Christina! You make some really excellent points. While I still have the first novel in incubation – which sounds weird now that I’ve said it, but notice I didn’t delete it – I definitely am trying to plot out the second. It’s great to be prepared!


  10. Casey March 4, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    The advice given was good. But I’ve ran into something. I’ve always thought of myself as a serious writer, tackling serious issues through fiction. Then I started a blog to keep me sharp. It is a blog featuring funny articles. It’s humorous. It feels so natural to write what’s funny and I’m getting great feedback but I want to be a serious writer. Now I feel like I’m going against what I appear to be naturally good at. Now I feel stuck.

    • Jenny Bravo March 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

      Casey, that’s a really interesting dilemma. I think that your blog sounds wonderful. You’re letting your readers see your personality, and that’s fantastic. Your readers will fall in love with your book because they’ve fallen in love with you. Maybe later you can explore a humorous book, but I think it’s completely fine to be a serious writer while preserving your blog style. Good luck!


  11. Carol Ross March 5, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    Bravo, Jenny! (I bet you get that a lot, huh?) What a great post! I am a first-time novelist myself and am trying to navigate a whole new world too. You nailed it about finding your own unique way, having “no choice”, and never giving up(:

  12. Natalie March 7, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    I would like to set a writing schedule but I have a very busy life. I have 3 children and one of them is a 3 month old baby. I wrote almost every day until I found out I was pregnant. I stopped writing because it was a difficult pregnancy. I started writing again when my baby was 2 months old.

    I try to keep to a schedule, but with a newborn something always comes up. I have to feed her or change her. I also have my older children to take care of. Most days I have no time to write. I wonder if I will have to give up writing because I am so busy.

  13. Yvonne March 9, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    Thanks Jenny, helpful advice. I need to find more new writers as I am a first time novelist too. Would love to connect with anyone else in this field. I put together a one page site for now at

  14. Lara Dunning March 13, 2014 at 7:19 am #

    Jenny, great strategies. I’m currently in an MFA program and my books to read in my genre keeps growing and growing. Presently I have built in critique groups, but after school is out I won’t. I’m hoping some of my fellow students will be interested in continuing what we’ve established already. For this latest novel I started using a plot outline. It’s done wonders to keep me on track and focused. I do make changes along the way as I reedit drafts and heighten tension, etc. I love with writing that there is always something more to learn which makes it continually challenging.

  15. Aaron Davis March 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    This is right on the money. I completely agree on the schedules and outlining, and especially reading in the preferred genre. Wish I had known all this when I first started.

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