How to Start Writing a Novel in 12 Easy Steps

From the journal of a newbie sci-fi writer

Here I am, at the keyboard, staring at a blank doc with zero words. Don’t get the wrong idea. When I said “How to” in the headline, it was more of a question than a promise. I mean, by the end of this post, I’ll have more than zero words in my sci-fi novel, I promise. But I don’t yet know how I’ll get there.

I’m a newbie to sci-fi, but I have written before. Seven years ago, I started writing a fantasy adventure novel on nights and weekends. Three years ago, I wrote a business book. Eight months ago, I left my job to try writing full time. Last month, I fiiiiinally finished that fantasy adventure novel, and this month, I’m finishing up a sort of self-help book.

So I should probably know how to start writing a book by now. But I don’t. Well, okay, I know how to start non-fiction books. But fiction? The novel I’ve just finished writing may not be any good (I’m trying to get it published now) and I started it so long ago I don’t quite remember how I did it. Seven years is such a long time… I’m not even the same person anymore.

Anyway. For the first time in seven years, the slate is clear. I’m ready to start a new book. And there’s a sci-fi idea I’ve been thinking about for years. I’ve been getting more and more excited about it. It’s time to do it.

Only… crap. Because, again:

In case you missed it:

Zero words. Zero words. Jesus.

Starting a novel is hard. No, not just hard. Every novel I see in bookstores, every novel I’ve ever read, I guess the author must’ve started at zero words, but what happened at that moment? It’s like the Big Bang. Something appears out of nothing. It’s goddamn magic.

So I guess I’ll have to make up the process of starting a novel as I go. I have to trick myself into forgetting this is impossible.

Step 1: Put if off by writing a Medium post about starting a novel

Step 2: Start on paper

Step 3: Create a new document

Step 4: Call it scraps

Step 5: Call it version 0.1

Step 6: Set a kind of ridiculous goal to stress myself out

Step 7: Set a timer for 20 minutes

Step 8: Put on “Master of Puppets”

Step 9: Start on paper

Step 10: Get into Play Mode

Step 11: There’s really nothing else I can possibly do now but write on this paper

Step 12: Type up what I wrote