Nearly half the world says they’ve always wanted to write a novel, but they don’t know where to start. They have an idea for a novel, or sort of an idea, that’s been in their heads for years, but they don’t know how to take that idea and shape it into a novel.

Good news. Everything you need to know to go from idea to completed novel is already inside you. It’s just a matter of putting all the puzzle pieces together to write your novel. In the next series of posts I will begin to show you how to take your idea, or come up with an idea if you have nothing yet to build on, and write a novel you can publish and sell.

You may have started your book, only to peter out after a few pages or a few chapters when you realized you didn’t know where to go from there or how to put it all together. Very frustrating.

I have conversations like this with aspiring writers all the time.

“Teresa, I want to write a novel. I have an idea about a soldier who returns to his hometown to find everything in his life has changed. His friends have moved on with their lives and can’t relate to him and what he’s been through. He falls in love and I want him to get married, but it can’t happen too easily. His old girlfriend from high school is involved with someone else, but as soon as she sees him, she realizes she’s with the wrong guy. I just don’t know how to get them together, and even if I could, I don’t know how to turn the whole thing into a book. I don’t know where to start. Can you help me? What do I do first?”

In the next few posts I’ll help begin shaping your sort-of-an-idea or no-idea-at-all into a completed novel. I’ll show you how to cultivate that idea and take it from a few random thoughts and concepts into a novel you can proudly publish for the world to read.

You’ve probably received a lot of writing advice in your lifetime, either from teachers or well meaning friends or on blogs and podcasts. Some was helpful while some seemed to conflict everything else. I know. I’ve been there myself. What works for some doesn’t work for everyone. All I can show you is what has worked for me over the last twenty years of writing several award winning and top-selling novels.

A few weeks ago a friend called and told me she wanted to write a nonfiction book based on sermons and teachings she’s done over the years. She has a lot of material. Probably more than the average writer going in. But that doesn’t mean she has an advantage over someone who wants to take a few sentences of an idea and write a novel. In fact, for her, it might be even more difficult. Whatever your situation—whether novel or devotional or nonfiction self-help—it all begins with the same thing.

Organization.

One of my favorite stages to write a novel is the very beginning where I brainstorm all the ideas and possibilities for my book. This step is exciting and exhilarating where everything is new, and every possibility is ripe with potential.

You might already have a What-If idea to begin your novel. Ie: What if a soldier comes home from battle and runs into the woman he’s always loved, but she’s in love with another man, or at least she seems to be in love with someone else?

Or: What if a woman who has always let the world run roughshod over her must find the courage to save her son from a kidnapper?

Or: What if a boy finds a coin in his backyard that seems to have magical powers and every time he holds it in the palm on his hand it transports him to the time and place he was last thinking about?

Or: What if I want to take my years worth of blog posts and speaking transcripts and turn them into a book that empowers women to start their own small businesses?

Do you have a what-if moment? If you didn’t think so, you may have realized you did by the time you finished reading those few examples. Your story idea may have been on your mind for a long time. Don’t despair, if you don’t have an idea yet, but you still want to write a novel. You can still use the following brainstorming exercise to come up with a full-fledged idea to build upon.

Open a blank document or even a notebook if your work flows more creatively that way and for the next few minutes, hours, or even a few days if necessary, write down everything you can think of about the novel you want to write. DO NOT CENSOR YOURSELF at this point in the process. Write down absolutely every thought and possibility for your novel. Many of them won’t pan out. As you write, you will realize some of the ideas have no future. They will only bog down the story. Others, with a little development, may bring the whole thing together. Or take the story in a whole new direction.

The brainstorming process will reveal problems and pitfalls in your novel. It works the same if you are writing a devotional or collections of blog posts or sermons. Decide on a theme during you brainstorming exercises and start putting them together. If you have very much of this type of writing material, you may have more than one book. Decide what problem you want the book to solve with this book—ie; starting a business, building confidence, getting organized, reaching clients—and brainstorm ways to do it.

Again, don’t censor yourself . Don’t worry that someone else has already written a novel that sounds like yours. Every single story idea has been written before. Many, many times. Don’t worry that you’re not qualified to write on your topic. Or your research isn’t thorough enough. Don’t let that stop you from getting started. If you wait until all the stars are aligned before you start organizing your ideas, you will never write a novel.

No matter where you are in the writing process or how fleshed out your story idea is, start today. Play around with it. This part is fun. Go crazy. Don’t discount any idea at this point. Throw them all down on the paper and see what happens. You may surprise yourself.

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