Want to Know How to get Your Novel Started? #AmWriting

Today, we’re here to talk about how to start a novel.

How to Start a Novel by Michael Dellert
Michael Dellert: Novel

While blogging, one of my joys has been making friends. Over the years and despite the miles, someone on the other side of the world can become a real friend, in the truest sense of the term. Once such friend is Michael Dellert. We’ve beta-read and edited for each other, chatted on twitter, and mercilessly teased each other to bits. If you ask me, he’s as real as any friend in my ‘real’ life.

He’s here to take over my blog for today and the next Tuesday, and share some of his wisdom on writing (I’ve highlighted the stuff I like in blue!). Take it away, Michael!

Before I start, I just want to say a big thank you to Damyanti for having me here on The Daily (W)rite. I’ve been a fan-boy of her work since I met her in the blogosphere last year, and it’s an honor to be featured here. And that, as they say, is burying the lead, and a prime example of what I wanted to talk about today: Starting Your Novel.

Back on my own blog, I’ve been walking my readers through my own thirteen week process for writing a novel. It took seven weeks just to get us to the official kick-off of the #13WeekNovel Challenge. Why? Because one doesn’t jump out of bed one day and decide to run a marathon. One has to practice, prepare, and most importantly, train. Writing a novel is no different. One has to set time aside, cut down hours at the office, bribe one’s partner to do the yard-work, and buy the kids enough video games to keep them in their rooms until they go off to university. One has to limber up, with writing exercises every day, and study the field by reading every day.

But if you’ve done all those things already, you’re now faced with the problem of how to start a novel. You know you want to write one, but heck if you know what the silly thing is going to be about. No problem. No special equipment needed. You just need the desire to write. Leonard Bishop, author of Down All Your Streets, The Butchers, and The Everlasting, once famously said, “Writing begets writing.” And he’s right. So, even if you don’t yet have a seed of an idea, here’s how to start a novel:

  1. Write about something unusual you saw yesterday.
  2. Write about the first time you did something.
  3. Try to imagine how your parents met.
  4. Write about the worst date you ever had.
  5. Write about something you love to do.
  6. Describe the view from your window.
  7. Write a letter to a friend (sending it is optional; feel free to write the forbidden).
  8. Imagine what your life would be like if it were perfect.
  9. Summarize the plot of your favorite novel or movie (it doesn’t matter if you get it exactly right).
  10. Write the words to as many Broadway (or Beatles or Elvis or Bollywood) songs as you can remember.

This is the list of writing prompts I keep on my desk as “jump-starts” to keep me from wasting my time when I sit down to write. If I come to the desk completely cold in the morning, with nothing new on the horizon and no idea what to write about (and it does happen, far too often), I pick off the first thing on the list and get started. I follow it as far as it wants to lead me, then move on to the second thing, and then the third, and so on. In thirty years, I’ve never gotten as far as number 10. Why? Because somewhere in those ten writing prompts is the seed of a story idea. Could it lead you to start a novel? Could it be your novel? Try them and find out.

But beware “The Saboteur.” We’ll talk about Him next week!


Michael Dellert Author Publisher
Michael Dellert: Author

Michael E. Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He currently works as an independent freelancer. He is the author of the fantasy fiction novella, Hedge King in Winter: First Tale in the Matter of Manred, now available from Amazon for print and Kindle, and from Barnes & Noble for Nook, and will soon be announcing the release of his next work, A Merchant’s Tale: The Second Tale in the Matter of Manred. He lives in the Greater New York City area.

To learn more about his work, you can find him at his creative writing blog, MDellertDotCom: Adventures in Indie Publishing or tweet him up on Twitter @MDellertDotCom

What about you? Do you want to start a novel or have a novel-in-progress? What do You do to get yourself started when the writing juices just aren’t flowing? Finished a novel and have tips for those who want to do the same? Do you have questions for Michael on how to start your novel? Have at it in the comments!

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I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !


Add Yours
  1. aj vosse

    When ever I see a post like this… “how to” I read them because I know just how difficult it can be to get going! I enjoy reading that others also have to face their demons but I’m always reminded of the Hemingway quote which goes something like this…

    “Writing is easy… just sit at the typewriter and bleed!”

  2. Deb Villines

    Hey; I so enjoyed this post, I love to write, but I can describe things great, but, I get stumped with the speaking versions of the story. Not sure how to overcome this block; but I am still practicing, any ideas and tips is appreciated…Deb

  3. ascreasey

    I love these writing prompts! Thank you so much. As an English teacher and the advisor to our school’s literary magazine (not to mention a writer myself!), I could definitely use these!

  4. FranceGamble

    I have been writing for 15 years. I always found starting my second most difficult part of writing my books. The most difficult, for me, is the last chapter. I just don’t want the books to end. I am now currently one chapter left to my next novel being completed (before editing, of course). I always have a good middle to a book ready in my head. I just hope that people enjoy them as much as I enjoy writing them. A bit of my confidence lays in my fear of not being enjoyed. So, even though I am not starting a new one yet, this was a lot of fun to imagine doing this challenge.

  5. durgakrishnan

    Hey Hi,
    It’s a nice thing that you are doing .well I generally write quotes or short stories. If u have the time you could go through some of it on WordPress.I have my TYBA exams soon.I have decided to write something for girls between 13- 18 but my concern is my audience as I am unsure that girls of that age read too much.I’ll be reading some of the books that may already be in the same lines and start writing then 🙂

  6. Erika Beebe

    For me it helps to reread what I wrote and edit. Then I review my outline. Lastly if nothing is working I pull out my purple notebook and find my purple inked pen, then I brainstorm all the what ifs. Great post!

  7. hilarymb

    Hi Damyanti and Michael – love the idea of this .. and the fact you’ve been consistently doing it for 30 years – tell us persistency pays off.

    I’d add a blog in there – I’m not sure I’ll write a novel – but bloggers keep telling that I should put them (750+ posts) into a book .. that will get done anon ..

    .. The A -Z is a brilliant challenge, which many of us do, for writing short stories, or other 26 post type concepts …

    I have to say I never have nothing to write about … good luck with all your projects – cheers HIlary

    • mdellert

      It probably should have paid off sooner, but as every writer knows, one’s own insecurities can be the worst enemy: the topic of my “Saboteur” article next week. I hope you’ll tune back in for that, Hilary! And yes, blogging, poetry, short stories, I’ve found these prompts to be useful for kick-starting all manner of writing. I just happen to be in the middle of some novel projects lately, so I have that form front and center in my mind. Persistence is a kind way of saying “obsessive-compulsive,” sometimes. 😉

  8. Sheena-kay Graham

    Getting to the finish line of a draft alone is not easy but when you finally have that finished book in your hands it’s all worth it. Then there is the road to getting published but first it’s nice to bask in the moment for a bit. 🙂

  9. Sid Balachandran

    Great little (and handy) set of ‘kick-starter prompts’, Michael. I guess inspiration is really all around us – we just need to find the motivation to turn it into something that we enjoy writing (and hopefully the readers enjoy reading too)!

    Thanks for featuring Michael on your blog, D!

    • mdellert

      “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott Card. Words I try to take to heart as I walk around every day. 😉

  10. Language101

    I have a story but I don’t know where to start. Lack of proper skills still have me waiting on the novel 101 day. The only way I know to train oneself is to read a lot. That is what I am doing. I don’t know how right I was to start from the classics. But I am glad that at least I have taken my first step.
    Besides, Mr dellert’s book cover looks great. The Viking look makes me want to read it as soon as humanly possible.

    • mdellert

      A steady diet of classics has ruined many a good writer. I went through a “Virginia Woolf” period (she was the subject of my master’s literature thesis). But she head-hops (and did so when it was fashionable). That style doesn’t fly today. Don’t stop reading classics, but make sure you read contemporary work as well. Faulkner said it best: ““Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” As for where to start with a character and a day. Then ask the character, “Why is this day different from every other day?” Have a look at my #13WeekNovel series for more ideas how to get going. 🙂

      • Language101

        Yes, I was thinking about trying a book which is relatively new and different from the classics. Any suggestions?
        And I am definitely trying this, ” why this day is different ” technique.
        Thank you for your advise.

  11. pensierifuoriforma

    Great post! Lots of useful advice! Also, very good timing as I am in the process of starting my first novel myself. As a complete non-expert in the field I will put my Lets-Give-Advice-As-A-Non-Experienced-Person-Hat on and share with you my pearls of wisdom (you know all of that zen-mind beginners-mind kind of stuff). First, leave expectations aside. Second, have fun. It might sound trivial but I have seen that expectations seem to have an inversely proportion affect on my desire to write. Similarly, taking the activity of writing as something just for the shake of having fun seems to be a real creativity booster. In this sense I totally agree with the author of this post. It doesn’t matter to have something specific to write about at first, as long as there is the fun. Good ideas will come on the way! Cheers!

    • mdellert

      Excellent advice! As the saying goes, “the only true freedom is freedom from the heart’s desires, and the only true happiness this way lies.” Which is to say, unrealistic expectations have the been the death of many a writing career. A professional shows up everyday, rain or shine, and finds joy / takes pride in his/her craft, regardless of what they get out of it at the end. Well said! Cheers!

    • mdellert

      Whether writing a novel, a memoir, a short story, a poem, or just journaling, I’ve found these prompts have served me well when the need to write is there, but the inspiration is not forthcoming. I just happen to be in the middle of novel-length projects at the moment, so I’ve got “novel” on the brain. 😉

    • mdellert

      A twitter acquaintance of mine did this. Imagine my surprise to find a letter in the mail! A nice change from the usual assortment of irate bill-collectors and insipid catalogs! 😉

    • mdellert

      I also recently used this prompt to jump-start a character development exercise for a novel in progress. Rather than interrogating my characters directly, I put them into correspondence with each other, and let them ask the questions to which I needed answers. It was only meant to be background material for the novel, but I enjoyed the exercise so much that I’m going to send those love letters out to my mailing list, starting this coming weekend. My readers will really enjoy getting this “behind-the-scenes” look into my next novel.

  12. myleneladeras31

    Great post i guess you have lots of knowledge that you could share with your followers here. I like how you write your blogs. Thanks for liking and viewing my blog. Just new here in wordpress.

    • mdellert

      Welcome to the blogosphere! 🙂 And thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you found something of value in my work. I’m enjoying your blog too so far. Thanks for sharing!

      • myleneladeras31

        Your welcome sir! I’m glad you liked my blog. I am just new to blogging. Still don’t know if my style of writing here is correct. Thank you very much. Looking forward to read more of your blogs. I am pretty I can learn a lot from it.

        • mdellert

          I do like it, it’s very raw and honest. I wouldn’t worry too much about your style, if I were you. Your voice will continue to mature and evolve as you keep doing it. The only “correct” style is the most honest one. Keep writing!

  13. Parul Thakur

    Great post on how to stay inspired while writing! Thanks Damyanti for introducing Michael to us.
    I have never thought of writing a novel. To be honest – I don’t think I am good enough to get a book out on my name and then what would I write a book on? Can’t think of anything 😛

    • mdellert

      Glad to inspire! And whether you think you can write a book or you think you can’t — you’re right. If you think you might, if only you knew what to write about, I just gave you ten places to start. Try some of them on for size, see what you think. 😉

  14. Uday

    That was a nice post to give me some inspiration. One of my biggest problems is that I create characters but then become clueless as to what story to put them in. Sounds rudimentary I know, but it’s something that’s been plaguing me ever since I started to write!

    • mdellert

      It’s not an uncommon problem, Uday. A lot of writing classes and approaches would have you creating characters as if they were online dating profiles: height, weight, likes, dislikes, astrological sign, etc. They don’t have you dig into what *you* (and by extension, your characters) feel strongly about. This thing you feel strongly about, whether its political policies, personal beliefs, social injustices, or angled parking at the grocery store, it isn’t a fact, it’s an opinion. A belief. And for every opinion, there is an equal and opposing argument against that opinion. This is the root to finding the story for your characters: what do they feel strongly about, what is their relationship to that belief, what is the opposing argument, and who is the worthy antagonist supporting that argument. This is where you’ll find conflict, and therefore, story. Keep on writing! 🙂

  15. inquisitivegeet

    Wow..!! That was such a kiss ass post! And those prompts when the creative juices just refuse to come out, is an excellent idea to squash them out! It was so refreshing to read this post 🙂


  16. Sessela

    Thank you so much for your tips! I’m so grateful when people share their knowledge and experience with others; it makes the world so much richer.

  17. sppeac1987

    Thanks for sharing this! Has given me a bit of motivation and inspiration – particularly the prompts, I dare say these will help tremendously if I’m dry for ideas for blog posts/stories. Thank you 🙂

    • mdellert

      Oooh, the Saboteur is a vile and wicked villain… I’ll show you some good tricks for getting Him back in the box where he belongs! Tune in next week! 🙂

  18. Amita Gulia Sehrawat

    Nice prompts dear…

    I have a dream to write a book someday and I have no idea what and when I am going to start making it a reality.

    thanks for sharing such wonderful yet simple post.

    • mdellert

      Don’t be a “one day writer.” Today’s the day. Yesterday’s not an option and tomorrow is always a day away. Change “One day, I’m going to write a book” to “TODAY, I’m going to write a book.” Check out the #13WeekNovel Writing Challenge on my blog to get more ideas on how to get started! 🙂

  19. kalaravi16

    Damyanti thanks for putting up this wonderful post with Michael. Michael you have put across such a simple yet I am sure fail-proof solution to get things moving! I am going to try this out, instead of moping at a blank screen! Thanks much!

    • mdellert

      I don’t know about “fail-proof” but we had a saying when I was working in Information Technologies, for those “bugs” that were really just user error. PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. The prompts are only fail-proof for those who show up to do the work. But if you show up with nothing, these will get you started. I know they do it for me! 🙂

  20. ianscyberspace

    I know what you mean. Some of my blogging pals go way back to when blogging started on old Yahoo360 which no longer functions. But the same bloggers followed through Multiply to WordPress today. I value them all.

  21. simonfalk28

    Thanks Damyanti and Michael, for a great team post. It is both inspiring and practical. Those ten prompts could be useful for not only novels but shorter pieces and poems too. 🙂

    • mdellert

      Novels, short stories, novellas, flash fiction, poetry. I’ve used those ten prompts for just about anything, but #amwriting #13WeekNovel at the moment, so I’ve got novels on the brain. Good luck with them!

  22. sserrat

    I don’t find difficult to come up with a new subject to write about. What is hard for me is to get it from my head to a white page. You see I write on my head all the time. If it is like I’m the host of a talk show giving ideas away. Sometimes I wonder if in fact I am giving them away. Once I thought that perhaps at the time when inspiration strike I didn’t have a pen and paper so I took my cellphone and I started typing-clicking the letters, words on my notes app

    • mdellert

      Anything you can do to get words on paper is the right thing to do. I have a headset and microphone that I take with me on hikes and walks with my dog, or while driving in the car. I talk to myself as I think about ideas or see images, and my smartphone records voice-memos. Gets me some strange looks from passersby, but hey, I’m a writer. I must be crazy! 😉


    Hi My name is Karthika, Indian born girl currently residing in Dubai… I was so impressed with the headline when had seen in the Google plus, so I had gone through this since currently I am working on a novel…

    What you said is right, it’s Just a flow of writing rather than a pre-planned thoughts but we should have an idea what we’re going to write in a novel…

    Since it’s my first attempt and no one is there to guide me even, It was really a worth reading this article…

    Thanks A lot and stay blessed..,

    Thank You Ms. Damayanti for posting this…. Keep doing… It would be an encouragement for fresher like us..,

    Once again Thank you from bottom of my heart..

    • mdellert

      Thanks for the comment, Karthika. Getting started and staying motivated is the hardest part. Once you’re in the flow (I find), it comes so easily, but it’s those moments outside the flow when the Saboteur sneaks in and makes a muddle of things. We’ll talk more about him next week. And if you want a week-by-week approach, check out my #13WeekNovel series on my blog. This week we’re getting into Week 4: Getting Specific, and talking about more tips and tricks you can use for character development. Hope to see you there! Good luck with the novel!

  24. Sandy Chorus

    it inspires me to write more:-) I don’t really write because it’s my passion or I want it,but I write because,it’s a way for me to release my stress and I don’t want to waste my time to linger on those dramas that I have,so that is why I put it into writing,but now I was inspired that all of my write ups can be put into blogs,and I am also inspired to continue doing what I have started,when I read your blog. Thanks for sharing!!!!

  25. Capt Jill

    Thanks for sharing all the tips from Michael.
    I’ve thought about writing a book. People tell me all the time I should write a book about my life. I just don’t know what to write. To me, my life doesn’t really sound very interesting, in fact it seems pretty dull most of the time and depressing a lot of the rest. I only tell people the interesting parts, but that doesn’t seem enough for a book.

    I started blogging for one reason, to practice writing. I’m not sure it’s done me any good as far as making my writing more engaging and interesting. One thing it has done is to get me used to writing pretty much every day and usually can come up with something to write about. Those monthly (or longer) post a day challenges are hard, but good practice for writing books.

    • mdellert

      Hi Capt Jill, thanks for the comment. A lot of would-be writers think the same thing: “Oh, my life isn’t interesting, etc.” But what they never consider is that their life is “unique.” No one else has that dull, depressing, un-interesting life. Look at John Updike or John Irving: their protagonists are average, ordinary, middle-aged men. From the outside, their lives wouldn’t seem very interesting. But as a character in a story, with access to the *inside* of the character’s mind, we see that they are unique and yet familiar. Their fears and foibles are our own. Your fears and foibles are my own, and yet unique to you. I see myself in your work, if you do it right. So never feel you’re “too ordinary” to be a good writer.

      Thanks again for writing!

      • Capt Jill

        Well, thank you for that encouraging comment. I’ve never really been able to get into character development. I love to read stories where you get inside someones mind (especially the sickos). But I’ve always been taught to write by the KISS principle. I’m having a very hard time trying to make my writing on my blog more descriptive. I’ve been trying to break into travel writing and it’s totally different writing than I’m used to for work- short and sweet and just the most important stuff.
        I thought I might like to write about how I got to be a ship captain and how hard it was back when I started, but it took me over 30 years and there’s not really much action. I might get around to it eventually if I’m forced into ‘retirement’, which is looking pretty likely at this point.

        • mdellert

          The most important thing to keep in mind with memoir-writing (which is, I think, where you’re going with this) is indeed to Keep It Simple (tho I won’t call you Stupid. 😉 ), and the simplest way to do that with regard to character development is to relate what the character is experiencing to your own honest experience. “Honest” is the key-word. We all lie to ourselves in someway or another, particularly in hindsight. Be willing to cut yourself open and take a frank look at oneself, then put what you see into your characters. As Hemingway said, “Writing is simple. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”

          • Capt Jill

            thanks for the encouragement. I remember hearing that quote. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that, actually I don’t really even remember how I felt 30+ years ago.
            I’m not sure if a memoir is what I’m going for or more an adventure story?

    • mdellert

      Thanks, Alex, I’m glad you like the exercise. I try to remember Jack London’s advice: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” For me, that means setting myself up with something to write about, even if there’s nothing on deck.

      And thanks very much regarding the book cover. The artwork is by Victor Titov of Grafit Studio, the text design by Glen M. Edelstein of Hudson Valley Book Design. Two great guys to work with, and very indie friendly. I can’t recommend them highly enough! 🙂

    • mdellert

      Please do, I find they’re perfect for those fuzzy-headed mornings when there doesn’t seem to be enough coffee in the world to kick my brain into gear. Good luck with them!

  26. aubreysbooknook

    I’m working on my first one this year. I have been having so much fun building and creating a world and making the characters. I don’t do anything specifically, but I write when I feel like it, and don’t when I don’t. I try not to ever force myself to write because it will show in my work and I write for fun. Thanks for the great post!

    • mdellert

      Writing for fun is the most important thing! If you don’t love your work, it definitely shows. For myself, I like to have goals, like finishing X story by Y date, or publishing on Z platforms. Accomplishing those writing goals is fun too. I call it “putting dragons on deadlines.” My work is the dragon, the deadline is the goal (which might be time, or word-count, or whatever). There’s no reason you can’t love your work and still show up to do it everyday.

        • mdellert

          The nice thing about writing is, it’s never too early to turn pro. I submitted a story to the Pulitzer Prize Committee when I was 15 years old. They were very kind in their rejection of my sophomoric efforts. 😉

          • aubreysbooknook

            Wow. That is part of what this whole blogging thing is for me–a way to practice what I love with a bunch of people who share the same sentiments. I’m working on my first WIP currently and am infinitely enjoying it. 🙂

  27. seanbidd

    So many places to start writing from, the ways different weather to the mind and senses offer so much to draw from different moments, a fantastic read, Damyanti.