An old friend and I chatted about writing fiction. Although she’s always wanted to write a novel, she worried: “What if I get bored and don’t finish it?”
I suggested the “no excuses” method. The big benefit of this method is that you don’t have time to think and second-guess yourself. Several of my students have had great success with it.
My theory on why it works is that it helps you to get out of your own way: you stop over-thinking.
Let’s look at how it works; it’s simple.
Write a novel: the no-excuses method
It’s a simple strategy. It encourages you to keep writing. It makes the prospect of giving up on your novel unappealing, because you’ve got too much invested in it.
Here’s what you do. You:
- Decide on the kind of novel you’re writing;
- Brainstorm a title;
- Pay for a cover;
- Book time with an editor and pay for the booking immediately;
- Select the date on which you’ll set up a KDP pre-order page;
- Start writing.
1. Start by listing titles, until one sparks inspiration
You want to write a novel, but how do you get started?
This is Dean Koontz’s method of starting a new novel, cold. He doesn’t prepare, he just starts listing titles, waiting for one title to spark his inspiration.
“Too much preparation can kill your inspiration:
“I started hitting best-seller lists as soon as I stopped using outlines. With Strangers, I started with nothing more than a couple of characters I thought I’d like and with a premise.”
I like to sit down with a yellow legal pad and a cup of coffee to list titles. Usually, by the time I’ve written ten titles, I have an idea for a character… and I start the novel.
2. Differentiate your characters: decide who wants what (and why he’ll never get it)
The key to the “no excuses” process is to connect with a character. Your title has given you a character. By the time you’ve written a few paragraphs, you’ll have another character.
Keep writing, and aim to differentiate your characters. Let’s say you’re writing a mystery. You have a sleuth who’s an aging alcoholic; a detective who’s avoiding his AA meetings. His partner is young, strait-laced, Armani-wearing.
Making your characters different introduces conflict—and fiction is all conflict, all the time. You need major conflicts, and minor ones too. Never make things easy for your characters.
In your first few scenes, you’re exploring your characters. A story will come to you. Create a goal for your major character which he’s unlikely to achieve. You want to make life as difficult as you can for your main character.
3. Write to milestones: the setup and midpoint (by then you’ll know the end game)
Here are the milestones; think of them as your waypoints…
- The setup phase of the novel, which ends at approximately the 25% point of your novel. After you’ve set things up, you’re moving to…
- The midpoint — what it says. This is the first big turning point of your story, where everything changes. Your story goes in a new direction. Next you head for…
- Story twist number 2 at around 80%. Another turning point. Your main character has tried to change. It’s not working. Things look black, and you’re heading for…
- The showdown: 95%. The make or break. The big fight your character needs to win. The story winds down, with…
- The resolution: the final page or two. The killer’s identified in a mystery. The world’s saved in a thriller, and it’s hearts and flowers everywhere in a romance.
When I start a novel, my first ten scenes (around 15,000 words) are devoted to showing the main character in everyday life. If you enjoy the Hero’s Journey plotting method, this is the Ordinary World.
Avoid labeling. Don’t say: “Freddy is a drunk.” Show Freddy sprawled on his sofa when he gets home from work. He’s hidden a bottle of whiskey in a cupboard. He calls his small daughter while drunk; he misses her. His ex insists that his visits with the child are supervised for good reason. Freddy’s a mess.
Your aim in the setup is to show that to achieve his story goal, your main character will need to change. Freddy’s a drunk. In our mystery, his goal will be to find a serial killer before he kills again. So Freddy needs to change a lot, otherwise he’s dead, and so are the people he cares about. You need to make Freddy likable, while also making it unlikely that he’ll achieve his goal.
Tip: never, ever make things easy on your main characters. Make them suffer—this makes their eventual victory much sweeter.
4. Carve time out of your day: dump junk activities
To write a novel fast, you’ll need a couple of hours a day. On some days, you may only have an hour or less. That’s OK. Before you start writing, think about how you spend your day.
What activities can you drop?
5. Mind map each scene, and write the scene’s dialogue first
I write the first ten thousand words of a novel without worrying about mind mapping and setting up scenes because I’m exploring and getting to know the characters.
If you become concerned because everything’s messy and chaotic when you start writing, relax. Get the words down. You’ll fix them later. You’ll discover that when you unleash your creativity, your story will begin to come together after 10K words.
After 10K words, I pay attention to the story milestones, and I mind map my scenes: you can’t keep the entire story in your head once you pass 10K words.
Can you write a novel with the “no excuses” method?
Remember: pay for your cover and book your editor before you start writing. Make the investment. Believe in yourself. You can do it. (And have fun!)
You CAN write. It doesn’t matter why you think you can’t. You can write, and writing will become easy for you.
More info →
If you think you can't outline, you're wrong. You can create wonderful outlines which work for you: write more, and publish more.
More info →
Try writing in series. Your audience loves to binge on entertainment, whether it's a series on a streaming service, or a series of books. Marketing series fiction and nonfiction is much easier than marketing standalone books.
More info →
Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.