As an aspiring author, or even an experienced one, you know the struggles we go through, and there are many. Some of the questions we ask before, during, and after we start and/or complete our writing projects, are not always yes and no questions, and that can be a tough journey to go it alone. Below you’ll find 5 Questions Aspiring and Experienced Writers Ask Themselves with Answers and Resources, followed by answers that’ll help get you going on writing the novel you want to write. These aren’t all the questions you may have (feel free to comment if you have others you want answered), but these should get you started on the right path:
How do I get started? What should I write?
Should I write longhand?
Is Microsoft Word better for me? Or should I use something like Scrivener, ProWritingAid, NovelPad, or Squibler?
How much should I write and when?
I don’t know if I’m any good. Should I quit writing?
1. How do I Get Started and What Should I Write?
As my mentor, friend, and author of over ten books and professor in the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing program of the English Department at Florida International University John Dufresne says, “you sit your ass in the chair because the muse doesn’t come to you and then you write, you write and then the muse arrives.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point.
Writers write. They write to make sense of the world, to go on an adventure, to tell a story, to get something off their chests. They write for many other reasons—writing is something in their veins that they have to get out of them for whatever reason. But the number one thing writers do is simple: they write.
While I’m sure you’ve heard a friend or colleague say, “When I get the time . . . I’m going to write a book,” most never do. Something like 85% of people don’t even think about writing a book. It’s not what they aspire to, and that’s fine. But you’re not like them. You want to write, and you should. But you need to ask yourself two basic questions: 1. What do I want to write about, and 2. How do I get started?
First, if you’re thinking about writing, there’s probably a reason (see above). You don’t have to start with anything in particular, because most likely the story you end up with isn’t exactly the story you started out with. That’s normal. Things change based on what you write. Your main character may not be as interesting as one of your secondary characters. Writing morphs, transforms, changes, matures, develops as you write, but also as you revise, rewrite, and edit. If you have an idea, e.g., I want to write about Navy Seals, or about my rough childhood, or about a girl in a boat who escapes North Korea, wonderful. You have a subject and you can get going. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Just put pen to paper or start typing on your laptop, desktop, old Corona typewriter, word processor, or whatever. But write.
“Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend than inspiration.”
But that’s the thing. You have to write. You can think about writing—because that’s writing too. But eventually you have to actually put the words down. They won’t be perfect. Hell, they’ll probably be lousy. But if you keep going, if you don’t quit, you’ll get something down. A first draft will come. And THAT is what you need in order to get your book done. A first draft is the clay you’ll need to mold to write your book, so get there. You can’t finish something if you never start it.
2. Should I Write Longhand?
Someone, at some point in the history of writing, said people who write longhand write better books. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I will say that I know plenty of great writers (mostly seasoned and well-published writers), who swear by it. I did an experiment one time where I wrote something longhand and I wrote something on a typewriter (or laptop, I can’t remember), then typed up the one I’d handwritten so we were comparing apples to apples. I showed the writing to a writer friend and wasn’t surprised when they told me they liked the piece I wrote in longhand better. The writing seemed smarter, or more insightful, or something, I don’t quite recall. But deep down I think there’s something to it. I don’t write longhand anymore; my writing’s horrific and half the time I can’t read my own writing. And I get a lot more done using my laptop. Give both methods a try and see what works for you. There is no wrong way to write, as long as you’re writing.
3. Is Microsoft Word better for me? Or should I use something like Scrivener, ProWritingAid, NovelPad, or Squibler?
Over the last few years, a LOT of writing software has been developed to assist writers in the writing process. Personally, I use Microsoft Word and maybe some yellow sticky notes once I start outlining and revising my work (I’m a pantser, and after I have a first draft done, I outline to make sense of what I’ve written). But you don’t have to go old school like me; there are plenty of tools out there, some of which you may want to check out. I won’t go into all of them, but here are a few, with descriptions pulled from their sites (these programs vary in price so check out their sites for pricing tiers):
Helps you organize long writing projects such as novels, nonfiction books, academic papers, and even scripts.
Simplifies editing. Editing is an essential part of any writing project. Scrivener has many tools to help you edit more efficiently whether it’s correcting simple errors or restructuring entire sections and chapters.
Enhances outlining. An outline helps you clarify your ideas and plan your manuscript. Scrivener’s system of folders and subfolders helps you arrange and rearrange the various parts of your writing project.
Formatting for screenwriters. Without the right tools, you can end up spending half your time worrying about formatting. Scrivener lets you easily format your screenplay so you can focus on the essential elements -characters, dialogue, and action.
Features for academic and nonfiction writers. If you’re creating a well-researched nonfiction book, thesis, or detailed report you have to make sure you have features such as footnotes, references, and a bibliography correctly formatted. Scrivener provides templates for writing in styles such as APA and MLA so you can focus on your writing.
Helps you set goals and track your progress. Time is always a factor for writers. Scrivener helps you set goals and track your progress every step of the way.
Tools for exporting and publishing. Scrivener integrates with many formats so you can export to Microsoft Word, Open Office, RTF Final Draft (for screenplays), PDF, and more.
Realtime Checker - Get instant feedback as you write, and accept corrections with a click
Goals - Know exactly how to polish your writing with research-backed analysis
Custom Rules - Add new words to your dictionary and create custom grammar and style rules
Powerful Word Tools - Find synonyms, rhymes, anagrams, and more with our powerful word explorer
Transition Checks - Identify opportunities to make your writing smoother
Text Expansion - Create text snippets and add them anywhere you use ProWritingAid
There’s also learning resources, community resources, and various events you can attend that’ll help you get to where you need to go in terms of your writing.
NovelPad's online and offline novel writing software helps you organize, write, and edit your novel anywhere, on any device, from start to finish.
Clean, distraction-free editor with easy learning curve.
Drag & drop scene cards to organize or plan your story better.
Best in class grammar, spelling, and style checking provided by ProWritingAid.
Automatically saves to the cloud every minute.
Seamlessly rewind to any save, ever, for extra peace of mind.
Synchronize across all your devices — desktop, laptop, phone, and tablet.
Adaptive goals that work with your schedule.
Track word count and time for every scene.
Follow your progress with a visual timeline.
Active community chat server (Stop in and say "Hi!").
Collaborate with your editor in realtime.
Chat with our staff to get help and support.
AI Elements Generation
AI Images Generation
Novel Writing Management
Flexible Format Download
Now, as a side note, I am not a fan of AI (Artificial Intelligence) for writing novels. I believe in intellectual property, and there’s a question of AI basically stealing writers’ works and cutting them up and using them without compensating writers or even attributing writers’ works for the content pulled into “new works.” But I would be remiss to at least not admit that there are plenty of people who use AI (think Squibler, ChatGPT, and others) to “write.” At any rate, I won’t bury my head in the sand. It’s out there and hopefully the powers that be figure out a way to leverage it for good rather than for other reasons.
“I never wait for inspiration to strike. That would be a long, sad wait. Successful writing is one part inspiration and two parts sheer stubbornness.”
Anyway, here are a few more writing websites and resources to check out:
4. How much should I write and when?
Well, that’s strictly up to you. I write in the morning, usually from 8am to 12pm or so, sometimes more, sometimes less. I do it 5-6 times a week. Sometimes 7 days a week. Sometimes I write three pages. Other times I write 30. It all depends on how it’s going for me and the type of writing I’m doing.
You should write what works for you. But you should write at least 3-4 days a week, especially if you want to become a competent writer. Any less and you have to continually try to remember where you left off, what was going on, who was doing what, and so on. Writing daily allows for consistency in your writing. I try to write novels as fast as I can specifically to capture the same voice, but also because I feel that strongly about getting a first draft done.
Now, I may have done a year of research before I begin, which isn’t uncommon. I want to get the details right about whatever it is that I’m writing. But I’m also editing a previous work at that time, so I’m making progress on other fronts. Just do your best to write as often as possible. Remember, one page a day equates to 365 pages a year. Unless it’s leap year!
5. I don’t know if I’m any good. Should I quit writing?
Imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, writer’s block (which I don’t believe in), and other hurdles will make you question your desire for writing. If you’re a writer, you write. You can’t not write. It’s in your blood and, while you may take a break—a week, a month, a year, five years, you’ll always return to writing. You can’t help it.
If you’re not a writer, or it’s just something you hate doing, then don’t write. If you want to have written, but don’t want to write, don’t. There are much easier and less heartbreaking ways to spend your time. Writing is NOT easy. Writing is hard. It requires patience. It requires learning the craft (think of the 10,000 rule of learning and becoming an expert in anything). It requires understanding that what you write may never see the light of day. And that’s okay. Some novels and short stories are practice. They may not work out. But you’re learning. You’re constantly working on your craft.
If you want to know if you’re any good, join a writing group. Seek out other writers who’ll be honest with you, and don’t be sensitive about the feedback. Yes, I know it can hurt your feelings, but so what. You’re a writer. You want to learn, don’t you? You want to improve your writing, right? But if it’s too hard, it’s too painful, and you’d rather do something else, I recommend you do something else. It doesn’t make you a quitter, it just means you’re not a writer. And that’s okay. But if you are a writer, damn it, sit your ass in the chair and get to it. The muse is waiting.
Have experience in what you just read? Agree? Don’t agree? Let us know in the comments, and share the post with your writer friends. Thanks!
Cully Perlman is author of The Losses, a novel, as well as a Substantive/Developmental Editor. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing in Fiction, an MA in Literature in English, a BA in English Literature, and an MBA in Market Strategy and International Business.
Contact him at Cully@novelmasterclass.com if you’re ready to discuss your writing project, or have your novel edited.
Cully’s fiction and nonfiction has been published in Bull Men’s Fiction, The St. Petersburg Review, Real South Magazine, Avatar Review, Creative Loafing, Connotation Press, The Good Men Project, Pioneertown, El Portal, and more. He was a 2013 semifinalist for his novel-in- progress, LOS BEAUTIFUL, as well as on the short list of finalists for the 2012 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Competition for his novel, THE LOSSES. He has been a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Story Contest, won the Writer’s Digest Dear Lucky Agent contest for a novel, and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open.