How to write a novel


This is a piece I wrote for Quora, in answer to the question “What is the process in writing a novel?”

First, run away and join the circus. Work as a roustabout or clown for several months at the very least. Experience the highs and lows and in-betweens of how human beings treat one another. Keep a journal during this time and write in it every day, especially about things you don’t understand. Read a lot. It’s okay to read badly written books because you can learn a lot from them about what not to do. Dan Brown is a great teacher in this regard.

Start writing, but don’t worry about writing A NOVEL. Just write as if you’re telling a good friend a story about something that really matters to you or bothers you. If the story is really meant to be a novel you will know, eventually. Keep writing. Write every day, first thing in the morning, even if you only squeak out a sentence or two. Write the story that you’ve always wanted to read but no one has written yet.

Pour it out. Worry about revising, shaping and polishing later. But do worry about them at some point. Remember that as a writer your primary purpose is to bring readers joy. Not a happy ending, necessarily, or a safe, feel-good life lesson. I mean readerly joy, which may have sorrow, confusion, suffering and unquenchable desire within it. What kind of writing brings you this joy? Write towards that.

I’m kidding about the circus.

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