It’s National Novel Writing Month! Take a break from writing and get some tips below from five published novelists—they might be just what you need to successfully pen your novel during NaNoWriMo (or any other time!).
Author and former police officer Janice Cantore has written numerous romantic suspense novels designed to keep readers engrossed and leave them inspired. Cold Aim, her latest book, features police chief Tess O’Rourke as she works to protect the community of Rogue’s Hollow and a witness in a high-profile human trafficking case. Here are Janice’s top five writing tips:
- Put something on paper. It’s impossible to edit a blank page. If I’m struggling, I try really hard to at least get something down, even if it makes no sense or is further along in the story. Later, when I reread and have to edit, it often frees up my imagination to get to the real story.
- Read. Sometimes reading a good book or a news article or even rereading a writing book will act as a muse, opening my mind to the possibilities in my story.
- Ask a lot of what-if questions. What if character A did this to character B? What if character A turned left instead of right? The possibilities are endless and can help get me moving again.
- Change location. Maybe the office just isn’t working. It might be cliché for writers to write in coffee shops, but whatever works. I also like my local library.
- Go for a swim or a walk or a run. Exercise can help stimulate inspiration. Often when I’m swimming, counting laps, I find ideas popping into my head. I have even worked out plot problems during my mile swim.
Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of novels featuring brave heroines and heroes. Her latest book, Memories of Glass, draws from true accounts to shine a light on a period of Holland’s darkest history and bravest heroes. Discover Melanie’s top 5 writing tips below.
- Start writing. Fear of failure is often what stops a writer from writing. It’s this awful, recurring fear that circles back no matter where we are in our career. So I put those formidable first words on paper every day, no matter what, even if it sounds like my four-year-old nephew could write more compelling prose. This forces me past my fear and frees my mind to start creating again.
- Create compelling characters. Your people will talk to you. Only fiction writers get this, but sometimes these characters we create on paper become quite chatty in our minds. I use resources like 16personalities.com to fully understand my characters. Then I embrace their strengths, help them overcome their weaknesses, and attempt to corral them when they rebel.
- Organize research. As a historical novelist, I love to research, and I have mounds of articles, interviews, and notes to prove it. I spend a good month researching each novel, but in order to actually use the material, it needs to be organized in such a way that I don’t get lost for days searching for the pieces. Scrivener does this for me with its easy-to-navigate folders and tabs. I can quickly find an answer, then get right back to writing.
- Push through the middle. Middles are hard. For me, they’ve always been hard. I have all sorts of threads and conflict and it’s not yet time for resolution. I’ve discovered that I have to push through my messy middle and keep writing. Then I’ll clean it all up after I reach the end.
- Befriend tea. I can’t drink gallons of coffee a day, but black tea, white tea, green tea—they’re all my friends. Tea is the fuel that sharpens my brain and helps me stay focused, as long as I keep my mug away from the keyboard. Tea + keyboard = very bad writing day.
Chris Fabry is a bestselling, award-winning author who has written over 80 books, including the Overcomer novelization, based on the latest Kendrick Brothers film, and Under a Cloudless Sky. Get Chris’s top 5 writing tips now.
- Find music that gets you into the world of your novel. When I was writing the Left Behind: The Kids books with Dr. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, I listened to Hans Zimmer for HOURS every day. It kept me in the setting and tension. Recently, I’ve written about a tiny classic country music station from the 1970s. Waylon, Willie, Dolly, and Loretta were with me every day.
- Center your heart before you write. I spend the first few minutes of my day reading the Bible and journaling. It seems counterintuitive to do something other than pouring your words out, but I find this time is vital to place my trust fully in God for what I’m writing that day.
- Relax and let your subconscious work. I hit a wall with my first novel for adults and asked Jerry Jenkins to help. He basically said, “Relax, go to sleep, allow your subconscious to work on it and you’ll figure it out.” The confidence he gave was as important as the advice. I did figure it out (one morning when I woke up, ironically), but he gave me the confidence to say, “You can do this.”
- Show up. When I go back to edit my work—and I usually write from start to finish—I can’t tell which was a good day and which was a hard one. Some days will be easier to hit my word count than others. But writing is, to me, more like digging a ditch. Show up. Do the work. Spend the time and mine your heart. Then do it again tomorrow.
- Buy an ear of corn. I was writing about my hometown and the people I grew up with. I bought an ear of corn, shucked it, closed my eyes and took in that scent, and my mind exploded with memories. Excite the sense of smell and use what you discover for your writing.
Historical romance novelist Tara Johnson is a passionate lover of stories. She has penned two published novels set during the Civil War: Engraved on the Heart, a 2019 Carol Award and Christy Award finalist, and Where Dandelions Bloom. Read top 5 writing tips from Tara:
- Remind yourself of the goal. No, I don’t mean the goal of getting 50,000 words written in a month, or 2,000 words done in a day. View your day like a camera lens. Zoom out. Consider the heart of your story and begin to write. Don’t focus so much on the quantity of words.
- Get enough sleep. You cannot create well without proper rest. When it’s sleep deprived, your body fights itself. What an exhausting way to create.
- Stop often to stretch, get some exercise, or enjoy nature. Changing our body position, our task, or our view can make a drastic difference in unlocking creativity and focus. In addition, studies have shown just spending twenty minutes outside each day improves mood, memory, brain function, mental health, and creative blocks.
- Before writing each day, read excerpts of a writing style that inspires you. Do you love the way Harper Lee writes so simply, yet leaves just enough space in a line to let the reader draw their own conclusions? Do you love L.M. Montgomery’s exquisite sunrise descriptions? Whatever it is that inspires you as a writer, take a few minutes each day to let that style of writing wash over you and remind you what you love so much about the craft.
- Write with God. Writing with God is a ceaseless, open invitation to sit in His presence and have Him take an active part in the process. Ask Him what you should name the next character. Ask Him what should happen next as that pesky villain stirs up trouble. Pour through His Word to find inspiration for the symbolism the story is crying out for. Writing with Him means the same thing as co-writing with another author…it’s active participation with Him through every part of the story’s genesis, the messy first draft, exhausting edits, and eventual birth. After all, who better to create with than the Author of Life?
T.I. Lowe is a native of coastal South Carolina and author of over a dozen novels, including the bestseller Lulu’s Café. Beach Haven, book one in her new contemporary romance series set in fictional Sunset Cove, South Carolina, releases in April 2020. Get T.I.’s top 5 writing tips below.
- Do not write right away. I never immediately begin with a new Word doc when I’m starting a new book. It begins with pen meeting paper. I find journaling characters and ideas helpful with immersing myself into the story before typing. This way once I’m ready to start chapter one, the words flow in a smoother rhythm.
- Write like no one will ever read it. Approaching a story with this mindset is a freeing gift, because my focus is solely on telling the story and not on reader expectations or writing trends. The first draft is not the right place for outside opinions. That’ll come later during edits, rewrites, and beta reads.
- Tell the story now. Detail it later. I look at the first draft as if I just reeled in a fish. The second and third and fourth rewrites are for embellishing and adding those details that can really bring my fishing tall tale to life before the reader’s eyes. Getting caught up about whether the fish was blue or green, five inches long or five feet, can smother telling the initial story.
- Don’t be too chicken about change. I loosely plot a story, because I want to leave plenty of room for unexpected discoveries along the writing journey. If I’m too dead set on the plot and an outline, then suddenly my word count comes to a screeching halt and I’m staring at the screen. When the war of braving it and letting the direction veer from my initial thoughts or being too chicken to change it rages on, nothing is accomplished but wasted time. And who has time for that? Be brave to changes!
- Writing is an adventure that requires respect. Sure, writing is my passion and I never want to label it as a job or a burden, but I do view this blessed adventure with a good measure of respect. I do that by committing to it and setting reasonable word count goals (1,000 to 3,000 per day), but I want those words to count and not just be about meeting a certain number, so I never make counting words my main priority. I make each word count count by giving the proper attention to the story at hand.