Critical Things to Do Before You Write Your First Novel

Hindsight is twenty twenty they say. Before I ambitiously embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime, I had no clue what to expect. Sure, I’d read many novels and books and blog posts on how to write them.

What I quickly found out was reading about writing, and actually writing, are totally different. It’s like thinking you’re a good singer because you watch America’s got Talent and belting out off key tunes at a karaoke bar. Time for a reality check.

What I wish i knew blog image

Now, one novel under my belt and the second half way done, I’m taking a look back at some of my biggest challenges. I’m hoping I can help you avoid some of the pitfalls, agony, tears, traps, and despair I faced along the way.

Here’s what the books don’t tell you.

Here’s what my twenty-six year old self wish my younger self knew when I first started my journey down the narrow and bumpy writer’s road. First…


Have character charts for each character AND how you want them to grow throughout the book.

Hopefully you’re already organized and have a character sheet with all the information you need about each character. Sorry to break it to you but while that is necessary, in the long run, all that’s going to do is ensure consistently boring characters.

You want your characters to grow and be changed by the journey they embark upon. This isn’t something that will magically occur. If you don’t have a clear plan for growing and developing your characters throughout the book, it won’t happen.


Make sure each character is critical.

Every single primary and secondary character needs to be in the book for a reason. Surgery to remove them later is a HUGE pain. For those of you who’ve ever had a wisdom tooth removed, envision that kind of pain. Now add on trying to participate in one of those hot dog eating competitions directly afterwards while simultaneously trying to get your sedated self to solve complex formulas. If your head isn’t hurting yet, you still don’t have a clear understanding of what this process is like.


Be 100% sold on a name from the start.

Also a pain is changing a character’s name mid book. Pick a good name from the start and make sure you don’t have too many main or secondary characters with names all starting with the same letters. This can confuse the reader and cause them to forget who’s who. I know the find and replace search function in Word may seem like an excuse not to worry about this one. Trust me, when you’re working with several hundred pages of manuscript, its going to be a mess unless you have it right from the start.


Don’t forget sub plot.

This was a big one for me. I was laser focused on the bigger picture but paid little attention to sub plot. While having an over arching well thought out plot is helpful, it can’t solve everything.

Don’t wait until the end of your book to realize sub pot is missing. Plan it now! Here’s a great post on writing sub plot that has helped me. 



Draw up a map FIRST with the names of landmarks and towns.

Don’t be like me and learn this the hard way.

I drew up a very rough map and then didn’t bother adding to it as I went. During the editing process I could never remember where was where and was constantly tracking down errors. What region was Helmnatri? Was that really a place? What was the name of that city that had the river running through it again? I thought Arada was a dry hot place not cold…

In summary, lay the foundations of the house first. I know you’re eager to start writing the next New York Time’s best seller but be patient. Once you’re finished with your first draft and go back to edit, revise, rewrite and rewrite again, you’ll thank your younger self for the hard work you put in ahead of time.

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Candace back from vacation in Belize and headed to work.



Photo credit: Old Map by Enrique Flouret/CC BY

6 thoughts on “Critical Things to Do Before You Write Your First Novel

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