How To Write A Novel in 37 Easy Steps*

  1. Announce to the world that you are going to Write A Book.
  2. Think of a title.
  3. Do nothing for approximately seven years.
  4. Move to Orlando, Florida and spend eighteen months working in Disneyworld.
  5. Write a book about it.
  6. Find an agent who is interested in said Disney book but cannot represent you on the strength of it due to there being only about 23 people in the whole world who’d be interested in reading it and even less in buying it.
  7. Tell agent you are already writing a novel. This is a big fat lie.
  8. Spend a few Saturday afternoons scribbling down some ideas.
  9. Write three chapters and a plot synopsis really, really quickly and before you can edit them, run to the post office (literally, run) and send them to the agent.
  10. Decide you can’t write the novel because your soul-destroying job is slowly but surely sucking all the life force out of your blackening soul and if you don’t do something about it soon your heart will be a empty abyss of abandoned dreams, bitterness and contempt.
  11. Quit your job. (In the middle of a global economic recession, for maximum dramatic effect.)
  12. Set up shop in tiny – tiny – bedroom in your parents’ house that you grew up in.
  13. Say the phrase, ‘How far the mighty have fallen’ a lot.
  14. Put a new Macbook on your already over-stretched credit card because you simply cannot work under these conditions.
  15. Spend a few weeks pretending to work on plot points, characters, etc. but really staring out the window and listening to John Mayer’s Continuum album.
  16. Relocate to a holiday home by the sea for two months of uninterrupted writing time. Bring with you three different coffee machines, your favorite coffee mug and enough ground coffee and Nespresso capsules to last the entire eight weeks and then some.
  17. Finalize the plot. You already have a beginning, an end and a couple of bits in the middle – all you need to do is fill in the other 75,000 words. No problem.
  18. Start writing the first draft. This takes the whole eight weeks, working from 10am-8pm six days a week, not including the days when you decided not to get dressed but instead lay in bed reading books about NASA’s Apollo program and drinking coffee because you were in a little house in the arse end of nowhere and who’d ever know?
  19. During the course of writing the first draft you end up dividing the book into five sections and obsessively track your word count on an Excel spreadsheet that took more time to format, print and fill in by hand than it would’ve taken you to write that day’s 2,000 words, but whatever. Your plan is to write the first draft then go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing. However one section from the end, you decide you know exactly where you’re going and stop.
  20. Print out the whole thing on blue paper, just for kicks.
  21. You start to write the second draft. You are now back up home and within the range of a wireless network; your newfound Twitter addiction puts the skids on your daily word count.
  22. You start drinking obscene amounts of coffee, even more so than before.
  23. Writing the second draft you throw in a few characters, tweak a few plot points and change the baddie, so that by the end of it the thing is so confusing, the wires so crossed, the timeline so messed up that not even you know what’s going on anymore.
  24. Print out the entire thing on white paper. (You’re out of blue.) Now you’re not sure if all you have isn’t just a big pile of double-spaced poo.
  25. To help keep track of your plot, you spend/waste a day organizing a notice-board and hanging a whiteboard on the wall behind your desk. You stick some inspirational quotes on it, a postcard, a receipt. You look at it for a while.
  26. Contemplate throwing the entire thing in the bin – notice-board, whiteboard and the bloody novel.
  27. Wonder if this would be easier if you had a drinking problem or you still smoked.
  28. Want to smoke.
  29. Give yourself a metaphorical slap across the face, create a shiny new word processing document and start the novel for a third time.
  30. Buy John Mayer’s new Battle Studies album and put the song Assassins on repeat for thirteen days.
  31. Print The Novel: Take 3 and go through each page with a pink highlighter and your fancy pen, marking mistakes.
  32. Discover that your characters are glaring and staring at each other all the damn time.
  33. Having amended the soft copy of your manuscript, leave it to fester for a while.
  34. Visit the world outside of your bedroom/novel writing room/Dream Factory.
  35. Spend a fretful few days trying to ‘update’ (read: make not crap) your original plot synopsis which now bears little resemblance to the story you’ve written. Whoops.
  36. Print out a submission copy on super fancy paper.
  37. Bless it, douse it with Holy Water (there are no Atheists submitting to agents, as the saying goes), kiss it, wish it well and send it to the agent.

*using the Catherine Ryan Howard Method of Novel-Writing.

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20 thoughts on “How To Write A Novel in 37 Easy Steps*

  1. Olive says:

    Hi Catherine,
    Came across your blog through the Inkwell website. Love this post and can identify with it a lot. I too am self-publishing or “self-printing” so know how hard it can be. Although my genre is a tad different (children’s books)
    Good luck with it and look forward to reading your updates on it:)

  2. catherineryanhoward says:

    Hi Olive,
    I think I read about you on the Echo when you were launching in Douglas Books..??! My mum loves reading out stories about self-publishers to me so that’s how I came across it. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting and you never know, I might be asking you loads of questions when the time comes! 🙂

  3. Nancy Denofio says:

    Talk about writing a novel. I have four, on four shelves, labeled, and I never send them to anyone. I don’t have a clue why I just stare at them, and keep writing, soon to be number five. Perhaps an agent will love the fact I have several to read! Any one else out there who just labels them? It’s not like I’m not published, but these are babies waiting to be born.

  4. Rebecca Brown says:

    Fantastic post! I love your sense of humour, it is so dry and hits the nail right on the head.

    I will be queuing up for Mousetrapped, and no doubt for your novel too when the big day arrives (I have no doubt it will!)

  5. howdidyougetthere says:

    Catherine: If the novel’s as exciting as this list is – I laughed, I cried, the dramatic tension was unnerving — then you’re in!!

    Nancy: Didn’t I hear something about JD Salinger having quit writing for anyone but himself? I’m impressed with all the completed novels – I’m stuck in a loop trying to force my 1 (1/2) novels into someone’s (anyone’s) cold, lifeless hands. The morgue has me barred from the premises now.


  6. somniumhannibalis says:

    I know I’m some six months late commenting on this, but I just found your blog while surfing for writing-related things (which is one facet of my personal procrastination method), and nearly inhaled a cherry while reading this post.
    Amongst other things, it painfully, vividly resonates with me: at the moment, I’m stuck somewhere between points .26 and .27, and I’ve lost an Ottoman admiral in the process…
    Grat blog, and I hope to read your novel soon.

    Chiara (from Italy)

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Better late than never! 🙂

      I’m glad you liked it (and be careful with those cherries!!) I’ve finished the first one but am now starting it all over again with Novel. 2….

      Thanks for stopping by and best of luck with YOUR novel!

  7. Cynthia Briggs says:

    I too am a bit tardy on commenting on this post, but just ran across it this morning.

    OMG Catherine you are a kick! I write cookbooks and about food (talk about boring after 12 years)and I have two murder mysteries floating around in my head. After reading this post I know I’m not off base as the crazies infiltrate my brain every time I open the “fiction” file (I have done step #2: Title: Drop Dead Ugly) to finally begin the process. I kick myself too that I haven’t chosen an easier type of fiction. Mysteries I think are the most difficult to write….but then I wouldn’t really know for sure…yet.

    Very entertaining post, enjoyed it greatly.

    Cynthia Briggs
    Pork Chops & Applesauce
    Sweet Apple Temptations

  8. Michelle Gregory says:

    i saw this post on Creative Ink and was sorry i couldn’t comment, but now i’ve found you. this is great. i esp. liked: 26.Contemplate throwing the entire thing in the bin – notice-board, whiteboard and the bloody novel. how many times did i go there?

    Michelle, fellow writer.

  9. Lani says:

    I LOVE this! A really enjoyable read and so good to hear that Im not the only person writing a book in a really roundabout weird procrastinating strange way. Im at the end ( or thereabouts) of my first fiction novel and finding it super hard to tie it altogether. I mistakenly thought that just becuase my first book – a work of non-fiction came together in less than six months – that so would this one. Ouch. Not! Congratulations on your success. You have inspired me. Im now going to get me a whiteboard so i can plot out my novel. (Of course i will have to decorate it appropriately first. And will need to purchase inordinate amounts of markers and stickers and such materials BEFORE i can do any plot outlining.) Im glad i found your blog.

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