Monday, July 23, 2012

Writing Your Novel with Baby Steps

Valerie J. Steimle

Writing a novel has romantic overtones. Thoughts of sitting at a computer near a window of beautiful landscapes, typing away a story which will mesmerize the world can hold a writer at task for months at a time. The reality is we are staring at a blank screen, holed up in a room at night when everyone else is asleep. For me, writing a novel is very scary.  I started one eight years ago and finished the first 100 pages. Since my forte is nonfiction, I get shaky and weak when I think about finishing what I started.
Grandson steps

Some time ago, I stumbled over an article in the February 2008 issue of Writer’s Digest called Baby Steps written by Bill O’Hanlon. He had authored or co-authored 28 books so I thought he would be a good source of information. As I was reading through what he had to say about writing a novel, the thought popped into my head that I needed to take notes and use them later on when I get to “that novel”. So I am passing his words of wisdom on to you.

The first thing he says is to focus on the smallest pieces of the task. Instead of thinking, I need to write this whole novel now. How am I going to do that? Think: I need to divide my project up into bite sized chunks so it is easier to work with. He illustrates this idea with a Chinese proverb: "Enough shovels of earth--a mountain. Enough pails of water--a river". I always say the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time but I think the Chinese have a more poignant way of communicating. Either way, Mr. O’Hanlon says you start with a simple outline. Then with that outline you write a more detailed outline which would include any anecdotes, quotations, excerpts, scenes, and plot points which characters are in the scene and where it takes place.

To start this, you should only write in small amounts of time. Choose anywhere from five to fifteen minutes a writing period. Your writing periods could be five days a week or three days a week. Whatever you can do and decide by month or week. For example, say you decide to write four days a week. Commit yourself to a two week writing period of four days a week When that time is up, recommit yourself for the next time period and you can adjust how many days if you need to. You can do it by the month or two months. Whatever you are comfortable with really helps to break down your commitment of a certain amount of time per writing period. Its “baby steps” as Mr. O’Hanlon named his article.
After your detailed outline is done then transfer each of those detailed points onto in index card that you can carry around with you everywhere you go and write on them. Keep chapters together with rubber bands and work on them as you can.

Once you have all of your cards done, you can start writing your pages using your index cards to help you. But remember: the most important thing is to write in small increments of time. If you have more time then keep going but start your allotted time each day you are to write. That will get you into the habit. There is much more to say about what I learned so in next month’s newsletter there will be another article with more great ideas. The most important thing is to stay motivated to finish your step at a time.
I need to practice what I preach so for my next month goal I am going to write my detailed outline. Not everyone can write this way but for those who are stuck somewhere between gazing at a blank computer screen and thinking, I really need to start that novel, baby steps is the way to go.


  1. And sometimes you just leap right into it. lol It was horribly embarrassing when I first started writing, even just being seen writing. Now it doesn't phase me.

    Most of the time. =D

  2. Wow Valerie, thank you for this super helpful article! I realized I have serious difficulties making doable goals, and instead end up overwhelming myself and quitting before I've started. Hopefully these suggestions will help!