Wednesday, April 21, 2010

DREADED AUTHOR QUESTION: I Always Wanted to Write a Novel. How Should I Get Started?

By Isabo Kelly

In this monthly series, Isabo talks about the often uncomfortable questions every author gets asked, and how to handle those dreaded inquiries. If you have gotten any of these “dreaded” questions, please share them with us here. If you have an answer, all the better.

From a rude person, this can translate into, “If you can do it, I’m sure I could.” From a nicer person, this translates as, “Novel writing sounds easy—you get to sit around in your pajamas making up stories and people pay you for it. I want to do that. Sounds much easier than my job.”

But if writing books were that easy, everyone would do it. We’d be inundated with more books than anyone could possibly read and no one would do anything else.

Fortunately for us writers, writing isn’t that easy. (Because there is a necessity in the world for other careers—doctors, grocers, farmers, telephone engineers, cupcake makers.)

Writing a novel takes effort, time, commitment to finishing the book, enough concentration to work on the book when there are more interesting things to do, like watch reruns of The View. The motto of a writer is and has to be “butt in chair, words on page.” That’s the only way a novel gets written. How often your butt is in the chair, how many words you put on the page at a time is an individual writer’s prerogative. But without those two things, you can “want to write a novel” all you like. The novel won’t get written.

And putting butt in chair and words on page isn’t always an easy thing to do. Pajamas or not, you still have to get the writing done. Sometimes you have to work when all you want to do is watch movies or take a nap. That’s something non-writers don’t always understand. While writing might be a passion, and it might even be fun, it’s still work. Just like a day job, or any other kind of career you might have, you have to put work into writing.

What if the plot isn’t developing? What if your deadline is looming and you’ve only finished a third of the book? What if your characters have suddenly become uncooperative or you’ve taken a wrong turn in the action and don’t know how to fix the mistake?

Enjoying a career, having fun doing what you do, doesn’t mean that there isn’t work. And that’s where the glamour of being a “writer” tends to wear off. So when people say to me, “I’ve always liked the idea of being a writer. I think I could write a book. Where do I start?” I tell them, “You start with butt in chair, words on page”, and then I tell them a little about my process, what it takes to finish a novel, and what it takes to sell one. If the questioner is still interested in writing after that conversation, they’re writers and I’m happy to encourage them to get their novel done. If they aren’t, they’ll go back to their current careers with a little more appreciation for what they do as well as what a writer does. ♥

Isabo Kelly (aka Katrina Tipton) is the author of multiple science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romances. Her Prism Award Winning novel, SIREN SINGING, has just been released in paperback from Ellora’s Cave ( For more on Isabo’s books, visit her at


  1. Great post. Writing can look so easy from the outside--it's frustrating! And I think we writers of romance face a special sort of "anyone can do that." I find that the easiest way for me to reply to the "anyone can do that" is something politely along the lines of "well, go ahead!"

  2. Well said, Isabo! How about this one, which I get in some form or another just about every few weeks via email or people who come up in bookstores while I'm signing: "I've got a great idea for a novel--you write it for me and we'll split the profits."

    People just don't get that we authors have a surplus of creative ideas of our own and don't need to get them from others. If I had a nickel for every potential novel idea in my own brain that I will never have time to write, I'd be living in a mansion on a private island somewhere (and still wouldn't have time to write them)!

  3. Great post, Katrina. And yes, I always do wonder (and cringe) at how wannabe writers seem to assume I'm in need of ideas. As if the previous dozen books were created without a thought in my head. If I had a dollar for everytime someone (usually but not always male) said, "Have I got a story for you" (hint: 9/10 the referent is their own presumably fascinating life), well, I could just talk about writing, too, rather than actually doing it.

  4. So true! Writing was always my pet talent, so I figured that when the time was right I'd just whip a novel off my laptop and launch to fame and fortune. HA! I had to learn the hard way that writing and storytelling are two completely different skills, and that the whole project takes so much discipline and perseverance, you have to wonder how crack-ups like Fitzgerald ever managed it so well.

    At least the hard road allowed me to truly relish getting The Call. And now I know how to answer that DAQ when it arrives!

  5. I don't know who coined "bichok"--I would love to credit someone, because it wasn't me. But I mentally flog myself with it constantly. "Bichok, bichok, bichok!!!" It means, "Butt in chair, hands on keyboard." It is a sort of mantra for me, and I agree with Isabo that it is vital wisdom for anyone trying to write a book. Elizabeth Palladino

  6. Very well put! Thank you.

    A few months ago, told a colleague I was a writer. First, she asked how I have time to write, and implied that I must not work as hard at our job as she does, if I'm writing.

    Then, she went on to create a list of things I should write about, and had no interest in what I was actually writing at that moment.

    My face gets all red just thinking about it.

  7. Lisa your "well go ahead" response is perfect! they'll learn.

    Wendy & Hope I get that too, with the offer of ideas! Just makes you shake your head doesn't it.

    Love the bichok, Elizabeth! That's it exactly! Even when a nap is calling :)

    Melinda, you have my sympathies! Some people just don't get it and never will. But it is frustrating!

  8. Great post. It always makes me cringe when people assume it's so easy as if I'm writing a grocery list or when my friends say, "I'll give you the story, you write the book" right.