• Jill Jepson
  • Are These Four Beliefs Keeping You from Starting Your Novel?
This blog was featured on 07/13/2016
Are These Four Beliefs Keeping You from Starting Your Novel?
Written by
Jill Jepson
July 2014
Written by
Jill Jepson
July 2014

Few endeavors are as complex, challenging, exciting, terrifying, joyful, exhausting, frustrating, and just plain fun as writing a novel. Few bring as many tears—or as much fulfillment. And very few are as hard. For many new writers, the biggest challenge is getting started. First-time novelists often find themselves facing strong internal resistance. Usually that resistance is the result of beliefs—some false, some true—that get in the way.

In my coaching and teaching, I’ve found several basic notions to be at the root of most writers’ hesitation when it comes to getting started on a novel. Here are four beliefs that may be getting in your way—and what to do about them:

1. You need to know everything that's going to happen in your novel before you start writing it.

Many first-time novelists get stuck on the idea that they have to know every plot twist before they begin. You don’t. In fact, you don’t even need to know how your first chapter will end!

It’s true that some authors have their novels completely planned out before they write the first sentence. Others have at least a general outline. George R. R. Martin calls this type of writer an “architect.” They plan the way an architect plans a house, knowing the size and arrangement of every room before they hammer a single nail. But many writers—and I believe they are in the majority—figure it all out as they go. Martin calls these writers “gardeners.” They stick seeds in the ground with some idea of what’s going to come up, but without knowing how many branches or blossoms it’s going to have.  

If you can’t get started because you’re still working on that outline or trying to figure out the ending, stop! Sit down and start writing. All you really need to begin is: a) a character and b) a situation. Put the character in the situation and see what she or he does. Go from there.

Get inspiring strategies for writers each week—free!

2. It’s going to take you forever.

The good news here is that it’s not literally going to take you forever. The bad news is that it will probably feel like it’s taking forever.

Despite what NaNoWriMo may have convinced you, novels are virtually never written in a month. While some authors manage to finish novels in a year, it is more common for a good novel to take longer—sometimes much longer. To make matters worse, you really won’t know how long it’s going to take until you finish. That nine-month plan you’ve laid out may end up being five years.

So how can you start something when it looms ahead of you for such a daunting—and uncertain—length of time? By shifting your focus away from the future and onto the page. Think about what you’re writing this moment. Attend to the paragraph, scene, or passage you are working on right now.

Five years from now, you will either have your novel completed or not, but that five years is going to pass either way.  

3. You might invest years of your life on a work that never gets published or doesn’t sell well.

Yep, you might. It’s one of the brutal truths of the writing life. Most writers, including yours truly, have worked hard on novels that never got accepted for publication, or that were published and flopped. And the possibility that you, too, will enter the ranks of writers with at least one unpublished or poor selling novel is pretty high. But there is a way you can be absolutely certain your novel won’t be successful: Don’t write it.

Would you rather be someone who gave it your all and got a novel finished than the person who didn’t even try for fear they wouldn’t end up with a best seller? Get to work. 

4. You might not have the skill or training to write a novel.

Okay, you might not. But you have no idea whether you do until you’ve tried. There are no aptitude tests for writing novels, and no ways of telling ahead of time if you’ll be able to pull it off.

So what do you do if realize you actually don’t have the skill or training you need? Go out and get it—take a course, find a teacher, hire a coach, or learn the way the vast majority of writers have learned over the centuries, by reading and writing a lot.

If you have a novel inside you, you must write it. You won’t be happy until it is on the page, and if it never gets written, there will be a small, empty space in your heart. So, if any of the beliefs listed here—or any other kinds of uncertainty, confusion, or doubt—are stopping you, set them aside. Get to the page. Write.


Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Jill Jepson

    I'm so happy to hear this post worked for you, Frances! I should have said "novel or memoir" here because you're right--the same issues come up for both!

  • Frances A. Rove Writing

    Thank you for pointing out the unproductive holes I fall into and providing a ladder to get out. Everything applies equally to memoir writing. This came along at a perfect time for me. Thank you!

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks, Bella!

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Great post, Jill! You're always so clear and relevant!

  • Jill Jepson

    Hi Chantal! I'm so glad to hear my post was useful to you. I'm definitely a gardener myself, so I can relate!

  • Chantal Walvoord

    Thanks for this post. I enjoyed heard the difference between writers who are architects and those who are gardeners. I sent a story to an online site and it was criticizes. Someone suggested plotting everything out; good to know some are gardeners. 

  • Jill Jepson

    You're welcome, Catherine James! I'm glad you found the post useful.

  • catherine james

    I really needed to read this, at this particular moment so thank you for writing it.

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks, Alexandra. I hope you can move past the urge to plan and start writing! I had the same problem at one time, and it felt great when I finally stopped trying to figure everything out ahead of time. Good luck on your writing!

  • Alexandra Caselle

    I so resonated with your post.  #1 definitely fits me.  I am too busy trying to plan out every detail, every action that I am now stuck at the starting position.  #2 also applies a little to me because I have never written a novel before.  The most I have done is 100 pages toward a novel, and then I got write-lag and lost momentum.  Great post!

  • Jill Jepson

    I'm really pleased you like the post, Rita!

  • Rita Gardner

    Thank you Jill! I very much like the notion of "if it never gets written, there will be a small, empty space in your heart." So true!

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks for your comment, Jan Morrison! I'm really glad you liked my post. I agree: nothing beats on-the-job learning as far as novel writing goes.

  • Jill Jepson

    I'm really pleased you like my post, Sherry Joyce. What a great metaphor: "being a fish flapping on the table outside of the bowl." I know that feeling! Congratulations on the publication of your novel! That's terrific!

  • Jan Morrison

    Yep! You have it all here, Jill. I think one of the most efficient ways to learn novel writing is by novel writing. Avoiding on the job learning is delusional. Writing isn't torture. It can be as enjoyable as any skill once you gain some mastery. Thanks for this.

  • Sherry Joyce

    Great blog, Jill Jepson. When I wrote my first novel (The Dordogne Deception), I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, other than knowing the story and characters kept pouring out of my head; plots developed as I typed, and could barely keep up with the pace of my brain doing the "gardening". Much of the time, writing was akin to being a fish flapping on the table outside of the bowl. Took courage to jump back in the bowl and keep writing. Found a great coach and ultimately published last year. Knowing now that I did not have to have everything architected out in advance, makes writing novels much easier. It's the act of writing that causes the creation. Sitting and staring at the computer does nothing. Writing is the magic!

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks, B. Lynn Goodwin. I'm really pleased you liked my post!

  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    Love your positive attitude. "You don't lose until you quit trying. 

    So what does it mean if you refuse to start trying?


  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks, Ann! Glad you liked it!

  • Ann Thompson

    This is a great article -- succinct and compelling.  I appreciate how attainable you make the goals. Your advice is both inspiring and practical.  Thanks so much.

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks, GillianAlex, Kathryn, and Ann. I'm really pleased you like the post. Kathryn Meyer Griffith: What an impressive publication record!

  • Ann Wilmer

    I recently found myself in a temp job with a lot of time on my hands and I started a romance novel based on these principles. I think it's working. This advice is very encouraging.

  • I agree a hundred percent. If you don't start a novel, it will never be finished. if you don't finish a novel it will never be published. If you publish a novel and it doesn't sell or sell well...that's the gamble every writer or artist takes. I have had 20 novels published in 42 years of writing and some did not sell very well. I just kept writing more. And then, years later, I rewrote those novels, when I had more experience, and republished them myself and some of them are doing VERY well. So, you see, a book never dies. It can be rewritten, republished and live an even better second or third life. I do have one completed novel (a SF I had no business writing because I didn't know enough of the science involved - something about cyborgs and distant planets) and a few partials that were never published for one reason or another. Usually because I suspected they weren't good enough or not my cup of tea. Maybe someday I'll revise them, change them around and -voila!- a new book. I think every long-time writer has a few "trunk manuscripts" (in my case "drawer manuscripts") as they're called that never see the light of day. That, too, is part of the writing life. We live and learn. Nice post, Jill. Very true.

  • GillianAlex

    The first sentence of this post says it all..(smile)

  • Jill Jepson

    # 3 is my personal favorite, too, Patricia!