Write The Damn Novel

I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of some pretty great writing communities on the internet, like Ninja Writers and the AbsoluteWrite forums. And it seems like, wherever I go, there is a hoard of aspiring novelists asking myriad questions that can best be answered with the following words:

Write the damn novel.

Not a day passes where I don’t see questions like these:

  • How many pages should my novel be?
  • How many pages should be in each chapter?
  • How many words should each chapter be?
  • How many pages will my book be when it’s formatted down to novel size?
  • Can I have a chapter if it’s only x words?
  • Can I have a chapter with x,000,000 words?
  • What if somebody steals my idea?
  • Should spend all that money and mail my work to the copyright office?

On and on and on and on and on.

I don’t mean to make light of these questions. I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, or like I’m looking down on you from lofty height. I’ve written one book. I don’t have an agent. I haven’t sold a book. There is no high horse here.

There’s also no answer to your question. Just write the damn book.

I get it. You’re worried about doing things right. You want to make sure that you’re not breaking The Rules. You’re worrying about the tiniest, most inconsequential details.

Take all that energy that you’re spending on technical minutiae, and put it into plotting your story. (I recommend The Plotting Workshop, it’s worked very well for me.)

Don’t worry about the technical aspects. Worry about the story. Create the best damn characters that you can, the most vivid settings, the most harrowing twists and turns. Work on an outline so you have some idea of where you’re going — even if you end up changing it later (that’s okay! It’s all okay!).

The only technical thing you should think about is the ballpark word count for your genre. I write Contemporary Young Adult fiction, so my ballpark is 60–80k. Yours may be different. Google it.

Have that number rolling around in the back of your mind, and write the thing! (And don’t worry if you go too long or too short, because you’re going to revise the thing! — My first draft was 103k, which nearly put my mentor in an apoplectic fit. I queried it at 79k, and with editing, it’s going down even lower.)

Don’t be a slave to that number, but don’t go all George R.R. Martin, either.

Dont’ worry about it — Write your damn book!

You will have long chapters. You will have short chapters. You’ll have chapters with one word. You’ll have chapters with no words. You’ll query a book only to find out that the agent has just sold a book that’s nearly identical to yours. You’ll see writers break every single rule that you’ve been told to follow. You’ll see infinite variations on everything you’ve worried about.

Put every ounce of your energy into telling a damn good story. Get people so invested in your characters and in your world that the technical aspects just fade into the background.

It all goes from there.


Zach J. Payne writes poetry, plays, and young adult fiction. He’s an assistant at Ninja Writers, where he helps new writers find their voice and their tribe. He was the query intern for Pam Victorio at D4EO, and his novel Somehow You’re Sitting Here was selected for Nevada SCBWI’s 2015–16 Mentor Program. He lives in Reno, and dreams of travelling the world. Follow along on his adventure and support the adventure if you can!