How to Write a Novel and Keep Your Day Job

1. Keep a strict calendar.

2. Go to bed early.

3. Exercise.

4. Find a reliable notes bank.

5. Hyper-organize documents .

  • Ideas dump. I keep a running list of any and all ideas — from a major plot twist to background research to a random word that I like. I regularly paste notes from my Remember the Milk app into this document.
  • Character list. My series has a protagonist and half a dozen recurring characters, plus another dozen or so new characters in each book. This one-pager holds details (what’s their appearance? background? motivation? jargon? quirks?) that help to define and distinguish my people.
  • Outline. For a 70,000 word book, my outlines run about a dozen pages. This evolving document allows me to create and keep track of the multiple story lines, twists, and moving parts. When I need to restructure or change a storyline, I manipulate the outline first, which is infinitely easier than fumbling with large blocks of texts.
  • Data sheet. Geek alert: I keep an Excel spreadsheet listing each chapter, location, time-stamp, a one-sentence plot summary, and character appearances. This is handy when I need to alter sequencing or insert a new scene. It’s also helpful to see at a glance when it’s time to bring a character back into the action.
  • The manuscript. When I start a new chapter, I paste the next section from the outline and away I go.

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Penguin Random House

Penguin Random House

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Penguin Random House, Inc., the world’s largest English language trade publisher, bringing you the best in fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books.