How to Write a Novel in 47 Easy Steps

March 3, 2015

1. Learn to read. Start with things like Little House on the Prairie and about 93% of the Goosebumps series. Fall madly, deeply in love with the printed word. Substitute shampoo bottles and owners manuals when books are scarce.

2. Become a pre-teen and realize there isn’t much for you at the library. The gap between The Boxcar Children and Adult Fiction is filled with very little, and what is there feels vapid and discusses lip-gloss way too often. Denounce said literature.

3. One day when standing in the tiny young adult section at your local library announce “When I grow up I will write books for this age group!” Then head straight for the classics section. Gone With the Wind at eleven? You’ll never be hungry again.

4. Attend high school in Italy. Meet a girl who lives in a cemetery in Florence and think “Huh. That would be a cool setting for a book.” (Remember this. It will come in handy later.)

5. Enter college and pretend for two full semesters that you don’t know what you’ll major in. Tell people, “Maybe biology? Maybe psychology?” Quietly sign up for four English literature classes.

6. Take creative writing classes. Find that you’re terrible at poetry but stories come pretty easy. Try not to be too grossed out by the ubiquitous 10% of your classmates who insist on writing thinly veiled retellings of their own sexual experiences. You’d just so much rather not have that visual.

7. Graduate. (Predictably) flail.

8. Get married. When deciding whether to change your name to Jenna Lyn Welch or Jenna Evans Welch, go with the latter. It sounds more literary. Also, it means your initials will be JEW. Hilarious!

9. Tutor elementary students in reading/writing. Find out after six months of this that your boss has told the parents of your students that you are an elementary school teacher. Feel terrible that they were misled. Leave.

10. Decide to write a young adult novel. Deep breaths. The first draft will be written almost entirely on a crappy computer in the upstairs room of a local coffee shop. You’ll subsist almost entirely on the establishment’s triple chocolate cake and you’ll feel that you’re doing something grand and dangerous.

11. Realize pretty early on that writing your first book is neither grand nor dangerous. Also, you have no idea what you’re doing.

12. Keep writing anyway.

13. Print out copy of book. Give to a few friends. Get some positive and some negative feedback. Read it yourself and realize that while your character and writing are pretty good, the plot is absolute garbage.

14. Try to fix plot. No success.

15. Despair.

16. Try again.

17. Despair.

18. Shove novel in closet.

19. Start working with Author Father on his novels. Spend several years doing this. Also start writing a blog. Continue reading feverishly.

20. Author Father asks, “What about your novel? You need to get back to work on it.” (Ignore Author Father.)

21. Author Father: “You are a great writer. You have improved every single one of my novels. You ‘hear the music.’ Why aren’t you writing?” (Hem and haw.)

22.  Pretend to be okay about not writing. You tried, right? And you couldn’t do it. Your plot was total garbage. Just because you know good writing doesn’t mean you can do it.

23. Keep pretending you’re happy about not being a writer.

24. Have Child. Give him Mark Twain’s real first name.

25. Keep reading.

26. Just before the candles are blown out at Child’s first birthday, get some astounding news. Despite your hemming and hawing Author Father and his Fancy NYC Agent have gone behind your back and presented your novel to the editors of Simon & Schuster. They see real potential. They want you.

27. Have exact feeling you had when husband proposed (nausea + panic).

28. Wonder why the best moments in your life always seem to make you feel nausea + panic.

29. Say “What? They want MY BOOK? But it doesn’t have a plot.” Fancy NYC Agent assures you they do want it. And the plot can be fixed. Then she tears up and tells you that getting you this book deal has been one of the greatest joys of her career. (She may be fancy, but after being in your life for 20 years, she’s also family.)

30. Suddenly realize they aren’t making this up. A major publishing company has just offered you money to make your biggest dream come true. (nausea + panic x 8)

31. Blow out candles on Child’s birthday cake. Feel as though you’re in a dream. Decide not to tell anyone your news until book deal is finalized. Last exactly four minutes before pulling out phone and calling everyone you know.

32. Begin work on rewriting novel. You have one year.

33. Write and write and write. This includes about a thousand starts and stops, and at least eleven meltdowns. Start neglecting other responsibilities (laundry, cooking, cleaning).

34. Hire a cleaner when in a burst of cleaning energy you realize Child responds to the vacuum like it is something he is seeing for the first time.

35. Hire a babysitter for 8 hours a week when you realize naptime is not enough time to write a novel.

36. Have at least 700 conversations with your husband that begin with the words, “What if….” and ends with some new plot twist. Feel incredibly grateful that he is the only one who will ever know every ridiculous turn your book could have taken.

37. Write. Then write some more. Six months later, send in first draft to your Two Lovely Editors.

38. Wait a realllly long time. Catch up on Desperate Housewives. And the laundry.

39. Receive edit letter. Learn that your Two Lovely Editors are incredibly lovely about the way they present their feedback. Learn to understand that sentences like, “We really feel your story is engaging, and want it to be that way from the beginning,” actually mean “Your opener is boring. Try again.”

40. Try again.

41. Write. And write. Throw away half of it then start again. Continue neglecting other areas of your life. Realize how bad things have gotten when kitchen timer goes off and rather than shouting “Nutritious home cooked meal!” Child shouts “Pizza!” Hope your insane writing schedule won’t have permanent effects on his diet.

42. Gratefully allow husband to take over more than his fair share. Spend every second you’re not caring for Child, writing. Completely stop posting to your blog, because WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT? Your hair hasn’t even been washed.

43. Write at full speed right up until 5 PM on your deadline. Turn in novel again. Time this just before Valentines Day as a gift to your husband. He cares about you (and your book) but could really use a break from hanging out with someone who is spending most of her time with people she made up.

44. Wait. Breathe several sighs of relief. Do the laundry. (Has it been done in six months? No one seems to remember.) Marvel at how easy life can feel when you’re only existing in one world.

45. Hear back from editors. Time to edit. And edit. And edit. Throw out some scenes you think are perfectly lovely but no fourteen-year-old in her right mind will every care about. Make some more big changes. Make a bunch of small changes. Wonder if your book will ever really feel really done. But then one day, somehow, it is.

46. Attach your novel into body of email addressed to Two Lovely Editors and pause for just a moment. That little attachment is your work. Your dream. It represents your very, very best try. Once you press send there will be readers and critics and Amazon reviews and people who hate it—and that’s just if you’re lucky. It’s like standing with your toes over the edge of a cliff.

47. Press send anyway.

P.S. Love and Gelato will be out in March/April 2016.

10 thoughts on “How to Write a Novel in 47 Easy Steps

  1. Becky

    You are amazing. You did it! And I consider myself one of the lucky people that you trusted to read that printed copy 5 years ago. I thought it was lovely then and I can’t wait to read it after all the extra work.

  2. Jean Maurie

    Hello Jenna,
    I just found your blog after reading how you gave away your bike. I loved this post about writing.
    I wish that your font was darker because it would be so much easier on my eyes. I want to read more and I am going to send your blog link to a friend who’s a writer.
    So looking forward to reading more.


    1. jenna Post author

      Thanks for the feedback, Jean! And thanks for reading! I just switched fonts because I also thought the last one was difficult. Is this any better? And thanks for recommending me to your friend! What a compliment!

  3. Kathy Banfield

    I can’t wait to read your new book, Jenna! I’m also a writer, but haven’t published anything in many years–long sad story, but I’m currently working on a book describing my experience in conquering anorexia/bulimia.(One thing’s certain: No one will ever accuse me of plagiarism–LOL!)
    Good luck and blessings,

  4. Madelyn Newman

    Hi Jenna,
    I just finished reading “Love & Gelato” and I loved it!!! It was a wonderful story that took twists and turns that I never expected.

  5. Madelyn Newman

    Jenna, I didn’t finish my comments. I wanted to tell you that I hope you will write many more wonderful books! You are truly your father’s daughter.



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