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We’ve all heard it. “I’d write a novel, if I only had the time…” Yeah, right. Time is all it takes to become the next James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, or Thomas Pyncheon.

Any project takes planning, and writing a novel is no exception. So accept that you have to do some reasonably heavy lifting before you even get to the pivotal scene that’s been playing in your head.

  1. Tools: There’s a plethora of writing-specific tools out there, so it’s a matter of finding what works for you. Right now I’m jazzed about Trello, which is meant as a way to share information across teams, but I find it useful for organizing.
  2. Character file. Create a file card (either real or virtual) for each character, and spend time with them. Dig deep into their backstory, hobbies, favorite color. Even if you don’t use all this information, you need to have it.
  3. Timeline. Was Elizabeth born in July or September? Is she older or younger than her brother Joe? Did the life-changing accident happen when she was twenty or twenty-five? All these and more are waiting to trip you up, so make it easy on yourself and note it all down.
  4. Geography. One of my favorite novelists wrote fantastic stories that took place in exotic locales, and he did it almost completely by using maps. If you’re going to use a real place, make it accurate.
  5. Plot. Have an idea where you’re setting out for before you start writing, and it will raise your confidence level substantially!

So there you go. Follow these steps and you’ll find that the blank page isn’t quite so terrifying!

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Bestselling novelist of mystery and historical fiction. Writer, editor, & business storyteller at

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