Four Questions Every Novelist Needs to Ask Himself

Everyone wants to write a book. Everybody has thought about it at one time or the other. People have different motives for doing it (fame, telling a story, money…). The truth is, however, few succeed. The number of people who manage to write a novel is scarce, much less is the number of those who publish one. Therefore, before writing any book, a novelist needs to ask himself several questions.

Creative business

1. Why Do I Want to Write this Book?

“Why?” is one of the most important question a person can ask himself prior to doing anything at all. In this case, knowing why you want to write a novel puts things in perspective. Are you in it for the money? Fame? Love of the written word? Or are you trying to prove something to yourself?

Knowing why you want to do something helps keep you motivated all the way till you finish that book. And, if the motivation is strong enough, it will help you power through the editing process and the long wait for an agent’s or publisher’s reply.

The key here, however, is to be realistic. Tone down your expectations and focus on your book. Writing a novel is a great learning experience; however, it may not be a great “earning” experience.

2. Can I write this book?

This is not meant to question a writer’s physical ability to type 55K+ words. It is, however, meant to help a writer take an honest and realistic approach at his or her ideas. Many people are struck with ideas that seem brilliant at first. Sometimes the ideas turn out to be ridiculous when reevaluated; other ideas still seem genius. However, there is a difference between a good idea, a great idea, and an idea that can be developed into a novel.

The difference is simple. It lies in the plot, characterization, and the subplot. Yet, many writers make the mistake of assuming that a good idea is all it takes to write a good book. Wrong! Ask yourself, can I write this book with the mere idea I have in mind? Can I stretch this idea for 300 pages and still make it interesting? If the answer is no, don’t give up. Simply spend more time plotting.

3. How Much Do I Know About the Subject?

Another important thing is to be sure you have enough information about the subject. A book, like any other piece of writing, requires extensive research. What does your protagonist do for a living? Is he a detective? Do you have enough information about how detectives work? And I don’t mean information you learned from watching movies… Researching sometimes requires traveling to the location of your story, interviewing people in the same line of work as your characters’, and reading several fiction and non-fiction books.

So before you tackle that novel, ask yourself: do I have enough information about the subject I’m writing about? If the answer is ‘no’, then do more research. The better you research your book, the less time it will take you to write it, and writers’ block is less likely to catch up with you.


4. Can I Commit to It? 

Like everything else in life, the flare of the new dims after a while; that’s why it is best to write that novel as quickly as possible. That, however, doesn’t mean putting pressure on yourself to write it in a month. It just means that you need to commit to your project.

This is easier than you think. Pick a time in the day when you are usually not working, cooking, or taking care of your children. No matter how little time in the day you think you have, believe me, it’s enough. An hour spent effectively is better than eight hours wasted staring at a screen.

During the day, think of what you’re going to write, let the plot progress in your head, and take notes so you won’t forget. When the time comes to write, take a quick look over the notes and commence typing.

Writing a novel is a BIG project. Like any other project, it takes motivation, planning, knowledge, and commitment. Chances are, if you have the motivation and commitment, you will find a way to achieve the other two. The most important thing is to take your time with the process. And remember that great things take great sacrifices.

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27 thoughts on “Four Questions Every Novelist Needs to Ask Himself”

  1. This is a great list. I have run into all these questions as I’ve written my novels. I hit #2 when I took on a very complicated novel and wondered if, really, the novel was too difficult for my skill level. I’ve asked myself #3 when I’ve chosen to write from different POVs. I run into #4 and the whole commitment thing when I have to decide if I’ve got the tenacity to edit until I get it right. And, of all things, #1 has returned to me now that I am at the publishing stage on one of the manuscripts—what was there so important in writing this novel that I am willing to dig in and try to get it published? Happy to have found your blog and look forward to getting more posts.

  2. “Next Meeting: Wednesday or Thursday” that’s funny. 🙂 I guess writing is not my concern, it’s where to submit the work once it’s finished.

  3. A brilliant observation. Superb writing knowledge. Prolific advice and fertile ideas. The wisdom of which a copy belongs on every aspiring–or struggling–writer’s composition desk. As always, Margaret, an eloquent presentation, flawlessly done. You made my day. Thank you!

  4. Writing is surprisingly easy.

    Getting published though, that once took genius~!
    However, one can now publish for free on the web. I do so myself, but not to make money—the money option involves signing up (even for me, a Brit New Zealander) with Uncle Sam. Yuk.

    Apple’s iTunes and iBooks are a way to go, for free or reward; as is Smashwords and Lulu and gods alone know how many others out there. I think that the web has changed the face of publishing and traditional publishers are on their way out …

    1. Why not “uncle sam” (which I assume is Amazon)? You can publish on smash words, ibooks etc as well as Amazon. You can’t do kdp select though (as you’re not exclusive to Amazon) but it still puts your product on the place with the biggest market share, which as an author isn’t that what you want? For free or not?

      Or have I missed your point completely? ☺

      1. Uncle Sam is dedicated to taking people’s monies and using them for his own purposes (empire building). I don’t want to get into politics here but I also don’t want Uncle Sam reaching into my pockets to fund his wars—I still have that image in my mind of the little girl running naked from a napalm strike.

        iBooks and others all require a US tax presence. My understanding is that if your country has a ‘tax treaty’ with the US taxes on your earnings in theory go to your own government via ol’ Sam. Wonderful. But I just do not want Uncle Sam (a child molester despite the avuncular honorific) fondling my privates.

        Sam is running around the world making his own rules and overriding national laws in places most people wouldn’t believe. French law allows French banks to do what Sam doesn’t like, but Sam has the ability to break such banks and has just slapped a multi-billion dollar ‘fine’ on a French bank; and the famed Swiss ‘secret account’ is no more:

        “Exhibit A: FATCA.

        Four years ago, the US government passed this absurd law requiring every bank in the world to enter into an information-sharing agreement with the IRS.

        Those who don’t will be subject to a 30% withholding tax on certain funds that get routed through the United States banking system … This isn’t a way to treat friends. And today’s the day it comes into force …

        Exhibit B: BNP Paribas. Uncle Sam just slammed this French bank with a massive fee and threats of criminal penalties for doing business with a country they don’t like.

        In doing so, the US has given BNP… and France… nine billion reasons to abandon America. Again, this isn’t the way you treat friends …”

        Google it, interesting reading. I am not an American and I’d no more fund the Land Of The Free than Nazi Germany or Lenin’s merry men. So I publish for free (and maybe one day might even score myself a reader) … money isn’t everything.

        1. Thanks Argus for taking the time to reply. I don’t want to get into politics either, plus I don’t have the in depth knowledge of the subject to give an informed opinion in any case.

          I will take your offer up though and will Google up on the said subject, purely for my own learning and awareness.



  5. Yup, totally agree on point #4 in particular. This is what made the difference to me. I found that if I just skipped one day when working on a large WIP (ie novel size) then that slip suddenly became 2 days, a week, a month etc. Next thing I knew was that a year had gone by without me working on it.

    Now, even on those days when I’m knackered, too busy or whatever, I still write down something, even if it’s just one line. Sure, one line doesn’t amount to much, but psychologically it ensures that’s I’ve “done something”, and since doing that I’ve found that I always finish those WIPs.

    Getting them into a state fit for publication is another problem entirely, however 🙂

    Excellent post. Blog favourited 🙂

  6. All wonderful points, but I think #4 is the key. No matter how great a story is, if you can’t commit to it, it will never get out of your head.

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