Some tips on how to write a novel, from first idea to publication and beyond. Part 1 of the Lockdown Series -Developing your IDEA.

In case you’re wondering why I’m writing this instead of working on my own new druid novel, well, my wife and kids are at home all day during this lockdown and, personally, I find it difficult to get into the “zone” when the house is occupied and there’s distractions. But I can still write blog posts, I don’t need to concentrate as much on that, so here we are, the first in a (possibly) 9 or 10 part series which will (might) include tips on things like Cover Design, Book Launch, Pricing and such.

These posts are loosely based on the talk I gave to Strathkelvin Writers Group in Glasgow last year. It was my first paid speaking event and I took it very seriously, writing up a few pages of notes, some of which I used and some I didn’t have time for. I think the group found my talk useful, so hopefully some of you will too. If so, share these posts with your friends! If you’re wondering who the hell I am, you can find my books HERE.

“Sherwood” – one word that conjured up an entire series of books for me.

Okay, so first of all, before you can start writing even a single word of your novel, you need an IDEA, right? For me, my first book, Wolf’s Head came about because I wanted to write something akin to Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur novels – I love the trees and fields, rivers and hills of Britain so I knew I should set my tale in a similar kind of place and historical era. But where? Well, literally five minutes after thinking about that, I saw a house named “Sherwood” and I had my IDEA: try to do a reboot of Robin Hood the way Cornwell did with the Arthurian legends.

I expect you already have your idea, but if not, be on the lookout for similar “divine inspiration”. Ideas for stories can come to you while out walking, listening to podcasts about true crime, chatting to other authors or even watching TV. All of those things have inspired my stories (e.g. classic 80’s TV show Knightmare being the spark for The Druid).

Merlin, from TV show Knightmare

Once you have your idea, where next? It’s one thing to think, “Oh, I know, I’ll write about a druid” or, “Yes! I can write about a detective!” but you need some meat on those meagre bones. As your English teacher used to tell you, you need a start, middle and end. Generally, I fill out my idea with a start and ending, then let the middle fill itself in as I go along – you may not like that method, so plan the whole thing before you start if you prefer. I would suggest you let your characters lead you some of the time though! When one of my “baddies” decided to shoot Friar Tuck with a crossbow, completely against what I had planned (a different guy was supposed to be killed) I just went with it and it ended up inspiring a whole new section of that book.

A good way to plan out the middle of your book even before you start is with research, especially if you’re writing historical fiction as I do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading a non-fiction book and it’s given me something great to use in one of my tales. My novella The Abbey of Death found its whole base within a research book, when I stumbled across an account of some very badly behaved medieval monks who spent too much time drinking, womanizing and fighting with people. Amazingly, these real monks lived at exactly the same time, and in the same place, as the story I was planning! Again, I’ve been astonished how many times things like that happen once you start working on a book – things just seem to fall into place, and I know this happens with other authors as well. It’s as if, once you start, the universe is there to give you a hand along the way!

drunk monk
“Lockdown you say?”

Once you have your basic idea, and then an end, and some things to happen in the middle, you need to sit down and start the real work. Chapter 1!

Now, I’ve read, and heard, so many authors saying, “You MUST write every day,” and, even worse, “you must write at least X thousand words every day.” Bollocks. Writing a novel should not feel like a chore – if it does, you’re not likely to ever finish it. Creating a story should be FUN, so if you don’t feel like writing on a Saturday, don’t. Now, I would temper that by saying, use your common sense. If you can never be arsed and keep putting it off, well, the book won’t write itself so you need SOME self-discipline. But don’t feel like you’re failing, or doing it “wrong” if you find yourself following a different timetable to people on Twitter. Is your imagination going to suddenly wither and die because you didn’t force yourself to write a million words today? No, your creativity will still be there tomorrow. If it isn’t you might want to think twice about writing a novel…

On a similar note – and this is one of my biggest tips – do not sit down to write if you haven’t already got a scene planned out in your head. If you do, you’re likely to end up staring at the screen wondering what to write, getting stressed as time goes by, and end up farting about on Facebook “researching” Grumpy Cat memes.


See what I mean? I just wasted five minutes looking for that, and it’s not even funny. Well, it is, but it was hardly a good use of my writing time, was it? No, I find it much more productive to plan out my next scene when I’m driving, or in the shower, or walking the dog, or washing dishes…You get the point. Have the bare bones and maybe even some dialogue all ready in your head so when you sit down at the laptop you’ll be straight into the action, no messing about. Obviously, this is a personal thing – you may be the kind of person who works best without ANY planning at all. In that case, do what suits YOU. That is ultimately my point – find the best way of doing things for yourself, don’t let others tell you how you MUST do it. Someone like me can give advice, and tell you how I work, but we’re all individuals. As long as you’re being productive, getting a few thousand words a week down, and enjoying it as you go, you’re on the right track.

Okay,  that’s it for now. Go and get to work on your new novel. Don’t wait – what’s the point in waiting? Start it today if you can get a chance!

Next time I’ll look at what happens when you actually finish your book, before you launch it into the world. How to get it all ready to go and in the best shape possible, so when it’s published it doesn’t sink in a sea of terrible reviews and apathy! Hit the FOLLOW button at the top of the page so you don’t miss any more of these rambling posts, and if you are looking for something free to read, try my Forest Lord story “The Rescue” HERE.

If you have any questions about this post, use the CONTACT button or message me on Facebook!

TOday the old


9 thoughts on “Some tips on how to write a novel, from first idea to publication and beyond. Part 1 of the Lockdown Series -Developing your IDEA.

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  1. Thankyou, that’s a very useful read. I have my best ideas at work when my fingers are working and my mind can drift. Trouble is when I get home there’s often too much going on and it just slips away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You need a little notebook! The idea for LUCIA came to me when I was at work, but I immediately ran back to my car and noted it down, then went back to work, fleshing it out in my head. Next time I came back to the car I had more to add to the notebook. 🙂


  2. All of this is so true! Particularly the synchronicity that begins to pop up as you begin writing and researching a novel. I love it! One thing I’ve been missing is going for long walks, as that is when I have most of my ideas, when my mind can wander and look at the trees and sky. I’m only going into our back garden, but have been listening to different music and looking out at the trees around our home instead. I’m used to someone at home as I home educate my child with SEN and write around that, but I must confess this staying indoors has been hard for my inspiration. I won’t give up though! Great post/series! Thanks Steve.


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