Is that all there is? The aspiring novelist’s to-do list

So you want to make a full commitment to your effort to become a successful, engaged writer of long narrative fiction? Consider the following elements of the job description.

Story Organization

• Determine your story’s three-act structure.

• Chart your plot points/story beats, including but not limited to:

Inciting Incident

Establishment of the Stakes

Attacks on the Hero


Reversals and Revelations

Recalibrating the Stakes

All is Lost Moment

Hero’s Pause for Dark Reflection

Final Battle



• Review the hero’s journey, desire, agenda, quest, path of change.

• Ditto the antagonist’s.

• Go through and outline your entire first draft before beginning revisions.


• Make daily stops at the best online story aggregators and discussion boards about your subject.

• Check relevant topics on Wikipedia.

• Take whatever field trips are necessary to get the “real feel” of your story world.

• Tune into TV shows about that world on the NatGeo, History, Biography or Spike TV channels, even if you’ve seen the shows several times before.

• Keep checking for any new books about your subject, then try to read them when your purchase arrives.


• Download and take a class in Scrivener, even though you have already written thousands of words in Microsoft Word.

Social Media

• Post regularly on two blogs of your own: a personal one and a writerly one, where you might even consider posting excerpts from your work-in-progress.

• Comment regularly on Twitter, post and share on Facebook, and keep your profile updated on LinkedIn—the minimum in terms of social networking.

• Establish a presence on GoodReads.

Publishing Planning

• Learn the difference among an Elevator Pitch, a Log Line and a Premise.

• Research the surefire three-paragraph query letter and file away some examples thereof.

• Seek out, similarly, the ultimate guide to crafting a winning synopsis. Be sure you can write it in 1-page, 3-page and longer versions.

• Collect the names of reputable freelance editors who can review your manuscript, if and when you finish it.

• Begin compiling a list of agents you’ll approach about your completed manuscript, with a reminder about each one as to why she or he is receiving your letter.

• Bring yourself up to date about the burgeoning world of self-publishing, in case you opt for or must go that route.

Writing Advice

• Read the three writers’ magazines (Writer’s Digest, The Writer and Poets & Writers) when the new issues hit the mailbox or newsstand.

• Surf the websites of writing gurus and agents (i.e.,,,,, Janet Reid (, etc.

• Explore going away to a multi-day writers’ conference or writer’s retreat, or both.

Local Writing Community

• Attend the semi-monthly writers’ group and the monthly Writers’ Salon and Writers Read sessions at your public library.

• Read the library’s Writer’s Blog, and contribute a post if invited.

• Take part in your own or a neighboring community’s One Book One Town celebration, depending on which town has selected a book that interests you and that you want to or have read.

• Join a fee-based ongoing weekly workshop/critique group with a veteran college professor or published novelist.

• Collate the suggested edits/questions/areas-needing-improvement-or-cutting that you agree with from all of the reading copies of your work that you handed out in the library and fee-based workshops/critique groups.

• Attend local appearances by touring novelists. Strongly consider buying a copy of their new book and getting it signed, perhaps after telling the author that you’re working on your own novel, so she or he will write a pep-talk inscription for you along with her or his autograph.


• Heed the words of Stephen King: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

• Read fiction while writing fiction to keep your creative pump primed.

• Don’t read fiction while writing fiction so you don’t subconsciously fall into the style of the authors you are reading.

• Read the latest Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner.

• Read the widely acclaimed first novel by a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

• Read the just-published second novel of another graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop because you so enjoyed her first novel.

Updike• Read the widely acclaimed new biography of a great American writer, John Updike, even if the only works by him that you have read are some of his essays about golf.

Current Events

• Stay abreast of key writerly issues, such as the latest developments in the MFA-vs.-NYC and unlikeable-vs.-likeable-main-characters debates.


• Keep sending out the two or three short stories that have been collecting rejection slips.

 And, Oh Yeah, Don’t Forget

• Set and adhere to a daily writing schedule—using an elapsed-time, word-count or page-count quota—so you can, once and for all, finish composing and revising your book.—Alex McNab


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