Novice Novel Writer In Need

By Murissa Shalapata

As the next semester approaches and the portfolio deadline rushes to end quicker than my imagination can flow at this moment, I find myself stuck and confused. I ask myself "How do you write a novel?" and more importantly "What the hell should I write about?". I thought about buying books that may teach me any technique that might help me, or even taking an online course. I am currently doing it the old fashioned way by critically reading books that I enjoy for their techniques used rather than the story, as I normally have done. It does help, but I still find myself asking "What the hell should I write about!?".

In one of my previous courses last semester I was taught to read books for the techniques used and to understand why the author used those particular techniques. I read Katherine Mansfield, Jack Kerouac, Magnus Mills, among others and I appreciate all of their techniques.

However, I could only successfully (according to my professor) mimic Mansfield and Kerouac. This lead me to determine that perhaps these are styles that I should perhaps apply to my own writing but then I realized since it has already been done should I be focussing on developing my own unique style rather than using techniques of the past? And if this is the case then how do I go about doing so when I often become inspired by the writing of others, especially the beat style of Kerouac. Quite confusing.

However, this is just the technique issue, there is still the problem of what to write about that plagues me. As I have written about in a past post, I noticed that the technique is reflected by the story being told and vice versa. For example, in the case of Kerouac, he wrote about traveling around America and in his novels his language complements the story. When something fast paced is being explained then the language used will be faster, chaotic, and complex with many short sentences followed by a very lengthy one where you would need to take a deep breath if you read it aloud. This explanation doesn't quite do justice to Kerouac's work but for the purpose of this blog it will have to do. My point is that it seems that everything is planned and purposeful in certain novels (the novels that I like anyway), much like poetry or screenwriting. So should I even choose the story before the technique I will use? Then I am still left with the problem of "What the hell do I write about!?".

When I write a story I always derive something from my own personal experiences. However, at 22 years-old I feel like I need to gain more experiences, I need to travel, I need to put myself out there in the strange and unusual, be uncomfortable, get up close and personal to others and life in general. Again I run into a problem... I can't go alone (because my dad won't allow me to at 22). So where do I go from here?

I thought maybe I could get inspiration from my family and the interesting history of my ancestors, and believe me there are many good stories there. But I feel I must be more accurate in depicting their time in history. Behold another issue... I don't have the time to research for accuracy.

So that is my problem. Only 40 pages due by November but where do I go? What to I write?

How do I write it?

I figured I would ask the readers, especially those that are experienced novel writers. Would you be so kind to help a fellow writer out? What do you do for inspiration and what determines your writing technique? How do you unlock your creativity and imagination for when you need it?

photos from:


  1. Great post, Murissa! I feel your pain... I love Neil Gaiman's response when asked where he gets his ideas: a little shop downtown. If only! The most we, as writers, can do, is use our imagination. I think your Einstein graphic says it all: imagination is more important than knowledge. For fiction, add a pinch of authentic detail and several cups of emotion, and you'll have a pretty good story. What direction you take it depends on your own likes and dislikes. Just keep writing until you feel it take hold, then hang on to finish out the ride!
    Best of luck!

  2. I just read this posting in my email, and I did think of something, not sure how much it'll help, but here goes. :)

    I'm no writer, but I did take a creative writing class in college. And the major project was whatever you wanted, just if it was poems, has to be so many, a short story, just so long or the like. Anyway, I was doing a story, and had grand plans. I was thinking of creating a detective with such an interesting background; I thought, heck, how about alternative history and what if Hitler survived and didn't kill himself. But whatever I thought of just didn't sit with me well.

    Then I went to what I knew - Space, Mars, Exploration, Shuttles. Then I got something; especially helped that a Mars Lander landed on Mars somewhere before that, or would soon after. And I added a lovely little Twilight Zone touch to it. Then I got quite excited about it. And we didn't even have to "finish" it so to speak, so I set up the beginning pretty well, but skipped a little bit to get to the end, and boy did I love that ending. LOL

    So, if you don't mind advise from a plain and simple reader who dabbled in a little bit of writing once upon a time, try writing a little bit on something you know or really, really like (read as obsessed with space and space exploration), and you might get your topic. Or it might lead you to it. :)


  3. It won't help you at all when I tell you that I get bombarded by scenes that explode into my mind's eye pretty much every day. When other people are thinking, 'Hmm, shall I defrost that chicken for tonight?' or 'I don't think I really like that skirt I bought yesterday - I'm going to take it back. Now where did I put the receipt?' - in my mind there are men and women being dragged kicking and screaming from each other's arms, or a woman bursting into tears when she hears that her lover has died on the battlefield, or a nobleman father facing down his rebellious son. I know I just look like an office worker dozing on the bus. Nope - I'm a writer tuning out the bus and tuning into the story channel that plays 24/7 in my mind. The trick for me is to pay attention when I'm at the office!

    Here's my actual advice - what takes up your thoughts? What goes through your mind? Start writing that down, just free form. Go with it. You'll get a story, I promise.

    Kerouac went with what seemed like mundane, uninvolving snippets of life and ended up re-inventing the novel. Listen to your thoughts. They'll lead you to a story. Your story.

  4. Hi Murissa: Boy do I feel your frustration! Every writer at some point goes through the same dilemma. Great advice from the comments here. I will add this. If you think that at 22 you don't have any experience then think again. You do. You have 22 years of experience in your life - your skin. You know a few things. Think about a story that your father or mother told you about something that happened back in the "old country" or when they were young - and I bet there's a story there. Does it have to be researched in great detail? Maybe - maybe not - but it's a story after all. Imagination plays a part. Or look to your own childhood. What do you remember growing up - your own experiences and start from there. I remember every Saturday morning I'd get up very early and run to the neighbourhood park so I could get the best swing. I remember going on little adventure walks with friends - we'd wander into the back yards of our neighbours and pretend we were going into another world. Start from what you remember. Sit quietly and meditate - let your mind wander and see what you remember and then use that as a starting point. As for style - well that is up to you as well - what feels natural to you - don't try to force it. What if you wrote it as a "memoir" - of a fictional character - or from the first person POV of a young woman - looking back on her life - maybe on the day she graduates from university - or the day she moves out and leaves home to go out on her own - by remembering something that happened in childhood -a specific moment that had an impact on her life - or perhaps the life of someone in her family - and she is telling us this in her own words. Anyway - just a few thoughts to start from. Good luck and let us know what you end up doing! :D

  5. Great ideas here. My ideas almost all come while I am running or cycling. I often find myself running home in a rush to spill it all onto paper. In the meantime I have a suggestion for you. You are 22 which means you are an adult. Be independent and do something fun. I met a young lady a few years back who traveled all around the world straight out of university. In each new city she signed on with a nanny agency or took a waitressing job. It is very adventurous but it is the best time in your life for adventure. Take advantage of it and write as you go.

  6. Good stuff everyone! Thank you for taking the time to give all of your input, I really appreciate it!

  7. Hi there!

    Coming late to the party here...

    I'm one of those who envies the writers (I'm talking to YOU, Julia!) who are bombarded with ideas. *chuckle*

    One piece of advice that still rings true, check out the newspaper. Whether you focus on suspense, heartwarming or slice of life, there's always interesting tidbits to spark ideas.

    Character study? Check out the lengthy obits. People will describe in great detail their loved ones, the amazing tributes often reveal some pretty fascinating potential characters.

    Good luck and happy writing!!

    --Chiron O'Keefe
    The Write Soul:

  8. I wish I had the silver bullet, Murissa, but for me it's just been practice. Sitting down and just doing it, even if you are not feeling it. I do have rituals. Tea is a big ritual.

    I try and go into the shower, a place that is quiet, private and relaxing and focus on a scene I'd like to write. I see my novels like movies in my head, and so during the shower I just try and watch the scene and see if the characters' dialogue is engaging or what particulars about their setting I can describe.

    I need to have music on and so my favourite background music begins to become like muscle memory. Oh, it's this music. It's writing time.

    And for me the trick is write what calls to you. It doesn't matter if it's the next scene in the order of scenes, just write what you're hearing/seeing/thinking of. My current novel in progress has scenes from the beginning, middle and end of the book all in one document, with "Chapter" breaks between. I'll fill it in as I go, just picking a spot to land in and fleshing it out. :)

    I hope that helps more than confuses. :)


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