How I Wrote and Published My First Novel in Just Under 10 Months

“Everyone says they want to write a novel,” my undergraduate mentor told me once over coffee, “but what most people want is to have written a novel.”

I didn’t really understand or believe this until I published my first novel, Nantais. It’s a space opera that also deals with the perils of neurodivergent communication, but not many people even asked what it was about.

What most folks expressed was envy: “Wow, I’ve always wanted to write a book!” And what stood out about that response was that I never heard it even once while I was in the process of writing the book.

The first draft of Nantais took me ten months to complete. During that ten months, what most of the world thought I had was “a tedious delusion,” as Marge Piercy put it.

If you’ve been Googling “How do I write a novel?”, chances are that you too are more interested in writing than in having written – or, at least, you’re starting to realize that in order to have written, you need to write.

Writing is a deeply personal thing. My method may or may not work for you. But here’s how I did it.

I wrote and published a novel. Here's How_ Step By Step.

Steps Zero, Zero, and Zero: I Practiced, I Thought, I Learned

I decided I wanted to be a writer at the ripe old age of 7 years. Since writers write, my second-grade brain reasoned, and since I was now a writer, I would write too.

I haven’t stopped since.

I published my first poem at 17, my first essay at 18, and my first short story at 21. At age 27, I decided to try making a full-time living at writing – something not a lot of writers ever accomplish. My first novel came out when I was 34.

Between 7 and 34, I wrote something every single day. Since age 7, I’ve been getting feedback on my writing almost every day: from teachers, friends, editors, and audiences.

When I finally decided to sit down and write Nantais, very little of the book came out of nowhere. Nirala has existed in my head in some form since I was about 9 years old.

It’s changed a lot since then. But I’ve been thinking about it off and on, and writing about it off and on, for years.

Where do writers get their ideas? Literally everywhere. Ideas are cheap as free, and they’re worth about as much until you start writing them down.

Step One: I Got Organized

You may have noticed a pretty big age gap up above. I started submitting works to publishers at age 17, but my novel wouldn’t come out for 17 years after that – another entire lifetime for my high school age self. What’s up with that?

The number-one problem for me was getting organized and focused. A big part of that was the fact that I had untreated (and undiagnosed) ADHD – but it also had to do with having to build a writing system and routine from scratch.

The basics of my current routine are so laughably simple, I’m almost embarrassed to admit they took me 17 years to figure out. They are:

  • A notebook. I write in single-subject college-ruled spiral-bound notebooks. I buy them for about 25 cents each during back to school season, when they’re heavily discounted.
  • A pen. The writing utensil isn’t a big deal for some writers, but it’s a huge one for me. The tactile experience is a big part of why I write every day. I buy Pilot Precise V5 roller ball pens by the dozen.
  • Some space. The desk from my childhood bedroom now lives in our spare bedroom. It has one job: it’s where I write.
  • Time. The bulk of that 17 years was spent learning how to give myself permission to take the time writing requires – not just to put words on paper, but to think and plan, as well. Boredom is a huge asset to my writing: so much so that I took up running, which I find mind-numbing, just to ensure I had enough boredom to drive my creative mind.

So far, so good. What to do with these things?

Step Two: I Made a Plan

I am terrible at outlining, so I use various tools for it. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!was a lifesaver for me in the planning process, as were John Truby’s 22 Plot Building Blocks (especially since I, like many Snyder fans, did not initially realize the “Finale” is a five-step process).

A good outline is the cure for writer’s block. With enough planning, I can go anywhere, because I know exactly what comes next the moment I sit down at my desk. It also works for any genre: action/thriller, romance, YA, horror, mystery, you name it.

Though you only see slivers of it in Nantais, the world in which the book is set is absolutely enormous – additional parts of it appear in “Scene From a Barbershop,” “Kill Your Darlings,” and other pieces I’ve published in other venues. To keep all the plot, setting, character, and timeline pieces straight, I use Microsoft OneNote. It’s free, the phone app syncs just fine with my laptop, and it lets me make notes on the go when I can’t get at my notebook (for instance, when I’m standing in a grocery store checkout).

To give myself an extra layer of organizational complexity, I developed Niralanes as an actual language with an actual vocabulary and grammar rules – which meant I also had to keep track of those words and rules as it developed. For this, I use an Excel spreadsheet, which currently has about 520 entries.

Step Three: I Wrote

At my desk. From 9 pm to 11 pm. Every night. For ten months.

Well, almost every night. I stuck to Chuck Wendig’s plan: 350 words a day, weekends off (although once I got rolling, I no longer wanted to take weekends off).

I also added a caveat: That 350 words a day had to be related to the novel in some way, but it didn’t have to be words I intended to appear in the finished novel. If I needed to spend two hours just planning the next scene, or working out a character’s backstory or motivations, or on worldbuilding, that’s what I did.

I also had to spend the entire two hours at my desk, unless I was sick. Then I could write in bed and go to sleep early if I needed to.

Some days, I got 350 words down in the first fifteen minutes. Other days, I spent every second of those two hours fighting for each word, wringing them out one by one.

What I didn’t do was give up.

The point was to be there with the book. If I did that, I won. If I missed a day, I got back in the saddle the next. That was all.

My husband deserves another shout-out here for being wholly supportive of this process, even though it meant (and means) two hours a day he doesn’t see me. Supportive people are a must.

Step Four: I Rewrote

Once I had a draft on paper, at a time and place that was not 9-11 pm or at my desk, I opened up a Word file on my laptop and I rewrote the entire novel.

You read that right. I rewrote every word. From scratch.

I had the handwritten draft to guide me, but I treated it as guidance – as 85,000 words of really, really detailed outline. Probably 90 percent of the sentences in the book you can buy today differ from the sentence in the handwritten draft.

Why? Because it kept me on track while writing the original draft.

  1. I fall down the Wikipedia hole very easily. If I needed to look something up, my two hours of writing were gone. Instead, I made a note in the margin as I worked on the handwritten draft, then looked the thing up and inserted it as I typed. For instance, “Groombridge 1618” appears in the handwritten draft as “STAR WITH HABITABLE ZONE.”
  2. I also fall down the hole of my own OneNote file on worldbuilding very easily, so I used the same method for character minutiae. The handwritten draft is filled with notes like “how old is Jiya?” or “whatever I named that other moon.”
  3. I especially fall down the hole of my own conlang very easily, so unless I could translate from memory, every piece of Niralanes in the finished book appears in the handwritten draft in English, placed in brackets. I did the translations as I typed.

Revising is also far too easy on a computer. I’ve sabotaged any number of projects by backspacing and trying to get each sentence just right before I move on. In the notebook, I just move on. I make a note if I think I need it, but I rarely do – when I’m rewriting, I can tell which sentences work and which don’t.

Finally, because I also do freelance writing for a living, I’ve come to associate my computer screen with speaking to an audience. My notebook, on the other hand, I associate with privacy: no one ever sees it. This frees me to write utter crap and trust my future self to recognize and fix it.

Step Five: I Got Feedback

The first set of eyes that sees my drafts as I produce them belongs to my husband. He’s also great motivation – if I give him the draft of one chapter, it won’t be long before he’s bugging me to give him the next one, which means I have to go write it.

The second set of eyes that sees my drafts belongs to my best friend and primary editor, Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon. I can trust my husband to praise me and make me want to keep writing: I can trust Athena to tell me exactly why what I just wrote isn’t going to work as literature and definitely why it isn’t going to sell.

After I’ve revised enough times that Athena runs out of reasons to say no, the novel goes to my publisher.

Step Six: I Got By With a Little Help From My Friends

Nantais was published by NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press, where I’m a developmental editor. The press partners demanded first dibs on the manuscript pretty much the moment I described it to them, back in the summer of 2015.

If this is the part where you want to chuck this blog across the room, remember: first dibs isn’t the same thing as automatic acceptance. The press could have rejected my manuscript, and they would have if it weren’t up to the standard of the other books they publish.

At this stage, four more people started telling me why this book didn’t work and wouldn’t make any money, which meant I did more revising. In fact, thanks to the critical eye of editor and Weird Luck co-author Nick Walker, I did a lot more revising.

Had I not had AutPress behind me at this stage, I would have done what most authors do: started looking for a literary agent, or perhaps submitted the manuscript to another indie publisher and crossed my fingers. Either way, once a press did pick it up, I would certainly have had to deal with four (or more) bright, thoughtful, experienced people telling me exactly what needed to be revised before they could sell it.

Step Seven: I Learned Marketing

No author gets by without doing their own marketing these days. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have Twitter accounts.

And “learned” is misleading here: I’m still learning marketing. I’ll probably keep doing it for the rest of my life.

This was the stage at which I set up a Goodreads account, shined up my Amazon author page, and started paying serious attention to updating this blog. I worked on creating a mailing list. I set up a Facebook page. I ran a Patreon for a while, then moved to Ko-fi. I looked at reviewing options on AuthorsDen and Reedsy. I started giving talks at local schools and bookstores. Marketing took me from “have written a book” to “author.”

My biggest surprise? Book marketing is actually pretty fun. It’s adaptable to the methods you like most – I love teaching, so giving presentations is a natural for me – and you get to meet a ton of bright, passionate people.

Step Eight: I Started Again

I took about a month off after I submitted the final draft of Nantais for publication, and then I dove right back in on its sequel, Nahara. I’ve also written several short stories in the same universe. Once daily writing is a habit, it’s very hard to break.

…And that’s how my first novel became a real thing in the world.

Questions? Send ’em here.

Appreciation? Buy me a coffee or share this article.

#VerityLTstheBible: 1 Samuel

Part 9 of 66 of a project I started in the summer of 2019: To reread the Bible publicly, evaluating the oft-repeated notion that the text is inerrant, self-contained, and a bearer of clear, self-evident truths.

(Looking for another book of the Bible? Click this link for a master list of threads, sorted by book.)

1 Samuel 1-10: Samuel is born after his mother, Hannah, gets picked on a lot. Saul’s chief qualification for being king is that he’s a head taller than everyone else.

Interlude: Is the only “correct” way to read the Bible to already know what you’re going to read before you read it?

1 Samuel 11-20: Saul is really good at being king, until he’s not. David gets famous by throwing rocks.

1 Samuel 21-31: Saul chases David all over the place as David collects swords and wives. Samuel dies, then gets necromanced. Saul kills himself.

#VerityLTstheBible is a labor of love, but it’s also a lot of work. Show your support by buying me a coffee or checking out one or more of my books.

Christmas Carols Nobody Asked for, Vol. 6: Hollering Christmas Home

(For an explanation of this project and links to previous volumes, see the master list.)

The vast majority of Christmas carols played on the radio today were originally recorded in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. In other words, the carols that Gen X, Millennials and now Gen Z are growing up with are the ones that give Baby Boomers a case of the nostalgias.

That’s slowly changing – notice how Mariah Carey, Wham! and Michael Buble are sneaking onto the charts – but we’re still subjected to a disproportionate number of songs each Christmas season that are still played solely so Boomers can feel feelings.

In their honor, I decided to write a carol in the 1940s-1960s carol tradition: Flowy, nostalgic, heavy on the random minor piano chords, and basically lacking in artistic quality.

As always, Botnik’s predictive text keyboard provided the lyrics, and I composed the tune in Noteflight.

Hollering Christmas Home

My heart wrapped up in ribbon,
Will touch my arms again,
I’ll miss this starry kickback
in June when I think twice.

Give more snow to spend
on tinkle tunes again,
holding everybody
by the fire.

Making lists,
Buying all,
Underneath the children,
Hollering Christmas home.

Here’s the score [pdf].

Here’s the audio file [mp3].

#VerityLTstheBible: Judges and Ruth

Parts 7 and 8 of 66 of a project I started in the summer of 2019: To reread the Bible publicly, evaluating the oft-repeated notion that the text is inerrant, self-contained, and a bearer of clear, self-evident truths.

(Looking for another book of the Bible? Click this link for a master list of threads, sorted by book.)

Judges 1-7: 10 Israel does evil in the eyes of the Lord 20 GOTO 10

Judges 8-12: Gideon does some murder, but it’s the righteous kind. Various other leaders judge Israel, do some murder, and then die (of old age, not smiting).

Judges 13-21: Samson is born, in a story that sounds suspiciously familiar. He does a lot of killing, most of it while dying. The tribes of Israel turn on Benjamin for having botched a reenactment of Genesis 19.

Ruth: Get you a husband who knows his barley harvest.

#VerityLTstheBible is a labor of love, but it’s also a lot of work. Show your support by buying me a coffee or checking out one or more of my books.

Christmas Carols Nobody Asked For, Vol. 5: By Candlelight Swans Three

(For an explanation – of sorts – see Vol. 1. For more nonsense, see Vol. 2, Vol. 3 and Vol. 4.)

Many of our most well-known Christmas carols today originated in the Victorian era. It was an era of soaring vocals, vivid natural imagery, and swooning over “medieval” music, art and stories without actually understanding a single thing about the medieval era.

Anyway, I thought it was time to create a faux-Victorian predictive-text carol.

Lyrics, as always, are by Botnik. I composed the score in Noteflight.

By Candlelight Swans Three

Joy and cheer, that’s a pear
For you I’ll be happy
Memories watching me
By candlelight swans three
Oh, behold their swimming flight!
Hardly down around this night!
Sky shout birds, blazing see!
By candlelight swans three

Here’s the score [pdf].

Here’s the audio file [mp3].

Musicians are overworked and underpaid, especially during the holidays. Help by sharing this post or leaving a tip.

Culture Test: Nirala

In The Planet Construction Kit, Mark Rosenfelder recommends creating a “culture test” for concultures, in order to get a clearer view of what it’s like to be an average member of one’s invented society.

Rosenfelder’s version for the average American was sufficiently instructive (as in “dude, just @ me next time”) to encourage me to create one for the average Niralan.

Per culture test rules, the following describes 90 percent of the species – it’s an overview of what it’s like being Niralan on Nirala. The La’Isshai, who may or may not actually exist, live a dramatically different version of Niralan life; I’ll give them their own culture test in coming months.

In honor of yet another round of edits on the Nahara manuscript, here’s life as an average Niralan.

If You’re Niralan….

  • You’re convinced of the rightness of rule by your elders. They have the experience, after all; not only from their own lives, but from your collective ancestors as well.
  • You value cooperation above all else. You see the role of your elders as maintaining cooperation, by any means necessary.
  • Age is less important than your status among the various major life stages: birth, puberty (amaron), motherhood, eldership, and death. That said, you’d find it odd to meet anyone under the age of 3 (about 12 in Earth years) who could talk or anyone under the age of 26 (about 100 in Earth years) who had a child.
  • Children are seen and not heard, by definition: a “child” cannot talk.
  • Everything is something you can communicate emotions with by touching it (inaya) or that you can’t (ilikpa). The former are “people,” the latter are “things.” (Think of the difference in your approach to “my sister” versus “my hat.”)
  • You speak at least two languages: Niralanes, and the chord-based song-language of the hamaya. Depending on where you live, you may speak up to six Niralan languages; depending on your job, you may speak several offworld languages as well.
  • You think of yourself as your kiiste (family), not as an individual member or part of your kiiste.
  • You think of the kiiste as individual members or parts of Nirala.

In Your Household…

  • You live with your oldest living ancestor and every one of her direct descendants. If her line was a small one, you might live with every one of the direct descendants of a deceased great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother. Households are typically three to twelve people; larger households are preferred.
  • Your house is partly or entirely underground. It has a large central room, probably circular, which is where you spend most of your time and also where you sleep (along with everyone else).
  • You don’t have your own room, but you do have your own cupboard or trunk in which to keep personal items like clothing, books and grooming tools. You don’t collect sentimental objects.
  • You eat at a low table, sitting on a cushion or low stool. Most of your food can be eaten by hand, although it’s typical to use utensils when people who aren’t members of your kiiste are present, so that you avoid touching one another’s food by accident.
  • Your diet is primarily meat-based, though you don’t typically kill your own food. Food comes from protein resequencers or is shipped in from planets with larger animal populations.
  • The toilet is separate from the rest of the house, in its own heated building. Washing is typically done in the main house; many houses have added a separate room to contain the water. Privacy is not a concern, since nudity doesn’t phase you.
  • Relationships across kiiste lines are primarily made on the basis of usefulness, and even the longest-lasting of these doesn’t come before your obligations to your own family.

Socially Speaking….

  • You’ve never been off Nirala.
  • Political and social decisions are made by a council of six Niralan elders, called the senarie. You find this natural and sensible.
  • The senarie also serves as the court system, but hearing any case is a once-in-a-decade event. Most disputes are settled by seniority: the elder disputant wins.
  • Your mother and grandmother took care of your education. They may have worked to acquire advanced materials for your study once you reached the age of amaron.
  • You probably haven’t been sent off-world to university, but you have heard about Niralans who were. These are generally cautionary tales.
  • You work at least one-third of each year in direct public service, without pay, during which your family supports your food and medical needs. The rest of the time may be devoted to activities that support your family, help others or make money, though the latter is looked at somewhat askance.
  • Utilities, transportation, healthcare are all public goods, administered by the senarie. Arrangements may be made for offworlders to provide these, but without offworlders coming into direct contact with Niralans.
  • Nirala has exactly one ambassador. You’ve never met her, nor do you know anyone who has ever met any Niralan ambassador, ever.
  • It has never occurred to you to do any job other than the one your mother and/or grandmother chose for you.

You Spend Your Time….

  • You know Lili Amarones backwards and forwards, even if you otherwise hate reading.
  • You mastered ice skating, sledding and building things out of snow before you could talk.
  • “Games” are cooperative, not competitive. They’re typically based on one or more songs, which you would have learned as a young child. The song might be accompanied by a dance or other form of ritual movement, or it might be a more sedate activity involving strategic manipulation of complex geometric shapes.
  • You don’t remember at what age you began playing games, and there’s no age at which it’s considered unseemly to keep playing, although elders tend to prefer games that allow them to sit.
  • You’re always studying something. Games and relaxation are fun and all, but life is tedious unless you’re learning something new.

Everyone Knows That….

  • Days are 102 hours long (in base-6).
  • Numbers are counted in base-6: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21….
  • There’s no reason to know or care on what day you were born.
  • Texts are written top to bottom and right to left.
  • Niralanes is written and read with reference to a central vertical axis, but only children actually draw this axis to “center” their writing. Adults can write in a straight line without a guide.
  • You can get most things you need to live without money. If you need money, you probably don’t need the thing you’re exchanging it for in order to live.
  • Showing up more than five minutes late to an appointment is not only inexcusable, but a symptom of a serious illness.
  • The length of meetings, appointments, etc. is dictated by the whims of the eldest participant. If participants are closely matched in age and the topic requires significant discussion in order to reach consensus, meetings may last for days or even weeks.
  • Barring mishap, you can reasonably expect to live to about 48 years old (or about 180 in Earth years). 53 years old (about 200 in Earth years) is unusual but not impossible.
  • Viidans can’t be trusted. The Second Empire in particular was unusually cruel, nearly eradicating Niralans entirely.
  • Devori are the least untrustworthy offworlders, even though they aren’t people.
  • Every kiiste has its own quirks. Nahara can’t be trusted, but is great for finding out the answers to questions you can’t ask directly for whatever reason. Nantais can be relied on to take the lead on projects no one else wants to do. Nesenda won’t ever say no to a request, and is in fact a bit of a doormat. And so on.

My first novel, Nantais, introduced Nirala to the world; its upcoming sequel, Nahara, expands on the language and culture. Check them out, or support this and future writing efforts by buying me a coffee.

#VerityLTstheBible: Links to Joshua

Part 6 of 66 of a project I started in the summer of 2019: To reread the Bible publicly, evaluating the oft-repeated notion that the text is inerrant, self-contained, and a bearer of clear, self-evident truths.

(Looking for another book of the Bible? Click this link for a master list of threads, sorted by book.)

Interlude: In which the reader notes that gender reveal parties aren’t Biblical.


Interlude: In which the reader introspects on the premise under which she is rereading the Bible in the first place.

Joshua 13-24: TELL OUR INVADING ARMY WHAT THEY’VE WON, JOSH. Spoiler alert: Joshua dies.

#VerityLTstheBible is a labor of love, but it’s also a lot of work. Show your support by buying me a coffee or checking out one or more of my books.