How To Write a Novel — Page One

Day 26 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Samuel Rios on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 26 — Page One

It is finally here. After twenty-five days of planning, I’m ready to write my novel. And so today feels like the hardest day yet. I know where the story is going. I have a plan for all forty-nine scenes. All I need to do is write them.

Putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for that first scene is difficult because all the fears of not being good enough arise. What if it sounds terrible? What if I don’t like what I write?

But in order to get started, give yourself permission to be no good. If you wait, it won’t get any easier. In fact, it will be harder because the expectation is that waiting should have made a difference.

Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of job: It’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.

— Neil Gaiman

So today I have to decide that the blank piece of paper won’t win.

Scene 1 — To Scents of Adventure

These are the story threads I have to weave into my opening scene:

  • Charlie’s dad tells him to buy Juzz for Men. It is the same scent his dad bought him when he was Charlie’s age. Dad walks quickly, and it is hard to keep up.
  • Charlie’s dad was the kind of PI that found people’s car keys or their long-lost brother.
  • Charlie’s dad once had to investigate a rotting body under a house, except it turned out to be a dead possum. The stink was atrocious.
  • A postcard arrives at the house from Charlie’s mum. She is having a great time.
  • Charlie thinks his mum would have let him bake
  • Charlie is reading a new postcard from mum, tries to hide it from Sandy
  • Sandy predicts where mum’s latest postcard will be from and when Charlie asks how she knew, Sandy says a little bird told her.

I’d also let to get some of the humour from Day 13 into the story.

  • When Charlie goes to the beach, he sees sea smells on the seashore.
  • Whenever Charlie gets a postcard from his mum, it is her doing something weird — maybe surfing a hippo across a river, performing dentistry on a crocodile or having afternoon tea with a bear.

Writing against the clock

One way to make sure that I don’t sit staring at the screen is to write against the clock. I’m going to set a timer and then try to write a set number of words within that time.

I have forty-nine scenes to write, each of about 750 words. I’m going to set a daily goal of writing one scene per day, so today’s goal is 750 words. Against the clock, I’ll try to write 250 words in fifteen minutes. If I do this three times, then I’ll have my scene.

In fact, I wrote my 750 words in only two fifteen minute sprints.

Charlie’s dad wanted him to smell better, even though he was the best smeller in the world. But then his dad didn’t know that because Charlie kept his special abilities to himself. Charlie was able to see smells. Whenever he became aware of a strong smell he would see some colours and shapes.

For example, take his dad. Ever since he was a boy, Charlie’s dad had been wearing the same scent called Juzz for Men. To Charlie this was a deep red colour, and surrounded his dad with a spiky pattern. And now Charlie’s dad wanted to buy some for Charlie for his birthday.

“My dad bought me my first bottle on my twelfth birthday and now I’m going to do the same for you,” he said as he marched along the road.

Charlie, his sister Sandy and their dog Woofy followed along behind. Sandy was Charlie’s little sister. She was nine and extremely annoying. Woofy was a wolfhound, and Charlie loved him, despite the grey wispy smell that clung to him.

Charlie hung back a little. What he really wanted for his birthday was to bake a cake. He loved baking and his special seeing smells ability meant that he was great at it. His dad didn’t think baking was a good use of money. And money was something they had to think about.

Charlie’s dad was a PI — a private investigator. This sounds cool, but Charlie’s dad was not the kind of PI that shoots down helicopters, or infiltrates top secret international spy rings. No, Charlie’s dad was the kind of PI that found people’s car keys or their long-lost brother. And this was the kind of work that didn’t pay very much, even if Charlie’s dad had been good at it, which he wasn’t.

There had been once when Charlie had been excited by his dad’s work. He’d been asked to investigate the terrible smell coming from underneath someone’s house. But when he managed to crawl into the tiny space underneath the dead body he’d found was just a possum.

Charlie’s mum found that after the initial lure of Juzz for Men wore off, that the man she lived with was not all that exciting. In fact a few months previously she decided that her life was so uninteresting that she needed to escape for a while and travel the world. Charlie hadn’t seen her in months and missed her more than anything.

He pulled a postcard that had arrived from her that morning out of his pocket and looked at the picture on the front. It showed someone sleeping with one leg slung out of a hammock. The beach looked yellow and warm and the blue sea beyond ready for a swim. Charlie loved the beach and the sea smells he saw on the seashore. He turned it over.

His mum had been hippo surfing on the river Ganges. Charlie didn’t know what hippo surfing was but it sounded much more fun than buying aftershave.

“What’s that?” His sister Sandy tugged on his sleeve.

Charlie stuffed the postcard back into his pocket. “Nothing”

“Is it is a postcard from mum?”


“It is. It’s a postcard from mum and you should let me see.”

“I’ll show you later.”

“I know where it’s from.”

Charlie stopped. “No, you don’t.”

“I do, she’s in India.”

Charlie hated it when his sister read his mail. This was a special birthday postcard from his mum, and it was addressed to him. She had no right looking until he said it was okay.

“I’ve told you to leave my mail alone,” said Charlie.

“I haven’t touched it,” said Sandy.

“Then how do you know where it’s from?”

“A little birdie told me.” She skipped ahead.

Sandy was so annoying. He wished she didn’t have to come along with them everywhere. But without their mum around, they both had to trail along with Dad. Charlie wished his mum would come home again. She would have let him bake his cake.

Their dad had stopped at an expensive looking shop with broad windows that contained only a couple of twisted bottles of perfume. Above the door there was a large sign in fancy writing that said ‘Scents of Adventure’. Charlie was glad that the door was shut because even now he could see twirls of rainbow scents curling out through the gap and making his head spin. How would he cope inside?

They joined the end of a line of people waiting with an expectant hum of chatter.


As always, with first drafts, it is disappointing to see my words on the page. They never shine with the lustre that I’m hoping for. But there is potential there. I can see that I’m building up some connection with Charlie, my main character, and I’ve given an outline of the family and the situation. I’ve included the important story threads I wanted to and some little touches of humour.

Tomorrow I will write the next scene where they meet the security guard (and hopefully come up with a name for her).

Please subscribe to get the full series as I write it.

If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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