29 Nov 2013: Ingredients for writing a novel


  • Coffee (optional, but it does keep one awake)
  • 2 notebooks (one for story research, the other for a chapter plan)
  • Camera (For details and location ideas… are you really going to remember the colour of that all-too-important bridge/ pub/ café/ house etc several months later?)
  • Computer (to type up that first draft – preferably on a chapter by chapter basis… it wouldn’t be good to lose your work now, would it?)
  • A red marker – for editing!


1. Sketch an outline of your story. Who is your main character(s)? What is the plot (if any)? Or, if none of the above, what is the basic concept of your story? Mix all of these ingredients well.

2. Drink coffee – get those brain cells in gear! A little liquid can soften the mix.

3. Chapter plan – you don’t have to have your opening, but it’s best to try for a rough order of events! Use a cutter and evenly arrange your story ideas.

4. Drink more coffee, or get the kettle back on – fast! More liquid will stop any stickiness!

5. Do research. Get rid of the writing ailments – finger cramp, sore eyes, writers block – by going out to bookstores, libraries or even (if relevant) location scouting. Write notes, draw pictures, take photos. Now you’re ready to stick it in the oven.

6. Get your chapters started before the ideas coagulate in your brain. It’s no good in your head – get it onto paper and you can work with it. Cooking time varies from dish to dish.

7. Once you’ve done the first draft, leave it to cool on a cooling rack for a week or two. Then get back to it, armed with a red pen!

Draft one: needs a lot of work!

Draft one: needs a lot of work!


A first draft can take as short or as long as you like. My first novel (which I finished in 2012 and is currently being considered by a publisher) took me 6 months for the first draft, but the one I’m currently working on took 2 months. I’m currently at the red pen stage… but with a little whipped cream on top, this should turn out to be a tasty enough cake – provided it doesn’t deflate at the last minute!


About Leilanie Stewart

Leilanie Stewart is a writer, poet and literary blogger. Her debut poetry pamphlet, A Model Archaeologist, was launched in 2015 with Eyewear Publishing and her second collection, Chemotherapy for the Soul, was published by Fowlpox Press in 2017. She is a prize nominated poet, having been longlisted for the Melita Hume Poetry Prize 2014, and her poetry and fiction was selected for the 'Best of the Web' Storm Cycle Anthology 2014, published by Kind of a Hurricane Press. Leilanie is also Editor in Chief of Bindweed Magazine, a poetry and fiction online magazine that also publishes a quarterly print anthology. She currently lives in Belfast with her writer and poet husband, Joseph Robert. Literary blog: https://leilaniestewart.wordpress.com/ Meandi Books: http://meandibooks.bigcartel.com/ Bindweed Magazine: https://bindweedmagazine.wordpress.com/

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