Follow N.J. Barry on Twitter
Follow N.J. Barry on Facebook


There are plenty of blogs and guides that can tell you how to write. This isn’t one of them. Sure, I could tell you what to do, but a thousand people online are already doing that, some good, some not so good. This entry has more to do with my impressions on the process, and how I went about writing my first novel, Twin Origin: Book 1 – Lineage of Wizardry. If you find some of it useful, great!

I had always wanted to write a novel, but I never became a writer until I started writing. That might sound obvious, but I didn’t want to just write, I wanted to write something compelling. So I waited. I let that desire germinate in the back of my mind. It took years, but I eventually came up with something I felt I had to put on paper. Watching an astronomy documentary on primordial Earth, it hit me. Ideas bombarded me from all directions. I opened my notepad and, an hour later, I had a history of my world going back millions of years. I tweaked it and developed it, and realised I didn’t have just one story, but an entire universe that could easily accommodate several, if not dozens.

I never became a writer until I started writing

But where to begin? It took several more years to fully realise what I had wasn't a story in itself, but a framework in which that story could be told. To put it in familiar terms, it was more A History of Middle-Earth, than The Lord of the Rings. I had all the major events, the backstory of the world on a large scale, but no characters. So I tried to find a starting point, some key event that could function as an introduction to both my world and the people in it. That was when another realisation struck me; the idea I had thought was Book 1, was actually Book 2. Once I knew this, the characters formed. Their situations and motivations developed, and I knew I was onto something that gripped my imagination like nothing before.

But I wasn’t a writer. I had never written anything outside of school essays. Regardless of how good I thought the story was, could I tell it? Determined, I plunged headfirst into a poorly conceived first draft. Five chapters was as far as I got. They proved a good exercise in getting the ideas down, but were clunky and needed more development. I quickly abandoned that early concept and let the ideas ferment a while longer. I poured through Google results for ‘How to write a novel’, ‘How not to write a novel’, ‘Planning a novel’, ‘Developing characters’, ‘Creating tension and drama’, ‘Top mistakes new writers make’, and so on. This gave me the confidence to better structure my ideas and make something coherent from them.

Another few years, and multiple rewrites later, I had my first novel. It wasn’t always easy, and at times it frustrated me more than anything else, but I was confident the idea was gold, even if my writing left a lot to be desired. That’s fine. One thing everyone will tell you is that your first draft always sucks. To quote E.B. White: The best writing is rewriting.

Having read back over my novel what must have been a hundred times, I decided I needed some fresh eyes on it. A little independent review and critique sounded like the right way to go. If someone who had written a novel or two read it – someone I didn’t know – then that might help me address any shortcomings and areas where I could improve. There’s plenty of places online where you can trade chapters and have them critiqued, but the one I went for is Scribophile, and I’m so glad I did. Since I joined the site, I’ve uploaded the full novel, heavily revised it based on excellent, friendly and helpful advice, and turned it into something a lot more coherent and readable than what I had before.

Regardless of how good I thought the story was, could I tell it?

I’ve never felt that the quality of my idea was in question, only my ability to tell it in a compelling way. After people read it, I realised I was making the same mistakes over and over. My prose was still plagued by amateurish errors. There were things that, while fine, could be easily improved. I tended to repeat myself, over-establishing scene and setting to the detriment of the story. I’m so glad I was made aware of these things.

Critiquing other peoples’ writing has also allowed me to view my own with a more critical eye. I can’t overemphasise how valuable this experience has been. I now, at last, feel like I can call myself a writer, without feeling like an imposter. My novel isn’t finalised yet, but it’s getting there. I’m editing and polishing it into something I’m increasingly proud of.

If you pick up a musical instrument you’ve never played, you’re probably not going to produce anything listenable. The same is true for writing, but you can learn. If you’re serious about improving, you will. Who knows, you may be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling! Even if not, at the very least, you’ll no longer be among the millions of people who wanted to write a novel, but never did, or never finished.

Stick with it. You’ll get there. I did.

Writing My First Novel