Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Writing That First Novel By Sandra Merville Hart

I’ve been writing a dozen years. As an avid reader, I knew that I wanted to be a novelist. Ideas in the beginning were a problem. Just what does one write about?

I took correspondence writing courses and a few college classes. Instructors assigned topics or at least gave perimeters for articles and stories. That structure was just what I needed as a newbie.

Before writing my first novel, I created a chapter-by-chapter story outline. I typed those famous words that all authors type—Chapter One. Great start.

Unfortunately, those were the best words I wrote for three days.

I labored over each phrase, each sentence. After four days, the first page was almost finished, but Page Two stumped me. I knew the events in Chapter Thirteen. How was I going to write myself there?

Can you relate?

After staring at the screen for a while, I started a new page—Chapter Thirteen. I wrote all the scenes. I finished the entire chapter with nothing else written except page one. It was the right thing to do because it broke the ice. I still labored over each sentence, but the story grew by 800-1,000 words daily.

A structured outline helped me write my first three manuscripts. Later outlines slowly became less detailed. Then I discovered I didn’t need them any longer. Those early writings, though unpublishable, had trained me how to write a novel from beginning to end. It’s a skill that is not as easy as it sounds, is it?

If you are struggling to get words on the page for your first or second manuscript, know you are in good company. You are learning far more than you realize about dialogue, action, and the flow of events.

“Be patient with your own learning.” That’s a quote from one of my wise teachers. We can’t digest a whole pie in one sitting, nor is that advisable. Writing works the same way. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing something. Take writing courses. Attend writer’s conferences. Read books about the writing craft from knowledgeable authors.

Then sit down in front of your PC or laptop. Place your fingers over the keys. Say a prayer. Take a deep breath and type “Chapter One.”

And if you need to write Chapter Thirteen first, go ahead.

Do you have trouble getting started on a story? What are your tricks?


About Sandra Merville Hart:
Sandra Merville Hart, Assistant Editor for, loves to find unusual or little-known facts in her historical research to use in her stories. Her debut Civil War romance, A Stranger On My Land, was an IRCA Finalist 2015. Her second Civil War romance novel, A Rebel in My House, is set during the Battle of Gettysburg. It released on July 15, 2017. Visit Sandra on her blog at

A Rebel in My House

When the cannons roar beside Sarah Hubbard’s home outside of Gettysburg, she despairs of escaping the war that’s come to Pennsylvania. A wounded Confederate soldier on her doorstep leaves her with a heart-wrenching decision.

Separated from his unit and with a bullet in his back, Jesse Mitchell needs help. He seeks refuge at a house beside Willoughby Run. His future lies in the hands of a woman whose sympathies lay with the North.

Jesse has promised his sister-in-law he’d bring his brother home from the war. Sarah has promised her sister that she’d stay clear of the enemy. Can the two keep their promises amid a war bent on tearing their country apart?

Sandra’s Blog, Historical Nibbles:

Amazon buy link:


  1. Sandra thanks for your words. You described my angst in the process. I'm still trying to find what works best for me. Chapter 13 or Chapter 30.......hmmm.

    1. Hi Daphne! Yes, writing a chapter where I knew what happened unlocked my story. Hope that happens for you. Don't be afraid to try something to see where it goes, but save your old version in case you like that better. Even if you don't like the new scene, character, event, etc., sometimes this unlocks that writer's block. Good luck!

  2. Great post, Sandra! Chapter 1 is the worst. Or if Chapter 1 goes well, then Chapter 2 stalls. Oh the joy of writing!

    1. LOL, Gail! Yes, those early chapters are challenging. Getting something on paper is a huge help because you can always edit. Thanks for commenting. Good luck with your writing!

  3. Thank you for the encouragement. I am writing my first Christian fiction novel. :-)

    1. That's wonderful, Melissa. You will learn so much by the time you finish. Good luck!

  4. Loved this. All so true. We fool ourselves when we think we have the order. When I got to Chapter 28, I decided it was Chapter there it sits for now. Only God knows where it will end up. Just getting the story down is key. Excited about your launch date. God speed, sweet friend.

    1. Thank, Starr! I love your story. You will figure out exactly where it starts and then it will flow. Thankful for your encouragement!


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