Do you want to know how to write a novel but think you’re too busy with other things? Jenna Evans Welch is a great inspiration. She is the author of several novels including the New York Times Best-selling novels Love and Gelato and Love and Luck and is an amazing example of someone who figured out how to write a novel, even when busy with other priorities. She finished Love and Gelato when she had a busy 1-year-old.
Jenna shares her best tips for both productivity and how to push through writer’s block.
Jenna Evans Welch’s Books:
Love and Gelato (2016) – New York Times Bestseller
Love and Luck (2018) – New York Times Bestseller
Love and Olives (2020) – New York Times Bestseller
All about Jenna Evans Welch and Her Rise to Success as a New York Times Bestselling Author
What inspired Jenna Evans Welch to start writing Young Adult Fiction
Jenna Evans Welch knew she wanted to write books for teenagers since she was 11. At that age, she went to her local library a lot and moved from children’s books to the Young Adult section. She was disappointed that not only was the section small (this was before the YA Fiction explosion), all too many of the female characters were cheerleaders — a huge letdown. That disappointment is what made Welch realize she wanted to write books with the strong characters and magic of childhood books, but grown-up and “with a little kissing.”
Learning from her father and the grueling hard work to grow her own writing ability
Writing has always been a part of Jenna’s life. As the daughter of prolific author Richard Paul Evans, she got a front-row seat to what it takes to become a writer. She even had the opportunity to work for her dad on his novels, but Jenna stated that although she always had some raw talent for writing, she still struggled when it came to writing her own book. After writing her first draft of what would become her New York Times Bestselling book, Love & Gelato, she was so disappointed and depressed that it didn’t meet her standards for good writing, she put it into a literal closet for two years.
Her Lucky Break — And Dogged Hard Work to Not Waste Her Shot
Jenna’s dad had more confidence in Jenna’s initial draft and what it could become. He often encouraged her to do the work it would take to get the novel published. This pushing and prodding caused some contention. Tired of her dad’s insistence that she pursue getting her novel published, Jenna finally “got mad” and told her dad to stop pushing her. Luckily for Jenna, he ignored her and instead brought her book to a publisher who could see the novel’s potential and offered her a deal. Jenna says this is “an awful story to tell” because she realizes how atypical this opportunity is for getting a book published. While Jenna admits this was an extremely fortunate and unconventional way to become published, the offer was not a guarantee. Jenna still had to do the grueling work to completely re-write her first draft to make it publishable.
The difficult task of re-writing the initial draft of Love & Gelato
Jenna spent about a year working SO HARD to rewrite Love & Gelato several times over to get the novel where it needed to be. At the time she was trying to figure out how to write a novel, she had a 1-year-old baby and had to get creative to find time to write. She would wake up early to get an hour of writing done before anyone else woke up. Eventually, she hired a babysitter to come twice a week for a three-hour period. This pushed her to not wait for inspiration but instead force herself to create new words and work towards her word count goals, whether she felt like it or not.
Love & Gelato becomes a smash success — and leads to more book deals
Jenna completed Love & Gelato, it was published and became a huge hit in the Young Adult Fiction genre. Not only did it make the New York Times Bestseller list, but the novel also went on to be translated and published in 25 different countries. Although Jenna admits she had a lucky break in getting the book published, the positive reviews and reception show the merits of Jenna’s endless hours of hard work over the years to come into her own as a writer. She has published two more novels from that 3-part “Love &” series (Love & Luck, Love & Olives) and has a deal for a fourth book that is in the works.
3 Tips – How to write a novel, even when you’re busy doing other things
Jenna Evans Welch wrote her first novel during one of the busiest and most difficult times in life — as a new mother. Being forced to write when she hardly had the time forced her to develop some good writing habits that benefit her today when she has to sit down to the difficult task of writing a novel.
Here are some specific productivity and encouragement tips on how to write a novel.
Novel-Writing Tip #1: Do it! Get over perfectionism and get to work – Some tips for productivity
Writing a novel isn’t fun or easy — don’t expect it to be fun and write it anyway
Jenna is often approached by people who confide that they, too, have always wanted to write a book or blog, but haven’t started. So as obvious as it seems, the key is just that: to start. Set a word goal, set a timer, and buckle down.
Jenna said, “Just sitting down and doing the work puts you ahead of 95% of the people who say they want to write.”
Although “craft” books and other “how to” writing resources can be helpful, Evans-Welch says, “Nothing will teach you like actually doing the work.”
Welch admits that most of the time, she doesn’t think writing is fun–it’s work! She said that’s true for most of the writers she talks to. Despite that, she’s so much happier when she is writing.
Her advice: “If you feel that call, it is for you. And don’t expect it to be fun.”
Get over the romanticism of writing and get it done
Jenna got over having the perfect writing studio with a big, open window, and books everywhere. She’s never written somewhere like that. Most of her writing has been one in an unideal space, but she didn’t let that stop her from putting words down on a page.
How the Pomodoro Timer Technique can help you write a novel — A Well-Loved Productivity Hack
Jenna and I both subscribe to The Pomodoro Technique for productivity.
How the Pomodoro method works:
Create a 2-hour window of uninterrupted work time
- If you’re a busy mom, here are some ideas for child care:
- Wake up early or stay up late (That is what Jenna did — she woke up early and wrote for an hour every morning)
- Swap with a friend for child care
- Make other sacrifices in your budget to hire a babysitter
- If you’re a busy mom, here are some ideas for child care:
Set a timer for 25 minutes of focused work. Ignore all distractions during that time.
- If you think of something you “need” to do that tempting you to get distracted, jot down a quick note and go back to work.
Take a 5-minute break
Repeat for 4 total sessions x 25 minutes = 100 minutes of productive time
Take a longer break before doing another 4-part group of productivity sessions
This is the quote I have taped onto my Pomododor Timer:
“Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains. 1% inspiration. 99% perspiration.”
Jenna’s additional productivity tips to get writing blocks done:
- Delete Instagram or other distracting apps off your phone.
- Use the Freedom app the block distractions
- Pre-book “nesting”: Jenna spends a little time organizing her house before she starts writing a new book so she doesn’t have any excuses to look for a break.
Novel-Writing Tip #2: Set a word goal
NaNoWriMo – 50,000 words a month – 1,700 words a day
November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Although Jenna points out that this method can be done in any given month, the goal is to get 50,000 words written which ends up being almost 1,700 words a day.
Setting daily and monthly word goals were essential for Jenna’s writing blocks. She said that in order to reach these word-count goals, “You have to move so quickly, you’re outrunning your inner critic.” Although 50,000 words is shorter than most novels (Love & Gelato was about 79,000 words), it’s enough to get a really solid start, which Welch states is the most difficult part of writing a novel. She says it also helps you “get your first terrible drafts out of the way.”
This method of setting word count goals can be adapted to any writing, such as writing blog articles.
Avoid the Mind-Trap of Pretending to Work
Setting word goals forces you to forge on to the difficult task of putting down words rather than going down the unproductive and endless rabbit hole of reworking what you already have. Jenna admits to falling down that trap: “I will spend an hour rearranging words without making any real progress and even gone backward.”
Persistence and Consistency Pay Off
When Jenna could avoid the mind-trick of thinking you’re working while you’re really not, she hit periods of inspiration and productivity. Some days when she would get child-care all day and was feeling inspired, she could create 7,000 words a day. This helped her gain confidence that she could reliably produce words to meet her word count goals.
Novel-Writing Tip #3: Taste vs. Skill – How to Increase Your Writing Skills
Acknowledge the Gap Between your Taste and Your Writing Skill
When you start writing your first novel, your taste level is much higher than your skill level. The “Taste vs. Skill” Gap can cause angst. Jenna said this advice to allow yourself to acknowledge that gap was a game-changer for her, as recognizing that gap can actually improve your writing. You will not be able to close that gap when you first begin writing a novel. Jenna said that when she wrote her first draft of her first novel, her taste was still very high. She was such a big reader, she knew what made good books, but says her skill level was still relatively low compared to her tastes. “I had this giant gap,” she states, “and that’s where my pain point was.”
Although noticing the Taste Vs. Skill gap is painful, recognizing and accepting it was what allowed her to improve her skill level to advance closer to her taste level. Writers who think everything they write is great are writing with blinders that will prevent them from improving their work.
Keep Writing. And re-writing. And sometimes reading a craft book
When I asked Jenna what the difference has been between her first and third novel in terms of quality, she insists that the key was simply grinding away at those difficult writing sessions and word count goals, even when it wasn’t fun. She has also read craft books in order to improve her writing skill. The most helpful craft books have centered on plot development. As much as we balk at the idea of plots being formulaic, it’s true.
Using Constructive Criticism to Improve Your Novel
Learning how to receive criticism is a difficult, but essential part of the novel-writing process. Without acknowledging that writing has room for improvement, improving is impossible. A big key is learning to recognize which feedback is constructive and which feedback is creativity-killing. Jenna said criticism made writing her second novel was more difficult than her first. All the negative feedback she had consumed about her first novel was ringing in her head. She knows many authors who have learned to avoid GoodReads Reviews entirely. Hearing your work slammed can kill your creativity. She said neither the extremely negative OR positive reviews are helpful. The constructive feedback in between, from her publisher, agent, and other writers helps improve her writing. Receiving a 10-page document laying out kindly worded but brutal criticism is gut-wrenching, but it’s part of writing a good book.
Find a Critique Partner or Writers Circle
Many writers develop relationships with a writing critique partner. Although Welch has never had one, she knows they can be helpful. She recommends finding a writer who is on a similar level to really benefit from this quick feedback. She also recommends checking out author Adrienne Young’s Instagram, who often encourages writers to find their writing community.
Some Final Encouragement from Jenna Evans Welch for Hopeful Authors who want to write their first novel
Jenna Evans Welch said she would be writing, even if she had not been published. “I was miserable not writing. I was born a writer. That is what I’m here to do.”
Jenna’s friend and fellow author Julie Buxbaum explained that writing is her ground floor for happiness. She has to be writing in order to build other things onto her happiness.
“We are creative beings, we are here to create things. We need to do that,” Jenna Evans Welch states. “Taking time to do something that calls to you is worth your time and your effort.”