If you like to read like I do, it might be hard to imagine that some of the great literary works we can hold in our hands—some of our FAVORITE books started with a blank page (or maybe even a blank screen–but, let’s be real, Jane Austen wasn’t googling ‘how to write a book’).
I think, at least in my case, when I started writing my first novel, I felt a looming sense of imposter syndrome. For the first half of my book, I had this overwhelming feeling that nothing I wrote was good enough. I constantly wanted to go back and edit. There were always new ideas I wanted to add to old scenes, dialogue that didn’t feel like it belonged–no matter what it was, I had a hard time sleeping at night knowing that there was something that needed to be better without really knowing how to make it BETTER.
That being said, there’s no real guide out there about how to write a book. Sure, there’s lot of great articles, and there are some fantastic resources online. Several writers have even compiled books of their own writing advice, hoping to help new writers out. But, you never really know until you get started.
In any case, here’s a few of MY tips to help you out as you get started with this journey (and let me tell you, it won’t be an easy one!). While this article might not answer all of your questions about how to write a book, I’m happy to answer additional questions in the comments below, so be sure to make use of that section if you feel you need it!
Step #1: Buy Yourself Some Literature
Okay, this might seem like a silly step. But, in order to be a good writer, you have to start with being a good reader. How many books have you read this year? What genres do you like? I think a good place to start is in a bookstore (preferably an Indie one with a good coffee shop). I get a lot of my ideas from looking at other writing styles, seeing what I like to read, what formatting other authors use, what type font I’m comfortable with. I also like pursuing book covers and looking at different publishing companies and what debut novels they’ve chosen to publish.
Another bonus tip here: Check out some of the writing books available. Here’s a list I’ve compiled of some of the ones that I really like.
Step #2: Put Yourself On A Schedule
Even if you have no clue what your book is going to be about yet, I think it’s essential to schedule writing time.
It’s too easy to fall into housework, extra activities, a night out. You might be thinking about your book, and maybe you even have some lingering guilt in the back of your mind. But, that’s not going to write your novel. What is going to write your novel? Sitting down and making time for it.
Set a time, preferably every day, to sit down and write. Personally, I think this time should be in a space that’s secluded, has easy access to internet, and has minimal distractions. I write in my home office, where I keep a limited bookshelf, some inspirational wall decor, and a desk–that’s it.
Step #3: Brainstorm Your Plot ARC
Your plot points are going to be the most important part of your book. There’s a specific way to write a Plot Arc, and I can go into this in a later article, but you’ll want to brainstorm it out before you start writing. I’ve found that this makes a HUGE difference as you go along. As you start to write, you have the events of your book in the back of your mind, which can help add in more details like foreshadowing.
A lot of writer’s books will advise you to focus on your characters or details. They might help you to write a scene to brainstorm. Personally, I think all of these things kind of get thrown out the window once you start actually writing. The thing that will likely stick with you through most of the book is your plot. It might change as your write, but an overwhelming amount of it will stay the same. Character names and details can change.
Step #4: Write, But Don’t Edit!
When you’re ready to start writing, you’re probably going to want to reach a word count every day. You might struggle to get the words out. Things might not flow right. You might have short, choppy sentences. See what I did there?
When this happens, take a minute, highlight it in red. Or purple. Or blue. Heck, whatever color you want. Just highlight it so you know that this is a spot you’ll want to look back at later. Some scenes, I even made little notes for myself that looked like this:
<connect these two scenes later>
and that’s totally fine! There’s no one way how to write a book. But, if you’re constantly getting deep into the same scenes over and over again, you’re definitely going to struggle moving forward. I’ve found it’s much better to have a surface level scene and keep moving than to have one really good scene and that’s it. There will always be time to edit, but you might not always have the same train of thought to keep writing…catch my drift?
Step #5: Back Up Your Manuscript. Every. Single. Day.
Okay, this is an important one.
You’re going to be writing thousands of words a day. At minimum, your book is likely going to be 50,000 words, probably more. If there’s anything at all you take away from this article, let it be this: back up your manuscript. Even if you had a crappy day and you don’t feel like you made a lot of progress. Do it. Every. Single. Day.
I wrote my book on Google Docs and I felt like that was a really positive experience, but I still saved each chapter as a .pdf file and I have it saved to iCloud as well. You might choose to keep yours on a USB stick. However you do it, make sure that you are saving it to two different places each day. It’s important and you’ll thank me later.
Step #6: Have A Plan For When You Get Stuck
I’m pretty sure every first-time writer gets stuck at some point. My struggle happened about halfway through NaNoWriMo. My book takes place over two different timelines, and I became so attached to my first timeline characters that I struggled to pivot. Eventually, the thing that helped me was one of my co-workers/friends, who recommended that I change the format of the second timeline. It made a huge difference.
My point here is that you’re probably going to get stuck, and you need to have a plan for when you do. I’d recommend having a designated friend to talk you through it–maybe it’s a friend you talk to about books you’ve read, or maybe it’s your mom. You can also try visiting your local library. I often find inspiration among the stacks, and I like being able to take out as many books as I want for inspiration when I feel stuck.
If you need more resources about writer’s block, here’s a good article from The Write Practice that goes pretty in-depth with some different ideas.
Step #7: Print Out Your Drafts
One of the most satisfying things about writing a book is being able to hold it in your hands.
When I finished the first draft of my book, I printed out the entire thing, went to Walmart, and picked out a binder that I liked to store it in. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to see it all printed out. Besides literally marveling over it, printing out your draft is also an important step in the editing process. I find that it’s helpful to actually SEE the words in front of you and turn a physical page. Plus, you can write in the margins what you’d like to add or change, so you can go back and edit later.
Step #8: Edit In A Separate Document
Whether you’ve written your book in one document, or written it in several documents, I find that I like editing as a blank slate. I often start a brand-new file, label it “Draft B” or something of the like, and start there.
Typically, when I edit, I copy and paste chapter by chapter into the new document. Then, I’ll go in and add comments for developmental edits (these take longer edits, obviously) and I’ll make grammatical edits as I go along. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find editing to be a ruthlessly demeaning process. It feels a bit like trudging through three feet of mud in flip flops. But, you’ll preserve and you’ll be ecstatic when you do!
Step #9: Think About Hiring a Developmental Editor
Many writers struggle during the editing process for a number of reasons. Either they’re ready to start their next story, or they don’t have the grammatical aptitude to scan over their own work. I often find that it’s very challenging to edit my own writing because I’m so close to my own story.
If this is you, consider hiring a developmental editor. There are a lot of options out there, depending on your writing niche. I offer different editing packages on my site, from light grammatical edits to more involved developmental edits.
Step #10: Is It Time To Publish?
Publishing comes when your book is done–the writing is complete, the editing is solid, and there’s nothing left to do.
Usually, there’s two options to publish: You can go the traditional route, or you can self-publish.
While I won’t get too in-depth today, here’s a great article from Writer’s Digest with the pros and cons of each service. It might help you decide which route is better for you, if you’d like to publish your manuscript.
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