When it comes to writing a book, there is no one-size-fits-all way of getting the words on the page. Writing is a healthy mix of courage, creativity, logistics and discipline. Every single writer has her own unique process. This is a simple guide to figuring out what yours might be.
Step 1: Step into your fear.
Writing is an act of becoming intimately acquainted with your inner dialogue. When that inner dialogue is laced with fear about who you are as a writer, or whether anyone will read your book, it can be debilitating.
The good news? Stepping into your fear can and will make you a better writer. Listen closely and record your fears on the page. Ask questions of them, such as:
Why do I think this?
Where did this thought come from?
Why do I care so much about being a writer?
How would I feel if I failed?
How would I feel if I succeeded?
These aren’t easy questions. But as you uncover the answers, you might also uncover a goldmine of raw images, memories, and insight into the human condition. Use them. It’s what great writing is made of.
Step 2: Consider your WHY and your WHO.
Why do you want to write this book and who do you want to write it for? Do you love fantasy YA novels and think it would be fun to write one? Do you have a special way of doing something that other people would benefit from learning through a self-help book/instructional guide? Maybe your own life story has been filled with heart-wrenching plot twists that would make the perfect memoir. Maybe you want to use your novel to explore a burning question you’ve been wrestling with.
Step 3: Take a field trip to your local bookstore.
Take your physical self to a physical bookstore and go to the place where your book would live on the shelf. This is where you get to dream, explore and imagine what it will be like to be a published author. It’s also where you’ll do research and further hone in on what you want your book to be.
Begin by pulling 4-5 books off the shelf that are within your genre, preferably some that you have either read or heard of because they are bestsellers. Skim through them with an eye for what pulls you in.
Is it the images on the cover?
A gripping title?
Back cover copy that leaves you wanting more?
An endorsement by an author you know and love?
How about a prologue that introduces a fascinating main character?
Use your phone to snap photos of parts you want to remember and take lots of notes, so you can go home and begin to visualize how your book will be similar or different.
Step 4: Grab a guide.
Since you’re at a bookstore, you may as well pick up a book on writing within your genre, or an overall guide to story structure. These books are like having a mentor in your back pocket. The best also includes writing prompts and exercises to help you practice what you are learning and get your pen moving.
Here are some of my favorites:
Fast Draft Your Memoir by Rachael Herron
Writing Successful Self-Help and How-To Books by Jean Marie Stine
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
Step 5: Find a community.
Writing can be a lonely task, but it doesn’t have to be. No matter where you live or what stage you are at, there is a community for you in the form of Facebook groups, in-person meetups, or structured workshops led by a professional writer. If one-on-one attention is what you seek, many authors also offer coaching sessions that can help you meet goals or give feedback on your work. The best way to find them is by googling, searching Meetup.com, or visiting websites such as TheWriteLife.com.
Step 6: Do your prep work.
Many people find it helpful to make chapter-by-chapter outlines before they start writing their books. These writers are called Plotters. They value having a clear-cut road map so they don’t have to stop writing and think about what happens next.
Others thrive off the adrenaline rush of being in the moment and letting their characters surprise them. These writers are called Pantsers, meaning, that they write “by the seat of their pants.” They get bored when they already know what is going to happen, or feel suffocated by outlines.
Not sure which you are? The only way to find out is to experiment.
Step 7: Set a realistic word count goal and deadline.
The average length of a rough draft book manuscript is 45,000 words. Start by estimating how many words you want to write per week. If you have a full-time job (as most writers do) and kids to take care of and myriad other responsibilities, the chances are you won’t be writing every day. And that’s okay. The act of writing is about getting words on the page. Words tend to add up in the same way numbers do.
A great goal to shoot for is writing five days per week, 750 words per day, which equals 3,750 words per week.
45,000 / 3,750 = 12 weeks.
That is a rough estimate and can always shift, if necessary. Give yourself grace if you don’t meet your daily goal, and vow to keep writing the next day. With time and persistence, you will get there. I promise.
Step 8: Search for holes in your schedule and use them to write.
Veteran author Pat Schneider suggests viewing your writing time as a reward, not a duty. She writes, “If you are in love, you make time and space for the beloved…I believe that people who truly want to write are in love with writing, in love with the artist inside, in love with creating. That love is the root source of true discipline.”
You may not have hours at a time to pen your novel, but perhaps you can steal an extra 30 minutes in the morning by waking up a little earlier? If you’re a night person, consider staying up 30 minutes later? If you take an hour lunch break, try eating for the first 30 minutes and writing for the last 30. Or combine these options by writing in separate, 30-minute spurts throughout your day.
Step 9: Say ‘no’ to multi-tasking.
The writing process has many phases – from brainstorming, to researching, drafting, editing and revising. Rather than combining these steps, make it a goal to focus on one at a time.
Why? Consider this scenario:
You start to write a new chapter but get stuck on some fact you don’t know. You hop on Google and in no time, fifteen minutes have passed. You click back to your Word document, but now you’re not in the zone, so you start re-reading what you wrote. The bad news? It doesn’t sound so good (as most rough drafts don’t). You start deleting words, rephrasing sentences and now your writing time is up.
One thing at a time, friends!
That means carving out specific chunks to write and only write. If possible, put your phone on silent and toss it in a drawer. When you come across something you’ll need to research, use brackets plus the bold setting to make yourself a placeholder that says [REARCH X LATER].
Write as much as you can and try not to look back and edit. I know. It ain’t easy. But editing comes later. The initial goal is to write a messy, imperfect rough draft.
Step 10: Refill your creative well.
Most artists will admit the act of creation has a mystical quality. Tapping into a source of inspiration greater than themselves. Some call it the Universe, some call it magic, and some call it God. Whatever you choose, the beauty of viewing creativity in this light is that it helps take the pressure off. It turns writing into a partnership. A collaboration.
Pay attention to how and when you tap into your creative source. Is it taking walks? Praying? Listening to music? Exploring new neighborhoods? Reading poetry? Going dancing? Hanging out in community with other writers? These activities refill your creative well and sustain you as you make your way to the finish line.
Step 11: You did It! Now, celebrate and take a break.
Writing that final word is one of the greatest feelings. Crack open a bottle of champagne and give yourself time and space away from your book. A suggested time frame is anywhere from two weeks to a full month. Use that time to work on other projects so that when you come back to revise, you can view it with fresh eyes.
Step 12: Revise, rework and edit.
This is the final step, but it will likely need to be repeated several times before your book is ready to self-publish or submit to agents. For the first round, try seeing what you can do on your own by using a tool, such as The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.
For subsequent rounds of revision, it is recommended to seek outside assistance. One of the most affordable options is joining a writing critique group led by an experienced author. You can also take a class, or hire a developmental editor.
Whichever path you choose, know that you’ve got this, I’m rooting for you, and I look forward to reading your book.