A lot of people ask me, "I've always wanted to write a book, but where do I start?" It's a great question. There are more writing tips out there than fish in the sea, but here's seven basic tips:
1. The time is now, don't wait for the muse
I'm sure there are millions of people with the excuses: "I'll write when I have time," or "when the kids leave for college," or "when I'm working less hours," or "when I have the perfect idea," or "when I'm in the mood."
Here's a truth you won't like: You'll never find time if you don't make it. Every one of us is busy trying to fit a thousand things into each day. If you wait for the time, it will never come. You have to make time. Watch less TV, or get up an hour earlier, re-organize your chores, whatever it takes. Almost every bestselling author today wrote their first books while working a day job, or looking after two kids, or nursing a sick parent. It's very unlikely that great chunks of time will suddenly open up in your life just so that you can write.
As for that muse… again, don't wait for her. Like most good things in life, the muse doesn't just show up at your front door one morning. That perfect idea will never come if you don't sit down and tug it, kicking and screaming, from your mind. Rarely does a whole book flood into your brain, and all you have to do is sit and type it. Ideas have to be worked, grappled with, and experimented with. You have to explore them, see where the windy road takes you, and maybe back up and take another, better road.
The time is now. There will never be a better time. Stop waiting for it. "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today."
2. Start anywhere
"But I don't know where to start." "I don't know how the book ends." "What shall I write about?"
Remember that elusive muse? She works better when engaged. Just start writing. Anything. What's your main character like? Describe her situation. What is she afraid of? What horrible or dramatic thing happens that propels her on the course she will take throughout your book? Who is working against her? Ask a lot of questions and write what comes to mind. You definitely don't need to know all the answers up front. Advanced writers will talk to you about plotting and outlining, and… Forget all that for now! Learn that later. Just write something. It doesn't matter if it doesn't make it into the final book. You are exercising your creativity and that of your muse. I guarantee that once you start writing, more and more ideas will come to you
3. Write every day
You'll hear this from every author. Don't let it deter you. Absolutely do NOT think that if you can't write every day, there's no point in starting. It doesn't have to be every single day, just as often as you can. What those three words really mean is that the more often you write, the easier it will become. It's all about momentum. When you sit down each day (or every other day), you'll remember your characters, you'll remember where you left off in your book and what is happening. You'll be able to get back into writing that much quicker. If you write too infrequently, when you sit down you're going to have to re-read your earlier pages to refresh your memory. You've lost the flow. You have to kickstart your creativity again. You'll likely stare at the screen trying to remember what you planned to write next.
It's better to write only 200 words but every single day than to write 2000 words one day a week. Make it a habit.
4. Write shit, write fun
That sounds like contradictory advice doesn't it? Let's break this down, because this is a very important tip.
Write shit: Too many new writers get hung up on making every sentence perfect, every word the right word. They'll revise and polish ad infinitum, afraid to move on until everything is just right. Here be dragons! That road leads to madness. The time for editing and polishing will come – oh yes it will come – but much later in the process. On your first draft, just write all your ideas down. Don't edit. Don't stop to choose words. Don't worry if it's any good. Doing any of that is the fastest way to slam the brakes on your creativity. Writing engages the creative side of the brain. Editing uses the analytical side. During your first draft you do NOT want the analytical side pushing aside your creativity.
Don't be afraid to barf all your ideas onto the page, good or bad. Don't be afraid to write shit. The first draft is for your eyes only. Only when you've vomited your way from start to "The End" will you really know what story you have, because it might well have meandered and gone off in different directions along the way. Now you are done writing shit! Now you can switch to your editorial, analytical brain, and begin to tidy and polish, add tension, rework scenes, and improve dialog.
Write fun: You are supposed to enjoy writing. It's by no means easy, but it's not supposed to be something you loathe. Write what sounds like fun to you. Don't second guess yourself. Don't worry if people will like it. Don't worry about selling or marketing, or any of that. Write what YOU enjoy. If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong, and that's a huge clue that your book might be heading in the wrong direction. If you are having fun, it's likely the reader will have fun. Trust your instincts.
5. Study Craft
Bit by bit, you need to start learning the craft of writing. You need to learn plotting, and sentence structure, and point of view, and transitions, and tense, and… Oh, boy, there are so many How-To writing books and blog posts out there. Every author has advice, has the secrets… has a course you can take. It can be overwhelming. Don't stop your writing to embark on a study-fest. Your story (and it's a fun story, right?) is more important than the rules. Entertainment surpasses the mechanics. You will become a better author by studying your craft, but don't let it engulf you, paralyze you. Keep writing your fun shit and learn a few things at a time.
All authors are great readers. Never stop reading. You absolutely must read within the genre you have chosen to write in, so that you can soak up the unspoken rules, the expectations of the reader, the terminology. Epic fantasy reads very differently to a crime thriller, and I'm not just talking subject matter. The style is different. The pace is different. Learn what the bestsellers in your genre are doing, but don't think you have to flat out copy them. You are as much seeing what hasn't been done as what has. Sure, there are a billion teen vampire books out there, but only by reading them will you understand what makes each different, what tricks and skills the author used to make their book a totally different read, even though you'd think all vampires are equal.
Read outside your genre. Be eclectic. You will learn different techniques from different genres. Romance seeps into most genres, so read romance books. What makes a scene romantic? Suspense is another common trait of great books, so read horror or thrillers, and study how those authors practice their trade.
Whatever books you read, stop and think about them. What made that chapter gripping? Why was that one boring? Why was I rooting for that lowly slave, and why did I hate that rich businessman? Look at that super cool way that the author skipped several months in the story without it jarring.
7. Away with you naysayer!
For some reason, many people will want to rain on your parade. Humans seem to dislike someone else being adventurous, someone carving out time in their day to be creative, to experiment. Perhaps they are worried you'll become more successful than them. Perhaps your efforts simply remind them they are wasting their own lives in front of the TV. Ignore their petty jealousy. You're doing this because you always wanted to be an author, right? Or you have that one story that just has to be written. Let no one tear down your dreams. If you set your mind to it, the only way you can fail is if YOU quit. Just smile at the naysayers and go back to your keyboard.
I hope these tips convinced you that you don't have to be an expert to write a book. All you need are passion and perseverance.
So stop reading this, sit down RIGHT NOW and start writing. The first day of your author career starts here. Good luck! Send me a copy of your book when it's done. 🙂