Today, I’m going to let you in on a little secret:
Anyone can write a book.
Yes, that’s right, I said anyone. Even you. You have stories you want to tell. You have things you want to say. You are the only person on Earth who can tell others how you see the world, and you feel about a given subject, a particular theme or trope. Whether you’re a natural writer or in need some polish, you can write a book.
How many times have you heard something like this: “To be a writer means you’ll die, penniless and alone, in a garret somewhere!” “Don’t you have to take up alcoholism, as a hobby, to be a writer?” “Who’s going to read it?” “When will you find the time?”
These are myths. While it is true that many writers like their sauce, and some have starved or frozen to death in drafty, unheated attics, and few have been wildly successful, none of these apply to you. You’re just starting the journey. If you decide later on to be the kind of writer who never touches a drop of liquor, likes indoor heating and plumbing, and attracts legions of fans, then you’re breaking the mold and God bless you for it. For now, it’s time to get to work on that story you’ve been aching to tell since you can’t remember when.
As to the last objection, many people have to stifle the urge to cry, “Ain’t nobody got time for that! Spare time? WHAT spare time!?” Everyone has spare time, whether they realize it or not. You may have to sacrifice your TV time or hanging with friends, but look at what you stand to gain. If you really want to write, you can and will make time for it.
This is how to write a book:
1) Now is the time to start
It took me fifteen years to write my first novel. Why? Because I let absolutely everything that crossed my path distract me. I always knew I’d get it done someday, but when I look back, I could kick myself for all the wasted time I spent playing video games, dealing with aborted romantic entanglements, and working at dead-end jobs. The time to start is not when it’s convenient, when the kids are grown, or when your boss isn’t breathing down your neck 24/7. The time to start is NOW. But how?
2) Set realistic time and word count goals
Professional writers can spend their entire day putting words on paper, planning stories, and taking care of first-round editing as they go. This is not your job right now, and you probably don’t have that luxury. Your job is to sit down and get words on the page. If you have two hours a day to spare in which you can write, then take two hours. If you can only commit to fifteen minutes, then take fifteen minutes. The point is to write as much as you can, as often as you can. Like anything else, writing takes practice and discipline to become proficient. You will find as you progress and come to enjoy writing more that you can fit more writing into less time, but getting something on paper is the mission of the moment. If you think you can lay down 19,000 words in 24 hours, go for it. Pro tip: There’s a reason they invented DVR. If you’re a TV junkie, use it. Better still, kick the habit altogether. More on this in a few minutes.
3) Make time for it
It’s easy to say, “I’m too tired. I don’t feel like it. My favorite show’s on tonight. The kid/spouse/boss has this thing…” All of these are excuses. I know, because I’ve used them. I still do sometimes. If you’re really serious about getting the book written, you will make time for it, even if it’s only ten minutes before you go to bed. Type out the notes you scribbled in your steno pad during your lunch break. Please, don’t ever, EVER use “writer’s block” as an excuse. I personally believe writer’s block is a myth that people use to explain why they’re not working.
4) Carry a notepad with you
Sometimes you’ll find you get a great idea: a clever turn of phrase, a precise description of someone’s eyes, or just a cool scene you want to write. The problem is, you don’t have anything to write with! The easiest cure for this is to carry a notepad at all times. That way, you can jot down notes whenever the spirit moves you without trying to remember all of your story ideas until you can get to your computer.
5) Set a writing ritual
Writing is a special kind of work, and it requires a special space and time. (At least until you get your wheels under you; then, feel free to experiment.) During this time, turn off all your phones, lock the door, tell the spouse, kids, roommates, or friends that you’re on lockdown until further notice, get off the Internet, and feed and water your pets. Eliminate any possible reason anyone can have to break up your mojo and shut off anything that might create a distraction. Turn off the TV! I cannot stress this point enough. Television is to writers as Round-Up is to weeds. It will kill your creativity and your flow. Pro tip: For helpful white noise, try playing music that’s appropriate to the scene you’re writing. I personally like contemporary jazz for love scenes, rap or metal for fight scenes, and appropriate music for scenes of calm or tension. Experiment and discover what works best for you while in the middle of a given scene.
6) Seek out other writers for inspiration and challenge
Many writers hang out on Twitter, and they love to encourage new authors. If you want to test yourself, try following a few and look for the hashtag #1k1hr or something similar. This means “1k (1,000 words) in 1 hour.” It is a friendly challenge; there are no prizes and no one’s going to give you a hard time if you don’t make the goal, but it’s a good way to flex your writing muscles. You start a timer and write like a crazy person until the timer goes off. Then you report your result. Some people surprise themselves by laying down 1.5k or even 2k words within the time limit. Test yourself! This is also a great way to communicate with other authors, and start networking early.
7) Ask questions
Another good resource is Writing.com. This is a great place for getting positive feedback, and it has forums where you can ask questions about plot, spelling, and all manner of nuances related to writing. I strongly suggest you do your writing first, and then post any questions you’ve generated during your writing time, afterward.
8) Don’t worry about getting published right now
By the time you’ve followed the previous seven steps, you will be in a pretty good place. Your story should be moving along, and maybe you’re thinking about publishing it. This is not the time to worry about it. You can’t sell a product you haven’t finished at this stage of the game. Worry about getting the book done first.
Once the book is done and you’ve typed the words “The End,” walk away. Put it in a cabinet, a desk drawer, or anywhere you won’t be tempted to drag it out and mess with it. Leave it for at least two weeks and do something completely different to rest your weary cranium. (Many professional writers, like Stephen King, suggest a month to six weeks, but I think two weeks is plenty. Do what works for you, though.) After time has passed, print out your book and read through with a red pen. Notice any places where you have repetition, misspellings, or awkward working, and mark your copy appropriately. Next, rewrite. If you can cut without losing the flow of the story, do so. In the process of editing, sometimes an entire chapter goes to the wood chipper, but you’ll be a lot happier with the results.
The best part is, once you’ve done all this, now you can start thinking about agents and publishers. When someone asks you what you do, you can look them in the eye with absolute confidence and tell them, “I’m a writer.” Don’t EVER use the word “aspiring.” You’ve done the work and you’ve got the product to prove it. You’ve earned the right to call yourself a writer. Be proud of it!