The thought of writing a book can seem overwhelming.
The empty page can be intimidating for writers venturing into that first novel. Endless advice is given on how to overcome the fear and anxiety, but all of it can be pared down to one word: begin.
Writing a book is a daunting task, especially if you are an avid reader, which is a good habit for a writer to have.
A writer can easily find themselves intimidated when comparing the words they’ve written to the published books they hold in their hands.
But these books have gone through much editing and many drafts. Being aware of that gap between the first draft and the final product when writing a book is important for new writers who feel the pressure to write as well as the writers they read and admire.
Another way to combat the intimidation of the first draft is to make a plan that is unique to your writing style and story.
The first step in that plan for writing a book is finding an idea.
Tip 1: The Idea
Before the real work of writing a book can begin, a writer must have an idea.
The idea can be rooted in:
- A character,
- A setting,
- An event,
- A word, etc.
If getting started with one of these proves to be difficult, a writer might consider looking toward writing prompts that inspire an idea for a story. Many craft books and journals, as well as writing communities offer lists of writing prompts that may spark an idea for a book.
Another place a writer might consider looking for ideas is in one’s own passions.
In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (2015), Elizabeth Gilbert says:
“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Following her love of gardening, led Gilbert to the idea for her novel, The Signature of All Things (2013), which was long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Tip 2: The Plan
Once a writer has found an idea they want to follow, the natural place is to start writing a novel is:
- Making notes,
- Drafting scenes, and;
- Creating character backgrounds.
It’s tempting to believe you can sit down and, in a flash of brilliance, write your entire book from beginning to end. The truth is many great stories begin with bits and pieces the writer threads together as they develop.
Remember, writing a book takes time and effort.
- Panster or Plotter?
Once you decide whether you are a panster (a writer who writes the story as they go) or a plotter (a writer who makes an outline and plans their novel before they start writing a book), you’ll have some direction to your first efforts.
Sometimes, being a panster or a plotter depends on the story you are writing.
For writers in this discovery phase of their own process, consider adapting the following ideas to work for you as you plan.
Begin by writing the blurb for your novel
This will give you a starting point to determine those internal and external goals for a character.
Choose your point of view
Once you know who the protagonist is in your story, consider which point of view serves your story best.
Write your key scenes
Consider writing one or more of the major scenes in a story arc:
- Inciting incident
- Plot point 1
- Plot point 2
By experimenting with these scenes first, a writer gives themselves the skeleton of a story they can build.
Tip 3: The Research
Depending on the writer, ideas about the timing for research will vary.
Many writers collect their research before writing a book. Other writers hunt for research as they delve deeper into a story.
Prolific writer, Jodi Picoult who recently coauthored Mad Honey (2022) with writer Jennifer Finney Boylan, has said she is meticulous in her research and often seeks out experts to consult with during the exploratory phase of her writing.
Research may also inspire new ideas, developing character and setting by introducing possible conflicts a writer may not have been aware of when the idea for the story first hit.
Tip 4: The Writing
Sitting down to write is the most exciting part of writing a book, but it can often be the most daunting.
Writers can find endless advice and support in craft books, and from experienced published authors who say a first draft should be just that… a first draft.
Stephan King gives writers advice for keeping those first drafts private so as not to lose the intensity of a story:
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out.”
While the story is just forming in your head, allow the first draft to be a place you explore.
Be kind to yourself as an artist. Characters will form and change. Plots will have holes. Your writing will most likely need much editing, but when you are finished you will have a first draft.
Tip 5: The Editing
You’ve finished your first draft. Before editing… celebrate, because writing a book is a huge achievement!
Then, get back to work.
When approaching the editing phase, you may consider enlisting trusted beta readers (readers who will give you honest feedback about the story and places you may need to revise).
This stage can be difficult and can make a writer feel vulnerable.
Neil Gaiman’s advice for accepting feedback may help,
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
Gaiman reminds writers here, a story is ultimately the creation of the writer.
After receiving feedback from your beta readers and revising, you may find enlisting a professional editor to be the next step before pursuing representation with an agent.
For new writers, the blank page can be just as intimidating as it is exciting.
But all writers will tell you that persistence is the only real advice one can give for writing a book. Each day you choose to sit down and begin, each day you choose to write, gets you one step closer to that final page.
Article Written by Heather Wood
By combining my experience of teaching writing at the secondary level with a Fictionary StoryCoach Edit, I will help you strengthen your story while honouring the care and effort you have dedicated to your art.
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