Everyone has a book in them, or so the adage goes. But how do you actually get started writing one? Do you just start writing, or should you plan it out first?
And even if you plan, where do you go to from there? Will it really require much time and perseverance?
The answer to all these questions is that there is no one way to do it, but the steps outlined below will help you develop strategies to make writing a book seem a more attainable goal.
What you need to do before starting
The obvious thing to do before starting is to get a story idea. What is your book going to be about? Whatever your idea is, it should include not just the subject or general idea, but big picture themes or character arcs.
If you’ve already come up with an idea, the next step is to consider if you have the gumption or time to tackle a task like this. Writing a book requires some sacrifice of time, plus determination.
Along with this, have you considered if you have the needed skills, or can you learn them? Do you understand the basic mechanics of what your book will entail, and are familiar with ideas such as characters, plot and setting, and how these key elements make up your story? Understand these elements can be important before committing yourself.
Set your goal
There are many reasons to write a book, but given it will take time and effort, it is good to ask yourself why you want to write one. What is your motive or motivation?
What kind of book do you want to write? Will it be fiction or non-fiction? Will it be a novella, or a short or long novel, a book of short stories, or a poetry collection? Will it be academic, an eBook, a how-to book, history based or even a technical publication?
What are your goals after you’ve finished writing? Do you want to self-publish, pursue a traditional publisher, or publish online? Do you want to make money from the book or is it just something you want to get out there?
Knowing these things will help direct your work, although you may first need to delve into the planning and research section below to establish some of these goals.
Research is an important part of the planning process. For example, you may decide you want to make money from your book, but you’re not sure how this can be achieved. This may then require research into what does and does not work, so the book is as successful as possible. That may mean reading other books on the market and seeing which get good reviews.
If you plan on writing about a particular genre, such as a historical, scientific or technical work, you may need to do research into the subject at hand, interview experts or collect documentation before you can start writing.
Even if it’s a fictional work, it may help to research the location you plan to set your novel, sketch out characters, and map out your story arc with key plot points. Some writers are meticulous planners and just how far you take this is up to you.
For new writers, we recommend you plot your entire story arc or write a traditional outline of each chapter. The discipline and plan are very helpful, but an outline can also help you remember what’s next in the process when you reach a sticking point, so you can skip ahead and worry about that later. For more tips on outlining a novel, see our blog.
Read similar books
It can be very helpful to study published books in the genre you wish to write. Consider what works and what does not. What has been done before? Is there a market for your idea? Is the idea interesting or important enough? Are there publishers that take on the subject or genre?
Seeing what is out there is will help inform your writing and help you think like a reader. If you know what you like, you can write something another reader likes.
Set up the space you will work at
It helps to have a great space to write. That place doesn’t have to be perfect, have an amazing view or the best equipment. It simply needs to be quiet, or a place you can concentrate to get your writing done. It could be a coffee shop, your study, bedroom, office at lunch time or the garden. Just make sure you won’t be interrupted regularly, and don’t procrastinate about getting it absolutely perfect.
Once you’ve ticked off all the steps above, there’s nothing else left than to get down to it. It’s now time to work.
It is normal to encounter self-doubt or to feel unmotivated at some point. If you find it hard to keep writing, use the time for research, reading other books or going over your outline. However, routine writing is important, so try to stick with it.
Just remember, though, as exciting as it is to finish the first draft, you’re not there yet.
What you need to do while writing
Some writers lock themselves away for days at a time to punch out their work, but others simply set aside an hour or more a day or week on the weekend or before work. Or they may set themselves a task, such as 1000 words at a sitting. It doesn’t matter if you’re already a best seller or just starting out, discipline and commitment to task are a big part of the writing craft.
Feel free to set yourself goals as outlined above, or make yourself accountable to deadlines by sending updates to a friend. Whatever you do, make a habit of it and it will soon get done. Just make sure your targets are realistic and there’s no room for procrastination.
Once you’ve got through the first draft, it’s time to revise. It’s always wise to have a break of some length between the draft and the revision, so you come to it with fresh eyes.
During your first revision, look at it from a big picture perspective, rather than line by line. Consider how the plot hangs together? Does the pacing work? Are there character inconsistencies? Are the scenes in the right order?
If you haven’t used an outline before you started, this is where you may assess and revise the structure.
What you need to do when you’re finished
Even though you’ve finished your draft and revised it, you’re not actually finished the project. It’s a case now of rinse and repeat to iron out any issues.
With each draft, try to look at something different. In the revision above, you looked at the big pictures, so you should look at more detail now. Consider if you have got the right tone for your work? Is the language right? Do you address your readership in the right way? Is the pacing right? Does the flow work?
After this, it’s time to look at the finer detail. How are paragraphs, sentences and word choices hanging together? What is your spelling and punctuation like? Is the grammar correct? What about tenses? Style?
Consider aids like ProWritingAid or Grammarly that can identify issues you might have missed. You could also send your work to a beta reader for the same reason, but someone that will give more human responses. Try to give them some idea of what you’re looking for, e.g. line editing to pull up some syntax errors, or an evaluation of themes and ideas.
Once you’ve put your work through every process you can think of and have the time and patience for, it’s time for the last read through. This is your final chance to correct any more of those minor errors you missed and smooth out the presentation for submission to an editor.
Send it to an editor
Once you’ve completed all the steps above, it’s time to hire an editor. This is probably the best investment you can make to get your work fine-tuned for publication.
There are many levels of editing that fiction editing services like ours offer. It’s important to understand these and know what you need and/or are paying for. Some services, like ours, provide a free sample that will assess your work.
By now you should be ready to get started. But if you need further advice, consider our blog Writing a Novel: 5 Things You Must Know.