How To Start Writing A Book
If you have ever thought about writing a book, but don’t know where to start, then this article is for you. You’ll discover the three critical elements of writing; you’ll find why knowing who will read your book is essential, and you’ll learn that why ‘just starting’ is the best approach.
Writing a Book
You've decided to write a book but don't know where to start.
Well, there's good news and bad news.
The good news is that most people with determination and will to learn can create a book worthy of reading.
The bad news is it's a long, complicated, and often stressful process.
If you are to produce a publishable book, then several essential elements need to come together in perfect harmony. Each of these elements is equally important, and only by balancing all three will you create a work worthy of a reader’s time and attention.
One problem you face as a writer is that the skills required to create a readable book are often counter-intuitive. Many new writers believe that the will to create a story, or a great idea, are enough to produce a good book, this is just not the case.
Storytelling is a timeless art, but the way in which books and novels are written is a process that contains countless rules and best practices, and this is not an instinctive process and is instead something that needs to be learned.
Even the most accomplished authors see the art of writing as a lifelong journey.
The best approach to writing a book is just to start and then fix as you go. This approach is not as haphazard as it sounds. Instead, it requires the writer to understand that they are creating a draft that represents just one step in the publication process.
In other words, putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and spilling that idea is the best place to start.
In the remainder of this article, I will address the three key elements that all writers must consider when writing a book:
All good books start with an idea.
This might be as simple as a single scene, an interesting concept, or even just a conversation between two characters. Yet, it might be something more, perhaps even a fully-fledged story with character backgrounds and a fully formed world.
What is important is that your idea excites and interests you, since, without this passion, you can never hope to hook readers.
It is not uncommon for a book to take several years to write, perhaps with a further year for publication. Throughout this period, you must live with your idea and maintain a passion for your project. If you are not excited by your idea, then you’ll never last through the hard times that will be coming. If your book is successful, new readers will be discovering your book for years to come, meaning that you will be constantly living with your idea.
The most exciting thing is that even the simplest idea, just the kernel of a concept, or the outline for a scene, is enough to start. Some of the most exciting, famous, and most popular books have grown from nothing more than the smallest of ideas.
An idea is a start point, but if you are going to turn this into an 80,000-word novel or non-fiction book, you need to understand your potential readership.
From the start, you must have some idea who will be reading your book.
This is not to say that you will be writing for these readers, but a deep understanding of the type of person who will love your book will allow you to create an engaging and long-lasting story.
All books MUST fit into the current publishing landscape, and this means that you must, at the very least, understand the broad genre into which your book fits.
At the start, it is okay to know the wider genre into which your book will fit. Knowing that you are writing a science fiction, fantasy, or self-help book is enough to start; the rest will come with time and as your book develops.
Knowing your readership and the genre in which your book fits will allow you to begin to understand your reader’s expectations and the types of tropes they are expecting to see within a book.
For example, let's say you want to write a fantasy novel similar to Lord of the Rings. Understanding the genre in which Lord of the Rings falls will give you an insight into the types of storylines and plot points you can include within your book. A reader of this type of book will be comfortable seeing a world that mimics medieval Europe, they will be expecting sword fights and strange creatures, they may also be expecting magic; these are all readers’ expectations.
Perhaps, more importantly, is what a reader of this genre would not be expecting. If you are writing a fantasy novel and want to include long romance sections between two teenage characters, you may create a problem for yourself. Readers of fantasy novels such as Lord of the Rings tend not to be expecting teenage romance, and if they pick up a fantasy book containing these elements, then poor Amazon reviews are likely to follow. This will have nothing to do with the quality of the book and everything to do with what readers thought they were getting.
This means that your job as an author is to understand the genre you are writing and what readers expect to read. Therefore, as well as writing your own story, you should be reading other books within your genre. Only by being well-read would you understand what readers are expecting.
A word of caution here.
I am not saying that you should be copying other writer’s ideas and stories. I am saying that you must understand the types of books your reader expects since this will guide your book’s creative process.
Many authors’ temptation is to declare that their book is new and different, a new genre or even nongenre. This is a mistake. As a general rule, most readers are looking for novels similar to other novels they have read and enjoyed. Think about your reading habits. I am betting that many of the books you read are situated in the same genre and contained many similar plot elements. When was the last time you took a gamble on a book that was radically different from other books you have read in the past?
The harsh reality is that the only way to create an engaging book is to intertwine a great idea and a deep understanding of your genre and readership. In doing this, you will create a firm foundation on which you can build your book.
You've got your big idea, you know your readership, and you've identified your genre; it’s time to start writing!
But where to start?
It is commonly accepted, that there are two types of writers: planners and pantsers.
Planners like to plan, often mapping out large sections of their book before they begin the process of writing.
Pantsers do the opposite and will often begin the writing process with little, if any, planning. The name comes from the idea that they are writing ‘by the seat of their pants’ letting the story unfold. If you've ever told someone that your ‘book writes itself’ or you ‘create situations and allow the characters to show you what to do’, the chances are you are a pantser.
The reality is that most writers fall somewhere between the two extremes. Writers will often start with a rough outline and then allow the story to unfold as they progress. It is also not uncommon for writers to adopt different approaches for different books.
What is essential is not that you stick closely to either one of these approaches but that you understand that how you want to write your book is the correct way. However, by understanding these two approaches, you can get the most from your writing journey.
A planner well, obviously, starts with a plan.
This might be as simple as a brief outline for the plot but could be as complex as a chapter breakdown with detailed scene notes, character backgrounds, and world-building blueprints.
If you were a planner, important points to understand are that you will almost certainly write logically and systematically. Often starting from the first chapter and progressing in a way that makes sense to you and the story.
The most common approach for a planner is to create a chapter-by-chapter breakdown.
This is not to say that you will not have the freedom to make changes as you write, but these changes often come within a predefined framework.
For example, a planner may have already decided that their main character will rob a bank, but they may not have added details of how this will occur and, instead of planning it ahead of time, will allow it to unfold as they write the scene.
One thing worthy of note is that planners like to document their plans. This means that they have developed several well-recognized plot structures and methodologies for writing books over the years. The most common of these is the three-act structure, with a five-act structure coming a close second, but these are only the tip of the iceberg. There have even been complex scientific approaches to writing a novel, the best example being the snowflake method.
As a planner, you may find that you take comfort in these predefined structured approaches, which is fine. Some of the best stories ever told, and most modern Hollywood movies, have been written to a strict three-act structure, a great example being the original Star Wars trilogy.
This means, if you have a great idea and understand your genre, creating a plan for your book might be the start point you need to get writing.
As enthusiastic as planners are in the use of a plan to create a book, pantsers are often equally enthusiastic about the lack of a plan.
If you are the type of writer that just wants to get started, that needs to get that scene out of your head, or can't wait to find out how your characters will react to your latest problem; then you are almost certainly a pantser.
The good news here is that the best advice I can give is to get writing.
Write that scene that's burning a hole in your head. It makes no difference if it is the book’s final scene, a scene stuck right in the middle, or a scene that is nothing more than that, just a scene without a story.
You are a pantser and having a plan is not important, so get writing and trust the story will come.
Yet pantsers face one big problem. While a planner will create a systematic structure to their book, you will find that your book will meander and often meet dead ends.
Don't worry; there’s a solution to this.
The most essential part of being a pantser is the understanding that your first draft is just that, an initial outline of your story. It is not a finished novel; it is probably not even a readable first draft; it is a collection of ideas that need to be molded into a cohesive book.
The most successful pantser writers will create their first draft and then go back and apply structure to the story. They might do this with the use of an editor or through a self-editing process, but they will always be aware that their first draught is nothing more than that, and it will need more work.
Writing a novel is a complex and time-consuming process. It will require skills that you do not currently possess and an understanding of a publishing landscape that is probably alien to you.
However, the best news is that we all started at this point.
Writing a great book will require a good idea, and understanding of your genre, and the successful process, but none of this is possible without just starting.
If you were a planner, pop open a Word doc and start planning out those chapters.
If you are a pantser, again, fire up the Word doc and just get writing. Put that scene onto paper.
You can learn everything else as you go.
Only by starting can you then take strides in the right direction.
Without a first draft, you will never be a writer.