We talk a lot on here about various stages of the writing process, but a quick glance at the Internet reveals several people who want to write books but have no idea how to get started. Well, my friends, here’s how.
1. Getting the Idea
You’ve got to start with an idea. This can be any number of things. It can be a character (“cheesemaker who loves books and has an ugly dog named Ahab”). It can be a partial plot (“bored millionaire attempts to take over the world”). It can be a setting (“a space station 500 years in the past”). Or a single scene (“faun with umbrella under lamppost in snowy wood”).
What’s your favorite kind of book to read? What do you daydream about? Typically, if a storyline or setting is interesting enough for you to daydream about it multiple times, it’s a good thing to start writing about.
While you’re waiting for that idea, try writing some short fiction (prompts here weekly, folks). That’ll get you some practice, and you may even stumble on an idea with enough legs to become a novel.
If you don’t know where the story is going, you’re likely to get bored with it fast. But don’t worry about planning every detail at first—most of it is likely to change as you do the actual writing. A quick list of major events in the story, in chronological order, is a good start.
3. Facing the Blank Page
Now comes the part so many writers seem to fear. Actually writing. Let me help you with this:
Your first draft is going to be terrible.
It’s supposed to be terrible.
The point of the first draft is to get down everything you know about the story, as fast as possible. It’s to get you started. So quit worrying about finding the perfect words or structuring the perfect sentence. Quit worrying about being eloquent or poetic. Just get some ink on paper. Because before you perfect the story, you have to discover it, and to discover it, you have to dive in and write it.
Reassure yourself that no one else will ever read this draft. Give yourself the freedom to write badly, honestly, and with vulnerability. I guarantee you the final draft will look nothing like the first draft. But I also guarantee that you can’t write the final, glorious draft until you write the first, terrible draft.
And while it’s okay to edit a tiny bit as you write, restrain yourself—don’t spend hours rearranging a paragraph you’ll just end up cutting later (there’s a 99% chance* you will cut it later).
A Final Warning
Writing a novel is will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. You will deal with constant discouragement, from the beginning stages to getting published and beyond—if you get published—and I’ll tell you right now, your chances aren’t good. Nobody’s are. But you know what?
It’s still worth it. 100%.
What’s keeping you from starting a book?
*Yes, I pulled this number out of thin air. It’s true, nonetheless.