How to Write a Book

So you’re sitting there, staring at a blank page, hoping that inspiration will strike and the next great novel will flow out of your fingertips. This idea has been in your head for years, but every time you try to get it down, you hit a wall. You know that you could be capable of writing a bestseller, if only you could figure out how to get out of your own way. Well don’t worry; I’m here to tell you the secret of how to write a book.

There Is No Secret

Unfortunately, writing a book isn’t the type of thing that comes with a guidebook. There isn’t one way to write a book, nor any shortcuts you can take to make it easier. Writing a book comes with long, long hours of hard work and dedication. There is no one to keep you accountable but yourself, and no way to get it done other than to put the effort in. That doesn’t mean there aren’t guidelines that you can use to help you get there, though. If you really want to write a book, here are a few tips to keep you on the path.

There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block

Writing isn’t something you do exclusively when you have inspiration. Writers don’t sit at their computers waiting for the perfect ideas to strike. Writers do one thing above all: they put words down on paper. The quality of those words, at the outset, isn’t really that important. What is vitally crucial is to have a word goal every day, and stick to it. Even if the ideas you’re working with don’t quite seem to fit together, even if you don’t love the phrasing of that bit. If you don’t get words down every day, you’ll never finish your first draft. Don’t worry how good it is. It won’t be.

First Drafts Suck

No one has ever written a good first draft. Maybe some genius has once accomplished it, but don’t try to be special. First drafts are supposed to be bad, that’s the point of them. A first draft is the rough forming of a piece of clay to vaguely resemble a primate. You don’t worry about fine details on a first draft. You get the basic shape of a story, then step back and think to yourself, “Alright, what the hell am I looking at?”

Good Books are Revised, Not Written

Too many aspiring authors find writing a story exciting, but revising and editing it to be boring busy work. Don’t fall into this trap. Find your story in revising the story, go back into it, and hone it down until it looks exactly what you want it to look like. Keep pushing your characters around until they fit naturally into place. Pull elements from later in your book and hint at them earlier to elegantly foreshadow your conclusion. Every good book you’ve ever read has been made that way through revision, not through initial inspiration.

Have a Writing Group

Writing with other writers might not be for everyone, but it can be an invaluable tool. Other writers provide multiple benefits for the aspiring author. For one, no one is going to be able to give you more useful or comprehensive feedback than someone else who is attempting to do the same thing you are. But moreover, having a group of fellow writers to report to will help keep you accountable. If you are the type to lose momentum and give on projects, you might find that the social impetus of not wanting to let down your writing group might be enough to keep you honest.

Know the Rules before Breaking Them

Some will tell you that there aren’t any rules to writing. This isn’t true; there are plenty of rules in writing, you just don’t need to follow them. There isn’t a single rule in writing that can’t be broken. Even something as fundamental as “show, don’t tell” doesn’t hold true in all instances. However, in order to know when you can break a rule, you have to understand why it’s a rule in the first place. Therefore, follow all of the rules that you’re told about writing until you have a clear understanding of why they’re recommended.

Read!

Good writers read a lot. If your number one goal as a writer is putting words onto the page, the number two slot should be reading them off the page. Engage critically with everything you read, whether it is a pulpy romance novel or an article in the Atlantic. Think about how you would have phrased things, what direction you might have taken the story. Only very stupid or arrogant authors think that they can work alone without influences.