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.


A Brief Overview of Different Genres

When deciding what type of book to write, it’s important to understand the concept of genres. A genre is an topic or subject which encompasses a group of books. There are some very large divisions between genres, and much more narrow ones as you go down the line. At the very top of the pyramid, all books are divided into two categories: fiction, and non-fiction.

Non-Fiction

Non-fiction books, despite what the name might sound like, refer to all books that aren’t made up. Some are told in a narrative structure just like a novel would be, with the simple difference that the events actually happened. Non-fiction books can be much more abstract, though; a simple cookbook, as it contains no fictional information, would also be considered non-fiction. Obviously, encompassing every non-fiction genre would be about as difficult as summing up reality, but if you’re considering writing a non-fiction book, there’s a good chance it fits into one of the larger genres.

Biographies

A biography is a book written that documents a person’s life. Generally, biographers have to do a great deal of research, speaking with the subject in the case they are still alive, interviewing anyone else who might have known the subject, and examining any primary or secondary materials that may be relevant. Good biographers will take all of the information gathered, and weave that into a compelling story about the subject’s life.

Self-Help Books

A huge amount of non-fiction books that are published, especially those that are self-published, are self-help books. Generally written by people who have been successful in one walk of life or another, self-help books compile the wisdom and life experience of the author into a form designed to assist their readers in achieving their goals.

Events

Some authors, especially journalists or people who have had particular experience with a significant event, will write a book detailing that event, how it happened, who was involved, etc. This can be about anything from sports victories to terrorist attacks. If you have a particular experience with any event that you think the public might find interesting, you might try writing a book about it.

Fiction

Generally considered the more “entertaining” side of writing, fiction refers to all books that the author makes up. These aren’t necessarily less constrained than non-fiction, they’re just constrained differently. Instead of sticking to a set of true facts, fictional stories stick to a set of narrative principles. Just like non-fiction is a huge term encompassing many different types of true stories, fiction can be about pretty much anything. Regardless, a huge amount books fall into specific genres. Furthermore, readers will usually go after a specific genre, so writing towards a particular genre might be an effective way of ensuring readers.

Literary Fiction

The next major divide within fiction is that between literary fiction and genre fiction. Generally speaking, literary fiction is more focused on character development and exploration of themes, whereas genre fiction is all about the plot, with the story itself driving the reader’s interest. These are extremely vague lines, and the argument about what exactly qualifies as genre and what as literary fiction rages in academic circles. Suffice to say, most books that you were assigned in high school probably would be considered literary fiction, though as authors push more and more boundaries, the lines between get further blurred.

Genre Fiction

Genre fiction stories are the blockbusters of the literary world. They’re the most “entertaining” books, and consequentially, sometimes considered the least “cultured”. These are all dividers that don’t really mean a whole lot, though. If a story has a compelling villain, a ticking clock, action packed scenes, or a thrilling conclusion, then it will likely be considered genre fiction. Does that mean that it’s less good than a literary story? Of course not. There are countless different genres within genre fiction, but we’ll take a look at a couple of the most prominent.

Mysteries

Go into any library, and you’ll usually notice that the mystery section is absolutely huge. Readers love mysteries, and just about always have. Mysteries all follow a pretty standard structure: set up a crime, introduce a detective, catch a criminal. The infinite variation within that formula, however, is what has made mystery stories such a persistent genre.

Speculative Fiction

Oftentimes, bookstores and libraries will lump fantasy and science fiction into one section, usually calling it just one or the other. Obviously, fantasy and science fiction aren’t the same, but they can be grouped into the larger genre of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction stories are those that aren’t about our world. Whether it be because minute advances in technology haven’t been achieved yet, or because magic saturates every part of the world. It all counts as speculative fiction, which is one of the most popular and prevalent genres among younger generations. As a result, many young adult novels fall under this category as well.

Knowing your genre is extremely important for aspiring authors. Not only does looking at other authors within that genre provide excellent guidance, but having a clear idea of where you stand is invaluable when approaching literary agents and publishers, or when trying to sell your work to prospective readers.