How to write a book – steps and ideas for first time writers
Many writers get stuck in the “idea” phase – they have too many stories to chase and constantly jot down scenes and characters, but have trouble writing a WHOLE book. I had that problem too, which is why I changed my goal: instead of trying to finish a novel, I tried to write a strong beginning and reach the halfway point.
I did that 5 times, until I was comfortable with it, then went back and finished the second half for those books.
My point is that learning to write the first half of a novel is not the same as learning to write the second half. Writing a WHOLE book at once can be intimidating because there are so many pieces to get wrong, it’s easy to get stuck or frustrated, and there are also gaps or broken bits that need fixing.
Writing a book is kind of like building a bridge. First you need a rough sketch, then temporary scaffolding, then the foundations, then the internal architecture… only after all that do you being laying down the permanent, external stuff and removing the temporary stuff.
I love this quote from Neil Gaiman, answering the absurd question “real quick, how to plot a book?”
In a recent video I made about Guerrilla Publishing, I accidentally said something like “just write the best book in the world” – which is misleading, because of how I define “best”. Most writers focus on the words and sentences, the quality of the writing. That’s a bad idea for two reasons:
- The rough draft is always bad. You have to allow yourself to write badly and get the story down first.
- Most readers don’t care about the writing – they focus on story or content.
To have a successful book that readers love (which, I think, is the only kind of book worth writing), you need to do it deliberately (it can be done accidentally as well, but that path leads most authors to frustration). Almost all commercial books follow standard tropes and genre expectations and universal story architecture. If you want to write a GOOD book, you need to learn the rules and know your audience. A lot of authors resist this, which is why most authors fail (or work far harder than they need to, and spend more than they earn on publishing).
For more on writing fiction, read these:
For nonfiction, start here: