You've finally decided to write a book, and you're pumped about it. You're confident your book is going to be one of the greatest written works in literary history. It will be the hot topic of discussion at book clubs everywhere! But when you consider actually starting the process, you feel stuck. Now what?
Everyone has his or her own distinct writing style. Some gush out words to create a lengthy and very rough draft, while others agonize over every single word and sentence. Certain writers start at page one, while others create the body first and then fill in the intro later. Some aren't even quite sure what genre they want to follow until they've hashed out several pages.
Whatever your creative process, you're likely to run into a few walls as you embark on your writing journey, so here are a few tips to get you started and to simplify the process.
Dedicate a special space to your writing
Find a spot that is set apart from the other events of daily life, and use that space each time you write. Cater the environment to your specific needs. Does music help you relax and inspire creativity? Or, do you prefer silence? Do you need to look out the window? Consider your personal preferences and the elements that will best invite the magic into your writing process.
Devote part of each day to writing
Once you've established a good environment conducive to writing, make a plan to establish a solid, regular plan of action. Just like getting six-pack abs requires regular exercise, your literary masterpiece also needs constant, dedicated attention. An obstacle many writers face is the lack of motivation to sit down each and every day and ignore all of the distractions. Set aside a certain amount of time every day (or even a certain exact time; set an alarm on your phone!) to add content to your book.
Set a goal for how many words you will write per day. Start small—say, 200 words a day—and increase your volume of daily work from there. Even small contributions can add up with consistent effort.
Solidify your idea
Once you're ready to start putting words down, begin with one sentence describing what your book is about. This statement offers a big-picture view of your book. You might even use this sentence when you're ready to market your final work! But for now, focus on this short expression as a very simplified summary and a means to focus your intent. Instead of using your character's name, use vivid descriptors. For example: "An enterprising teenage boy starts his own business in a rural town unaccepting of new ideas and confronts the woes of poverty within the community."
Create memorable characters
In most book reviews and recommendations from friends, I find a common thread: "The characters were complex/relatable/likable." Very seldom will I hear someone rave about a book if he or she wasn't moved by the people in the story. Consider characters like Sherlock Holmes; we all know who he is, but the details about his stories are a bit hazier. People latch on to characters.
This means your characters need depth and background so your readers can lose themselves in their lives. What is your character's name? What are her goals and desires? How will she achieve them? What conflicts does she face? How will she change?
Mapping out the path of your character's development follows what is called a character arc. Each character goes through a transformation from the beginning to the end of your story. Just as Harry Potter starts out as an innocent boy and becomes a steely-eyed young man, your characters go through a transformation. Typically, a character progresses through a series of stages.
Stage 1 — Ordinary life
Here the character's "before" picture is set up. We learn some details about the foundation of life before anything juicy happens.
Stage 2 — Call for adventure
Something happens to our main character to motivate him to follow a certain course. For example, in Hamlet, the king's ghost appears to Prince Hamlet and tells him who his murderer was, stirring Hamlet to seek revenge.
Stage 3 — Refusal of call
At this stage, the character hesitates to embark on this grand mission. Here we see the character's flaws and fears.
Stage 4 — Encouragement from a mentor
The character musters up courage with a little help from a wise friend.
Stage 5 — Trials and challenges
Inevitably, the hero faces his foes, and his outlook and personality are significantly changed.
Stage 6 — Rebirth
The ordeals the character has faced cause him to rise again as a new person, usually with renewed strength, determination, and focus.
Stage 7 — Resolution and rest
The character's woes seem to settle down, and life offers a quiet pace once again for our hero.
Crafting the details of your character's story can present a daunting task, but once you decide on the path your protagonist will follow, the details will fall into place through the events of your story.
Set your setting
Are you writing a work of historical fiction? Do your research about the particular time period and area of the world. Are you on the beach? In space? Figure out what that means for the flow of your text. In works of nonfiction, hash out what you want your readers to learn. Will you go broad on a subject or focus on exploring one aspect in depth?
Outline your story
Map out a summary of your story. In a work of fiction, what happens to your characters and when? If you're writing nonfiction, create an outline of the points you want to cover and in what order. In a nonfiction work, writing out a table of contents can help you focus the direction and points of your book.
Here's an example of an outline I'd create if I were writing a book about road cycling:
About the Book
Chapter 1: What is Road Cycling?
- Road cycling vs. mountain biking
- Getting the right equipment
- What kind of bike is right for me?
- Benefits of cycling
Chapter 2: Finding Your Path
- Riding with traffic
- Commuting by bike
- Locating out-of-traffic paths in your area
Creating an outline provides you with the scaffolding for your book and gives you a springboard from which to launch into your story. Seeing the bare bones of your intended story will inspire you to fill in the gaps and will give you much-needed direction.
Start at the end
If you're not sure where your story will start, focus on the ending of your work and figure out how you want to get there. Does Captain Yellow Beard find the treasure at the end? What state is he in when he gets there? Deciding the conclusion of your work first will give you a better idea of the details and events you'll need to incorporate.
When you work back to the first chapters, keep in mind that the first few sentences of a book are very important to readers. Some look at those first sentences to get a feeling of whether they want to proceed through the whole work. So hook them in quickly. Dive into the conflict of the story to set the mood instead of describing the scene first. You can provide character development as you go. For nonfiction books, an author can hook readers by relating a surprising or interesting example related to the subject matter. For example, in my road cycling book, I could relate my first experience scaling a mountain road in the snow.
Plan for discouragement
During the process, you're bound to face frustration, confusion, and self-doubt. Plan for these obstacles and prepare a plan to counteract them. Perhaps you can be ready to visit an inspiring mentor who always manages to boost your confidence and motivation. Maybe you can save a really enjoyable section of your book to write when you feel like you're running on empty. Whatever your strategy is, prepare it in advance. Even simply steeling yourself for that doubt to creep in can help you avoid being swallowed up by it.
Above all else, doing something is better than doing nothing when you're facing the task of getting started on your book. Following a plan can help you feel more focused on the task and help you overcome those first twinges of self-doubt or the dregs of writers' block. Dive in! Before you can publish your masterpiece and bask in its bestselling success, you have to write it. Good luck!