Are you thinking of writing a book but don’t know how to begin? You’re not alone. Especially with fiction, how to start writing a novel can seem perplexing.
Still, this country is filled with would-be authors. In 2015 at BookExpo America, author and game designer Jane McGonigal revealed that 90% of Americans think they have a book in them, and want to write it.
That’s a lot of folks! Many zero-in on nonfiction, but as my focus is on book editing, I hear most from people dreaming of writing a novel.
Thing is, they talk about it more than doing it. Which doesn’t exactly get that book written!
So, how do you begin?
Here are 6 steps to get you going:
I know, that sounds pretty flip, doesn’t it. Of course that’s what you want to do! But so many people let the fear of it all (both of rejection, and success) paralyze them.
Funny thing about writing though—it’s not that dissimilar to learning anything, whether riding a horse or painting impressionistic landscapes. Yep, instruction abounds out there. But until you’ve actually sat the horse, all of the how-tos are simply theoretical. Once you’ve practiced the endeavor, even getting bucked off a few times, advice on how to handle said horse has a lot more meaning.
The exact same thing is true with writing.
Begin it. Just begin it.
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
- Schedule Your Writing Time and Stick to It
Maybe you’ve started that book. You went great guns at first, your fingers zipping across the keyboard, pages adding up. And then . . .
Perhaps you’ve lost the thread.
Perhaps “real life” got in the way.
Or a thousand other reasons stopped you.
But you know, Michael Phelps didn’t become the most-decorated Olympian by wanting to swim fast. He did it by hitting the pool—day in and day out, year in and year out, decade in and . . .
If you make a writing schedule, stick to it, and let nothing interfere (I mean, what can interfere at 4 AM?), you’ll be amazed at how far you go.
As J.K. Rowling said, “Be ruthless about protecting writing days . . .”
3. Read What You’ve Written
Every day as you sit down to write at your scheduled time, read over what you wrote the day before. Or better yet, from the start or at least a chapter before.
If you can’t read it all each day, once a week read from the beginning.
That gets you straight back into the narrative, no matter what chaos might be happening in your real life.
It gets you back into the feel of the characters and story.
It makes everything of one tapestry, rather than tattered threads that go nowhere.
And, it gives you the place to spring forward with what comes next.
As Hemingway said: “The best way is to read it all every day from the start, correcting as you go along, then go on from where you stopped the day before. When it gets so long that you can’t do this every day read back two or three chapters each day; then each week read it all from the start. That’s how you make it all of one piece.
- Keep Writing. No Matter What Naysayers Declare
Especially the naysayers in your head. Those are actually the most destructive ones.
It happens to us all. That little voice (or the one of your actual mother) slaps down your great idea, your prose, your characters, or all of the above.
“Why do you think you can write? You’ll never make it in this business.” Or any variation of the sentiment.
You can’t ignore that voice, can you. Especially when it sits on your shoulder!
But this is the most powerful tip in how to start writing a novel: What you can do is allow it its say. Acknowledge and face it. Which of course takes away its power—ever time.
And then respond, “I hear you. And you’re probably right. I’m no good. But for now, I have a passage to write. I’ll get back to you later.”
In your genre, and widely as well.
Yep, I sound like a repetitive evangelist, preaching on this all the time. But you simply cannot write well without reading.
Reading expands your vocabulary.
It strengthens the nuances of your prose.
It shows you how other authors accomplish the same goals you have.
And a thousand other things.
As Stephen King said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.”
- But Don’t Read How-to Books!
I know that sounds strange, especially from someone who pens a weekly blog on book editing and writing.
But again, before you’ve sat that horse, ridden a good ways, the theory of the thing doesn’t help you much.
And more importantly, it can crimp your creativity.
Writing, especially fiction, is an imaginative endeavor. It uses the right side of the brain, rather than the analytical left. And if you’re trying to conform to the rules while you’re in the initial creative phase, you’ve just shut down originality and muzzled your muse.
There will be plenty of time to learn more tools when you go into the editing/revising/rewriting part of all of this. That’s the time to read how-to books.
But be selective! There’s a lot more chaff out there than wheat!
Instead, as I say so often: “Read novels. Forget today’s bestsellers. They won’t teach you much. Instead, read the best books in your genre. Read the classics. Read them all the time.”
The whole point is to write, read, write, read, write, read . . . The very best tip for how to start writing a novel?
As Goethe also so famously said:
“What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and the work will be completed!”