Getting feedback early and often helps break up the overwhelm. Start a website on WordPress or Tumblr and use it to write your book a chapter or scene at a time. Then eventually publish all the posts in a hardcopy book. This is a little different than traditional blogging, but the same concepts apply.
Ten rules for writing fiction
1 Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."
3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".
5 Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.
9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
1 Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).
3 You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)
6 Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
Book writing tips
As the bestselling author of five books, I can tell you without hesitation that the hardest part of a writer’s job is sitting down to do the work. Books don’t just write themselves, after all. You have to invest everything you are into creating an important piece of work.
For years, I dreamed of being a professional writer. I believed I had important things to say that the world needed to hear. But as I look back on what it really takes to become an author, I realize how different the process was from my expectations.
To begin with, you don’t just sit down to write a book. That’s not how writing works. You write a sentence, then a paragraph, then maybe if you’re lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in fits and starts, in bits and pieces. It’s a process.
The way you get the work done is not complicated. You take one step at a time, then another and another. As I look back on the books I’ve written, I can see how the way they were made was not as glamorous as I once thought.
How to really write a book
And just a heads up: if you dream of authoring a bestselling book like I have and you’re looking for a structured plan to guide you through the writing process, I have a special opportunity for you at the end of this post where I break the process down.
Phase 1: Getting started
1. Decide what the book is about
Good writing is always about something. Write the argument of your book in a sentence, then stretch that out to a paragraph, and then to a one-page outline. After that, write a table of contents to help guide you as you write, then break each chapter into a few sections. Think of your book in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Anything more complicated will get you lost.
2. Set a daily word count goal
John Grisham began his writing career as a lawyer and new dad — in other words, he was really busy. Nonetheless, he got up an hour or two early every morning and wrote a page a day. After a couple of years, he had a novel. A page a day is only about 300 words. You don’t need to write a lot. You just need to write often. Setting a daily goal will give you something to aim for. Make it small and attainable so that you can hit your goal each day and start building momentum.
3. Set a time to work on your book every day
Consistency makes creativity easier. You need a daily deadline to do your work — that’s how you’ll finish writing a book. Feel free to take a day off, if you want, but schedule that ahead of time. Never let a deadline pass; don’t let yourself off the hook so easily. Setting a daily deadline and regular writing time will ensure that you don’t have to think about when you will write. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.
4. Write in the same place every time
It doesn’t matter if it’s a desk or a restaurant or the kitchen table. It just needs to be different from where you do other activities. Make your writing location a special space, so that when you enter it, you’re ready to work. It should remind you of your commitment to finish this book. Again, the goal here is to not think and just start writing.
Phase 2: Doing the work
5. Set a total word count
Begin with the end in mind. Once you’ve started writing, you need a total word count for your book. Think in terms of 10-thousand work increments and break each chapter into roughly equal lengths. Here are some general guiding principles:
6. Give yourself weekly deadlines
You need a weekly goal. Make it a word count to keep things objective. Celebrate the progress you’ve made while still being honest about how much work is left to do. You need to have something to aim for and a way to measure yourself. This is the only way I ever get any work done: with a deadline.
7. Get early feedback
Nothing stings worse than writing a book and then having to rewrite it, because you didn’t let anyone look at it. Have a few trusted advisers to help you discern what’s worth writing. These can be friends, editors, family. Just try to find someone who will give you honest feedback early on to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
Phase 3: Finishing
8. Commit to shipping
No matter what, finish the book. Set a deadline or have one set for you. Then release it to the world. Send it to the publisher, release it on Amazon, do whatever you need to do to get it in front of people. Just don’t put it in your drawer. The worst thing would be for you to quit once this thing is written. That won’t make you do your best work and it won’t allow you to share your ideas with the world.
9. Embrace failure
As you approach the end of this project, know that this will be hard and you will most certainly mess up. Just be okay with failing, and give yourself grace. That’s what will sustain you — the determination to continue, not your elusive standards of perfection.
I have loved to write creatively since I was a little girl. I am now in high school and am very busy with sports, school, and homework. I have tried to find time to write but once I get back to an idea I don’t like it anymore. How can I stick to an idea? I also have been told that I have a stream of consciousness; I want to be able to take advantage of this, but how do I go about this? I have been told to start thinking about my future and what I want to do. I am a very ambitious person, but I fear writing a novel or book won’t have an impact on other people’s lives; I want to have an impact on people’s lives for the better. I want to write a great book like Brave New World, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, or To Kill A Mockingbird but how can I have a great idea and have it transform into a piece of art?
I agree with you about thinking of your future, but you could always create stories and images in your mind, hold on to those ideas and write about them when everything in your life calms down. Going back and spending time on your writing may be all you need to get back on track. When you really wanna do something, you will make time for it.
I extremely relate miss. I also loved Pride and Prejudice and To kill a mocking bird and like you, I also want to move the world with my writing like them but I always get so much ideas in my head. I actually have written over 50 synopsis and plots varying in many genres but I after chapter one the fire of writing in me extinguish. I was really thankful for this post because I realized many wrong things that I’ve done. I just really hope I can now defeat my constant writer’s block.
Ally, it is EVERY creative person’s struggle to try and get everything “together” into a creative body of work. For me, sometimes just exploring an idea far enough out through to the outline and a synopsis is enough. Some ideas I really DO want to bring to full production. Sometimes I just want to play with words, and that creative freedom to play is enough. A couple of writers who have inspired me to find the balance between creating and actually publishing are Barbara Sher @ http://www.barbarasher.com/index.htm and Emily Wapnik @ PuttyLike https://puttylike.com/ – maybe that will help give you some “ideas” to find a good channel to give yourself the freedom to file away the ideas, explore them, play with them, and then just gloriously push on through life with the confidence that all of your work is good enough, it just might take some time and a focused effort fueled by motivation for why it’s important to sit chained to a computer to get it put together.
For now, I’m just keeping my notebooks for the same reason I started this very website. If I put something online, somebody might read it. Somebody might like it. Somebody might find it useful. I’ve got LOTS of critics who haven’t liked what I’ve written, but it just takes one email or a comment from a reader for me to know the things I’ve written were useful to someone and so I found the strength to continue pushing on to add to this work.
If you look at this blog today, I have 55 blog posts. I sure would like a lot more. But, slowly, over the course of the past 6 years, I have done my best to constantly keep working towards making this website better and better. I’ve added to, edited, and updated things that I started with. The slow and painful path of just writing 5 minutes here or 5 minutes there a day can be a beautiful one. Comments like yours are the ones that inspire me the most to write a thoughtful note in response.
Oh, and when I can’t write a full novel, I also just like to write flash fiction and really, really bad poetry. Writing bad poetry on purpose is actually the focus of what I’ve been working on the past year. And it’s blissful, to write terribly knowing nobody in the world wants to read bad poems, and there is very little viable market demand for all the bad poetry out there in the world.
Just looking at those ^^^^^^ things makes my mind launch into all kinds of inroads.
—————ANALYSIS (boring, so run for cover)—————
Looking inward, I’m fairly sure I’ve discovered what writer’s block is, and it’s based upon this principal of progressions:
1. idea, reject, because it wasn’t a good start
2. idea, reject, because it wasn’t the right order
3. idea, reject, because the first two ideas might have to come first
4. repeat at #1 until I give up and do anything I perceive as less painful, like watching netflix.
ive always wanted to write i never had the patience to but now im in high school and really want to do what ive dreamed of i might not accomplish that goal but at least i would have tried i want to write a story about people falling in love and their friends falling in love bascially i want to write a romance novel.
I’ve dealt with the same problems, once, as well. I’ve found that writing from your heart is the best. You have you put a little bit of yourself into the story, whether its a character that acts exactly like you or a theme that you’ve connected deeply with over the years. Or, maybe, you can discover how to write freely on your own.
Going above and beyond is the only way to give your book a chance in today’s hyper-competitive market. So don’t skimp on the genre research, because this will tell you where the bar is and how you can surpass it.
I Talked to 150 Writers and Here’s the Best Advice They Had
I once heard John Irving give a lecture on his process at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an in-depth account of the way his novels come to be. He kicked it off by writing a single sentence on the chalkboard—the last line of Last Night in Twisted River. All his books begin with the ending, Irving explained, a capstone he works and reworks until it’s ready. From there, he’ll generate a detailed summary that ultimately builds towards the finale, like SparkNotes for a book that does not yet exist. Only when he has the synopsis and last sentence in hand will he actually start writing.
I remember being fascinated by this. The approach had clearly been successful, and made sense in theory, and yet was so unlike any creative strategy that had ever worked for me. Which is an important thing to keep in mind when trafficking in the familiar genre of writing advice: Just because John Irving does it that way doesn’t mean you should. Not only is every writer different, but each poem, each story and essay, each novel, has its own formal requirements. Advice might be a comfort in the moment, but the hard truth is that literary wisdom can be hard to systematize. There’s just no doing it the same way twice.
And yet. In the five years I’ve spent interviewing authors for The Atlantic’s “By Heart” series—the basis for a new collection, Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process—it’s been impossible to ignore the way certain ideas tend to come up again and again. Between the column and the book I’ve engaged a diverse group of more than 150 writers, a large sample size, that nonetheless has some defining traits. Here are the recurring ideas, distilled from dozens of conversations, that I think will most help you—no matter how unorthodox your process, how singular your vision.
It starts with a simple fact: If you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. Which is probably why so many of the writers I talk to seem preoccupied with time-management. “You probably have time to be a halfway decent parent and one other thing,” David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, told me. That can mean mustering the grit to let other responsibilities languish. As he put it in short: “Neglect everything else.”
Many authors need to put blinders on, finding ways to simplify their experience and reduce the number of potential distractions. That might mean consistently keeping a single two-hour window sacred, as Victor Lavalle does, morning time he safeguards against the demands of parenting and full-time teaching. For others, it means finding ways to ward off digital derailment. Mitchell does this by setting his homepage as the most boring thing he can think of: the Apple website.
Ultimately, the literary exercise is about finding ways to defend something fragile—the quiet mood in which the imagination flourishes. As Jonathan Franzen put it: “I need to make sure I still have a private self. Because the private self is where my writing comes from.”
Everyone knows that the opening line is a crucial invitation, something that can make or break a reader’s interest in a book. But far less attention has been paid to the role first lines play for writers, leading them through the work’s dark, uncertain stages like a beacon.
“The first line must convince me that it somehow embodies the entire unwritten text,” William Gibson told me, a radical, koan-like conviction that nonetheless seems to be commonplace. Stephen King described spending “weeks and months and even years” working on first sentences, each one an incantation with the power to unlock the finished book. And Michael Chabon said that, once he stumbled on the first sentence of Wonder Boys, the rest of the novel was almost like taking dictation. “The seed of the novel—who would tell the story and what it would be about—was in that first sentence, and it just arrived,” he said.
Andre Dubus calls this following the headlights: it’s like driving a car down a dark, unfamiliar road, simply describing as things become visible under the beam. “What’s on the side of the road?” he asked. “What’s the weather? What are the sounds? If I capture the experience all along the way, the structure starts to reveal itself. My guiding force and principle for shaping the story is just to follow the headlights—that’s how the architecture is revealed.”
Dozens of writers have told me some version of the same story. “The writing I tend to think of as ‘good’ is good because it’s mysterious,” Aimee Bender said. “It tends to happen when I get out of the way—when I let go a little bit, I surprise myself.”
Of course, all this is easier said than done. In the absence of a concrete plan, how to know when you’re headed in the right direction? For many writers I’ve spoken with, the answer seems to lie in the sound of the words.
Before You Begin Writing a Book
1 Establish your writing space.
Some authors write their books in restaurants and coffee shops. My first full time job was at a newspaper where 40 of us clacked away on manual typewriters in one big room—no cubicles, no partitions, conversations hollered over the din, most of my colleagues smoking, teletype machines clattering.
2 Assemble your writing tools.
If I were to start my career again with that typewriter on a plank, I would not sit on that couch. I’d grab another straight-backed kitchen chair or something similar and be proactive about my posture and maintaining a healthy spine.
Edit the manuscript and get feedback
Don’t take feedback too personally; it’ll improve your book in the long run. (Image: Unsplash)
You can write all day, all night, to your heart’s content. but if no one else likes what you’ve written, you might end up heartbroken instead. That’s why it’s crucial to request feedback on your book, starting early and from as many sources as possible.
Begin by asking your friends and fellow writers to read just a few chapters at a time. However, apply their suggestions not only to those chapters, but wherever relevant. For example, if one of your friends says, “[Character A] is acting weird in this scene,” pay extra attention to that character to ensure you haven’t misrepresented them anywhere else.
Once your book is finished, you’re ready for some more intensive feedback. Consider getting a beta reader to review your entire book and provide their thoughts. You may want to hire an editor to give you professional feedback as well. (Find out about the different types of editing, and which type your book might need, in this post.)
Finally, it might sound obvious, but we’ll say it anyway for all you stubborn writers out there: feedback is useless if you don’t actually listen to it. Separate yourself from your ego and don’t take anything personally, because no one wants to offend you — they’re just trying to help.
Publish your book
You’ve persevered to the end at last: brainstormed, outlined, and written a first draft that you’ve edited extensively (based on feedback, of course). Your book has taken its final form, and you couldn’t be prouder. So what comes next?
Well, if you’ve taken our advice about catering to your target readers, you may as well give publishing a shot! We have a full guide to publishing right here — and if you’re thinking about traditional publishing, read this article to decide which is right for you.
Get help from publishing professionals
Publishing is another rigorous process, of course. But if you’ve come this far to find out how to write a book, you can pretty much do anything! Invest in stellar cover design, study up on marketing, or start writing an irresistible query letter that will get you an offer.
But more important than any of that—they do the fundamentals perfectly. They get simple, fresh ingredients and prepare them well. That’s it. If you do only that, you’ll provide massive value to a ton of people.
100 Tips to Help You Become a Better Author
Are you looking for ways to improve your writing game? Perhaps you’d like to develop stronger storytelling skills or you need advice on how to push your author marketing to the next level. You’ve come to the right place. On this list, we’re sharing 100 top tips to help you become a fine writer in general and a better author specifically.
- Organize your desk daily. You’ll lose a lot of time trying to track down that scrap sheet of paper with your latest research. Instead, take a few minutes at the end of the workday to organize your writing space and notes so that you can start off fresh the next day.
- Consider going paperless with your notes. Using a tool like Evernote means that your research is accessible anywhere that you go, providing you can log on to the Internet.
- Set deadlines. This is for all the procrastinators out there who find it difficult to work without a beast chasing them. Setting a weekly deadline will motivate you to act now instead of later. Be specific with your deadlines, i.e. 10 pages by Friday or one chapter every week.
- Challenge yourself to write a novel in one month by participating in NaNoWriMo. It may be crazy, but writing an entire 50,000 word novel in the space of 30 days can dramatically improve your writing while also giving you a fantastic, if not very rough, first draft.
- Take frequent breaks. Don’t try to write for hours at a time. You’ll burn out your creativity that way. Every 30 minutes or so, take a brief, five-minute break to reset yourself.
Step 2: Stop the Excuses for Not Writing the Book
Once you’ve cleared out the cobwebs and smashed those mental roadblocks, you’ll be better prepared for the writing process ahead. Getting your mind ready is one of the first steps to producing valuable work, whether than publishing an ebook, the next great American novel, or a passion project.
Excuse 1 – You don’t know what to write.
(Psst… If you missed your chance to grab your outline earlier in this post, here you go again. Inside the template are more detailed instructions for how to use an outline, and how to go from “no book idea” or “too many book ideas” to the “perfect first book idea” using a mind map. Don’t worry, I show you how to mind map your book also – inside the Book Outline Template instructions.)
Excuse 2 – You don’t have enough time.
Excuse 3 – Good writers spend all their free time reading.
Excuse 4 – You’re “not an expert.”
You don’t need to know everything about your topic. As long as there’s a knowledge gap between you and the reader—and as long as you’re helping to fill that gap by teaching them the things they don’t know— you’re expert enough to write a book.
Excuse 5 – Your first draft must be flawless.
Realize You Don’t Need to Be Perfect
Writing Tip #20: Great writing is great storytelling.
This is a very important tip that so many writers fail to understand—no one cares about your fancy words or perfect sentences. That’s like a chef who is obsessed with spices but doesn’t spend time on the main dish.
The purpose of a good introduction is to engage the reader and get them to read the book. Just because someone is reading an introduction does not mean they are going to finish the book. The thing that scares people off of books is not the price—it’s the commitment of time.
That is the job of the introduction: prove to the reader this book is worth reading. A well done introduction grabs the reader and compels them to keep reading. It pulls them through and makes them excited to start the content, because the introduction has answered the most important question the reader has:
Writing Tip #30: Great stories create emotion and meaning.
“Experiencing stories that tell the tale of protagonists for whom we can empathize gives us the courage to examine our own lives and change them. So if your story doesn’t change your lead character irrevocably from beginning to end, no one will really care about it. It may entertain them, but it will have little effect on them. It will be forgotten. We want characters in stories that take on the myriad challenges of changing their lives and somehow make it through, with invaluable experience. Stories give us the courage to act when we face confusing circumstances that require decisiveness.”
When I write, I end up accumulating notes for lots of other topics I want to write about later. Instead of those spinning in my head and distracting me, I have a note called a “Parking Lot,” and I put all my ideas for future pieces there.