You want to write a novel, eh? Well, I did too. And I did! A first draft, anyway. I’m in the process of writing and editing a second draft. And then you know, fortune and fame and all that jazz.*
So here is my not-at-all-comprehensive-and-possibly-biased list of book writing tips for your first novel. Ten of them to be exact. Why ten? Because I originally thought I would do thirty, but I just don’t have time to list out thirty (I do have a day job, remember?). But ten is doable. And it’s doable for you as a reader. Enjoy!
1. Write something. Anything.
It could be the worst sentence or idea constructed in the history of words. Get it out there. It’ll be your starting point and from there it can only get better.
2. Don’t have an idea? Write anyway.
The trick to finding your muse is to show up before you’re ready. If I didn’t write a word until I was inspired, I wouldn’t have the story I have now.
3. Count your words.
Every word you slap on a page is a blessing. Even overuse of the word, “like.” It all adds up to something bigger. Keep track and you’ll better see the progress you’re making.
4. Talk about it. Whisper it, if you have to.
How do I keep myself accountable? I tell people what I’m doing. I still haven’t shared what my novel is about, but there are a lot of people in my life that at least know I’m working on a book. And they ask me about it, once in a while. And for that purpose (along with others), I dig deep to push forward on the book so that I don’t risk embarrassment of saying something like, “You know, it needs room to breathe. I’m clearing my mind for a bit and I’m going to come back to the idea.” And then your friend will make a note never to ask you again because they don’t want you to feel pressured. And then you feel bad that they were put in an awkward situation. So tell someone and keep yourself accountable so that you don’t cause awkwardness all around.
5. Stop with the excuses.
Oh I am the QUEEN of excuses. I could come up with a week’s worth of excuses, if I wanted to. And they’ll always be there. Just waiting for me to pull one out in a moment of weakness. Sometimes I succumb, but over time I’ve learned that they never make me feel better. The only thing that makes me feel better is progress, and not leaning on excuses. So stop with the excuses.
6. Read stuff.
I set a low bar here. I’d LOVE to read more books. But it’s either reading books in my downtime, or writing in my downtown. But I can read other, shorter pieces even when I don’t have downtime. So for a girl that works 9 to 5, reading the Skimm in the morning, reading some blogs during lunch, and getting in sync with my favorite writers while I’m stirring a pot of something on the stove is the best I can do for now. And I’m okay with that. If you have time to read more books (things that take longer than whatever you’re stirring on the stove) AND write? I encourage you to do both.
7. Make a writing goal.
So maybe this should have been number 1. Let’s pretend it is. Create a writing goal for yourself. I like weekly goals, because a daily goal feels really daunting. But a weekly goal that is broken down into daily chunks seems more attainable. For example, when I started writing my first draft, my writing goal was to hit 1,000 words for the week – specifically, 250 words on four separate days. Just make a goal for one week. One week is easy peezy. And if it’s not? Start smaller. Start with whatever you can muster in order to make it a habit. Then after you’ve hit that goal for a couple weeks in a row, see if you can find room to increase that goal. Then if you’re really daring, put together a 12-week plan that progressively hits bigger and bigger word goals. And oh my goodness you will have so many words! Trust me on this.
8. Be very selective about your distractions.
The big distraction eliminator for me was the cord cutting. That’s right, we gave up cable a couple months before I started writing my first draft. And until that point I had NO clue how much time I spent watching mindless TV when I could have been doing things I actually liked to do. I still love watching certain shows and my world would collapse without those shows (looking at you GOT and HOC). So I’m not saying give up ALL distractions. Just learn to identify when a distraction is deserved and when you could be doing something better with your time. Sometimes I have to be the bad guy in our relationship and say “No, I’m not going to watch that super awesome movie with you.” It was hard, at first. But then when I do watch that super awesome movie, it makes it even better.
9. Don’t edit anything.
Put the red pen down. This is not the time for editing. The time for editing is nowhere near the time for pounding out that first draft. Your goal is to keep writing even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written. Honestly? It’s a right of passage to write a turd of a first draft. Keep working on your turd. That’s all you need to think about, right now.
10. Brainstorm…at some point.
The whole, keep working on your turd thing? It still applies. But after you’ve built up a base of turdiness, you should allow yourself to do a little brainstorming. I wrote the first 50,000 words of my novel, paused to do some writing exercises and then jumped into NaNoWriMo to write the last 50,000. And my mind was racing with new ideas for the last sprint of my novel because of the writing exercises I did. I definitely encourage you to do this.
FREEBIE: Something is better than nothing.
Be a something person. Don’t be a maybe-someday-I’ll-write-that-book-I-keep-talking-about-but-nothing-has-actually-happened-yet person. It just feels better. Start today. Start with what’s around you. Start with no ideas. Start with no plan. Just start.
Whew! Now that you’re full of book writing tips, I expect all of you to go there and write some turdy first drafts. Do it for you. Or do it for the warm fuzzies. You know what? Do it for both.
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*Note: I’m using sarcasm, here. I know that it is VERY hard to write a novel, and even though I’m putting in a lot of work, I’m setting my expectations low on this first go around. I mean, we can’t all be Stephen King, right? Unless J.K. Rowling said this very thing and then SHAZAM! And to her I say, “Good job. You did become a Stephen King.”