If you’re anything like me, you have probably always dreamed of becoming a successful writer. I remember my high school years, discovering literature and imagining I would write a book and become another Jane Austen or Margaret Atwood. I’ve never wanted to be a bestselling author who would get filthy rich thanks to writing, but rather to create something that would be appreciated by a certain group of people.
Writing may also be your newly discovered passion – not all writers were born with a quill in their hand; many of them weren’t even avid readers in their youth. On the contrary, whenever you decide to start writing, there’s so much to accomplish! Just think about great writers such as Toni Morrison, Mark Twain, or Marcel Proust, who were all around or even past 40 when they were first published.
Whether you want to share your other passion by writing a non-fiction book, publish something that will go down in history as a classic, or become a bestselling author of entertaining fiction, you are in for lots of hard work and some sacrifices. While such individual matters as talent, writing style, ideas, and determination are essential to your potential success, there are also some things worth knowing before you begin to write a book.
While I may not be Jane Austen (yet), I have spent some time researching ideas, advice, and writing process tips shared by some famous writers, and I have decided to share all that with you!
Find Your Thing
While you may be the author of fantasy books or political thrillers in your dreams, you need to be sure that you actually feel it. In most cases, a writer can only be successful when writing about something that truly excites them. Just like you can’t have an engaging conversation on a topic that’s irrelevant to you, you won’t be able to fill tens or hundreds of pages writing a book about a florist when you don’t care for flowers at all.
To find the big idea for your first book (or next), you need to consider what you genuinely care about, what you want to write, and what you would want to read yourself. Indeed, it is essential to bear your target audience and potential readers in mind, but you won’t get far by writing on topics that aren’t that important to you or building your fictional world around the idea that you don’t get yourself.
The most important thing is to listen to yourself, be present in every moment, and stay attentive. Stephen King, who certainly needs no introduction, says that he can provide the source of maybe half of all his ideas – the rest (which is very often better) is something that just pops into his head, appears to him in a dream, or simply starts to exist with no distinctive beginning.
That’s because our minds have two different systems: the controlled system is conscious and within our control, while the automatic system occurs outside of our awareness. The second one processes all the information and stimuli, deciding whether they should be processed deeper and more consciously.
Long story short, not all ideas come from a conscious mind, but you should work on self-awareness to be able to grab the ones worth considering. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or simply trying to be present while you live your life – it may all contribute to wonderful ideas popping up in your head.
Read, Read, Read
‘Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. […] You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out.’ – William Faulkner
If you want to write a book that is well-structured and simply good, you need to read some good books first to get an idea of what you want and where you’re going – and some bad ones to know what to avoid. And keep on reading.
Stephen King once said that if you don’t have time for reading, you also won’t have time – or the right tools – to write a book. He recommends reading whenever you can – in waiting rooms, in lines, while commuting, etc. And he knows what he’s talking about – he wrote around 90 books as of 2020, and he still manages to read more or less 70 books a year.
Establish Your Writing Process
Writing a book will require you to get to know yourself a little bit better. While self-discipline indeed is key to success, the perfect writing routine may look different for each writer. It is crucial to find the most optimal solutions for your comfort and creativity.
The best way is to set some goals – it may be the daily word count or a broader to-do list for each day – and then figure out what works best for you. You don’t have to wake up at 4 am each day like Murakami – not all people are equally productive so early in the morning. If you are a real night owl who feels creative or only has time to write in the evenings, it will be alright as long as you establish a routine. HP Lovecraft was a writer who felt better in the late hours – and he managed to be highly productive. He even went as far as to claim that ‘no one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.’
Stick to Your Routine
Try not to skip too many writing sessions. One or two won’t do any harm to your whole routine, but if it happens too often – well, it’s no longer a routine, and your creativity, as well as productivity, may suffer. Skipping too many occasions to write a book will eventually lead to burnout.
So, even if you feel a bit more tired than usual, or you have had a bad day, it is worth giving writing a chance. Who knows, maybe it turns out that it actually helps you relax, mentally rest and distance yourself from your everyday life, even if just for a couple of hours.
When you write a book, follow the words of Isabel Allende – ‘Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the Muse shows up, too.’
Stephen King, for example, writes 2,000 words per day on average, but if you’re new to the whole writing thing, it will be enough to write around 800 words every day.
Track Your Progress
When you write your book, the best way to stay motivated is to see that you’re actually moving forward with your work. You may simply write it down or make a spreadsheet (if you prefer digital solutions) to keep track of how many words a day you write and see how often you reach your desired daily word count. Who knows, maybe you will see a pattern somewhere. Such a sheet may also contain your outline or some general ideas so that you can tick the ones already used and written down. You will see how your excitement will grow with each day of progress!
Organize Your Writing Space
When you sit down to write your book, you need to make sure that you feel good enough to keep going. Writing is hard work even when you have a comfortable chair and the proper lighting, so there’s really no point in making it all more difficult. Besides, only when you have the right conditions, you are able to concentrate and stay productive.
Writing a book will take a lot of your time, so you can’t really spend it writing uncomfortably in bed. Be sure to find a place where, first and foremost, it is quiet. It doesn’t have to be in your house or apartment, but it definitely should be easy for you to access it often. Some people like to write in a library, others may feel perfectly fine even in a coffee shop, but there are also those who need to write without anyone around, so they do it only at home.
If you like complete silence, but you find it impossible to achieve, you can consider getting yourself noise-canceling headphones. It is also recommended to clean before sitting down to write a book, as many people get easily distracted by mess, especially those who tend to procrastinate.
However, many people find it easier to focus when there are others around them who work as well. Thus you may spend your writing time more effectively in a library or a co-working space; you can also schedule working meet-ups with your family and friends.
Zadie Smith is one of the authors who very often highlights the importance of having your own writing space. ‘Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are the most important to you,’ she says, meaning that you need to sacrifice yourself to your work – only then can you produce something truly yours and valuable.
Get Rid of Distractions
Of course, not everything can be removed, but you can surely keep away from your smartphone when you write. If there’s a reason why you should be available in case someone calls you, there are special apps you can download that will temporarily block you from using social media and other distractions. However, Zadie Smith, for example, recommends going entirely offline.
If you don’t live alone, be sure to talk with other members of your household. There are a few reasons why sharing what you’re doing will be beneficial to your work. First of all, no one will distract you; plus, they will make sure no one else does that. Additionally, telling someone else about your plans to write a book can motivate you. It’s just like jogging or going to the gym – once you boast about it to others, it will be much more difficult to give up.
Moreover, you would want to stay focused on the book you’re actually writing. As the great Henry Miller said, ‘forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.’ It’s especially crucial in the case of writing the first book – you may have a plethora of ideas, but try to stay focused on writing the book at hand.
Choose Your Writing Tools
What kind of computer you choose doesn’t matter as long as it allows you to write a book without too many problems and it supports Microsoft Word – you may like other writing tools, but if you want to share your book with a publisher later, you will need to convert a file to the doc.
Apart from that, you can easily find numerous apps and software that aren’t essential but can make your life and writing a book a whole lot easier. Before you start writing your book, I can personally recommend:
Scrivener is a book writing organizational software that will help you get your head around all things related to your emerging book and the whole writing process. If you get easily irritated by tens of different places where you note down your ideas, inspirations, and required changes to be done later, getting Scrivener will undoubtedly benefit you. The software even supports images, charts, or graphs to help you rest assured that no note is missing and no file is lost somewhere on your hard drive.
To purchase Scrivener, you need to make a one-time payment:
- $49 for Mac OS,
- $45 for Windows,
- $19.99 for an iOS.
If you’re not sure whether it would work for you, there’s also a 30-day free trial for you to try it out.
You may be the master of grammar, but it is not that difficult to get lost in writing a book. There’s no shame in that as long as you know how to handle this – and Grammarly can be of great help when you get to editing your first draft.
Of course, it only works thanks to algorithms, and it won’t replace a real-life, human editor, but it can certainly make their life easier by correcting some typos and basic mistakes. You can either use the Grammarly software or install a plugin that will highlight errors in real time – the plugin works with Google Doc as well as other available writing tools.
What’s great is that the standard version is free with premium plans available from $29.95 per month.
This is an alternative to Grammarly that focuses more on helping you improve your writing style rather than grammar and spelling. It draws your attention to overly complicated sentences, overused words, or unnecessary fragments, at the same time suggesting specific changes and offering writing tips. And you can use it for free as long as you use a tool on their website, not your own version.
This is probably the best choice if you want an app for your daily inspiration notes – and it’s 100% free. Since you probably always have your smartphone with you, it may be easier to organize your ideas in an app than in an actual notebook. Whatever works best for you.
Find Your Source of Inspiration
There aren’t any golden tips as to where you can find inspiration – it all depends on you, your daily life, routine, dislikes, and interests.
For example, Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was born out of his love for old photographs – initially, he wanted to write a non-fiction book about the topic, but his publisher convinced him to come up with the plot.
Cormac McCarthy finds most of his ideas in the conversations he has with other people; these are rarely specific. He never asks particular questions – instead, he pays attention to everyday life and talks. A moving, beautiful fragment from his book The Road – ‘Papa, what would you do if I died?” / “I’d want to die, too’ – is an actual conversation he had with his son. Moreover, Ian McEwan has always recommended listening to old stories told very often on a daily basis by our parents and grandparents.
Lauren Groff has admitted that she often writes about things she loves and misses. She wrote one of her novels, The Monsters of Templeton, when she was living in California, all alone, missing her hometown in the state of New York. Thus writing was her escape, a way of coming back to warm, welcoming surroundings she knew and missed.
From more tangible inspirations, Donna Tartt said that the idea for her successful book The Goldfinch came to her when she was visiting a yard sale and saw a copy of the painting under the same title – the same painting that the book’s protagonist carries around in his backpack.
It is not unusual for writers to find inspiration in other books or movies, but you need to stay cautious, as you want your book to be unique and special.
When you look for inspiration, or even once you have started writing a book, it’s an excellent idea to buy a special notebook or download one of the countless note apps available for your smartphone – whatever works for you best, as long as you always have it at hand. You never know when you will suddenly feel inspired by something you see, hear, touch, or taste. Write down everything – inspirations are often found in the most surprising, unpredictable places and moments.
Research It Well
We have already established that you need to write about things that genuinely interest you. However, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have to do any research. On the contrary, it is a vital part of writing a book, but as long as you are excited about the topic, it won’t be tiresome at all.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction – even writing a fantasy book and creating your own world from scratch will require you to do some digging and reading, depending on what you’re focusing on in your plot.
Each good book needs to be believable. Even if the story takes place in a fictional place, readers need some familiarity and probability in order to relate to the characters, care about their fate, and follow the plot with interest. While writing non-fiction, on the other hand, you need to know what you write about exactly – and even if you’re an expert, some facts may become foggy or uncertain in your head. We’re not machines, so it’s completely natural.
Once you publish your book, it will be too late to change anything, and you can be sure that your readers will let you know if you mess something up, even the smallest detail. Writing your book, showing your ideas and your soul to the world is stressful enough as it is – you’d rather minimize the risk of including any mistakes in your book.
So, do your research before you even start to write. Then, fact-check your book while editing the first draft – and all the following ones.
Self Discipline Is Key but Learn to Forgive Yourself
‘This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard, and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.’
Probably nothing sums up writing better than the above-mentioned words of Neil Gaiman.
A lot of people have this image in their heads: after some unproductive weeks and contemplating different ideas, a writer suddenly goes on a writing spree and spends several days writing a book like crazy, forgetting all about eating or sleeping, which eventually leads to the birth of a masterpiece.
While such a wild inspiration may indeed strike you from time to time, most books are being written thanks to one’s self-discipline, writing schedules, and regularity. It may not sound as romantic as the previous vision, but it certainly is healthier and more efficient.
Terry Pratchett, one of the bestselling British authors, who is sadly no longer with us, always claimed that he had never struggled with writer’s block. Especially after he had decided to make writing his full-time job, he stuck to his daily routine – he sat down to write a book every morning as if he was still working at the office.
He was writing everything that came to his mind, even when he wasn’t sure about the course of events in a book. Very often, Pratchett would end up getting rid of whole pages of stories, but in the end, all that always helped him figure out when he was going with the plot. And he had some ideas left for later.
However, Pratchett also stressed the fact that not all days are equally productive. This is something over which you have no control. When you write a book, you need to make peace with the fact that there will always be days when you won’t be able to write much – and that’s alright. This way, you will avoid frustrations that don’t favor creativity. There’s no way of making oneself endlessly productive. You will have your worst moments when you won’t be able to produce anything good – you can spend that time editing or working on your style. Sometimes you may allow yourself to finish the writing session earlier. Most importantly – don’t beat yourself up.
And why should you even consider Pratchett’s advice? Well, his main book series, Discworld, consists of 41 novels, and it isn’t even all that he’s written. Most writers can only dream about being this productive – and maintaining the high quality of writing, as Pratchett did.
A well-established routine is also recommended by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer selling millions of books all over the world. Whenever he writes a book, he wakes up every day at 4 am, writes for several hours, goes swimming or running, then reads, and goes to sleep at precisely 9 pm.
Make a Plan but Stay Flexible
Creating an outline for the whole story is essential, especially if you’re writing your first book, as you simply might get lost in the course of events. And no matter the form and your style, each book needs a beginning, middle, and end – otherwise, you risk losing your readers somewhere in the middle. A good plan will also be highly helpful in case you get stuck.
Make sure your outline suits your needs. It may not be a simple chronological plan of events – many people like to work with world maps, mind maps, or character outlines.
The end is incredibly vital – even the best book can be spoiled by a far-fetched or forced ending. Some writers, like Terry Pratchett, who was already mentioned here, go as far as starting from the end. Pratchett used to say that once he’s done with a satisfying ending, he feels more free to go wild and creative with a beginning and middle.
He was also among those writers who liked to have a good plan but didn’t stick to it rigorously. Sometimes one of the best ways to write a book is to simply go with the flow, see where your creativity and characters take you. You will be surprised by how your story may start living its own life. After all, a first draft is very often not even close to the final one. So, don’t edit as you go, but go back to it from time to time by editing longer fragments.
Make Sure Your Characters Are Real People
Your main characters need to be in some way relatable, even if you make them evil – otherwise, no one will care about what happens to them, and it will be hard for readers to stay engaged in your story (even if it’s good).
So, write your characters like real people, even base them on the people you know in real life. What’s more, you also want to write proper character development. Different events change people, especially the dramatic ones you surely write about in your book, so ensure your readers can feel that.
Moreover, you’d rather avoid unnatural sounding dialogues. John Steinbeck recommended reading all your dialogues out loud – only then can you decide if it sounds like it could have been said by an actual person. It’s especially important when you write conversations.
‘Never use a long word where a short one will do.’ – George Orwell
‘A short story must have a single mood, and every sentence must build towards it.’ – Edgar Allan Poe
‘Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.’ – Kurt Vonnegut
‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ – Leonardo da Vinci
What do all of these sentences have in common apart from having been said by some of the greatest literary minds of all time? They all favor simplicity. Complicated words don’t equal better writing. First of all, writing a book means adjusting your style to the genre, your book’s topic, and your target audience. Moreover, always ensure that people won’t have any problems with following what you mean. According to Orwell, long words make you look like a pretentious snob, and they can easily interrupt one’s reading flow. Abandon unnecessary sentences, especially elaborate descriptions, or you will bore your readers. There’s a reason why one of the most famous sentences is a very straightforward ‘To be or not to be?’
Look for Feedback
You are the first person who needs to feel comfortable with what you write – however, it doesn’t end here. After all, you want to reach a specific audience and make other people fall in love with your book. Thus you need to share your writing with other people. Whether you already have a publisher and an editor, or you will ask around your family and friends, make sure to take every suggestion into consideration. While a professional opinion is certainly valuable and may provide you with specifics to change and improve, your audience will most likely consist of regular people who read for entertainment or self-development. Therefore, it is essential to look for those ordinary reviews as well.
Don’t wait until you’re done with writing the book – share a few chapters at a time and start as early as possible. This way, you will minimize the overall number of required changes. You will also be able to apply those suggestions to your further writing.
Then, you will need a professional editor who will ensure that your book is consistent and well-written. You can be the most talented and attentive writer, but there will always be typos, mistakes, and mental shortcuts to escape you during your own editing session.
Write and Publish A Book, then… Write Another Book!
Writing a book is undoubtedly a long and challenging process that requires a lot of hard work and determination. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Writing can be genuinely therapeutic, especially if you think your book through carefully and start writing about things you actually care about.
The crucial thing is to work on your self-discipline but also be able to forgive yourself when it doesn’t always go as planned – it’s completely normal, and it shouldn’t affect your goal as long as you listen to your body and mind.
Find the process of writing that will work best for you and follow your own preferred routine. Resist the urge to wait for writing sprees or postpone your writing sessions. Ensure the writing space fully suits you, and there’s nothing to distract you when you write your book.
But most importantly – find your big book idea. Remember that you need to write about things that deeply excite you. Research is always required, but don’t try to be an expert when you are not. Look for inspirations – as all writers admit, they can be found everywhere and anywhere.
It is not an easy task to write a book, but if it’s something you’re dreaming of and you genuinely enjoy writing, you should definitely give it a go! It won’t be easy – you will probably get frustrated, angry, and think about giving up. Ernest Hemingway was not wrong when he said that ‘there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’
But once you’ve written a book, you will feel like the king or queen of the world. I’m 100% positive you will agree that it was all so worth it!