What will help me write a book? 7 steps

What will help me write a book?

If you’ve tried to write a novel and have put it aside, you might ask ‘What will help me write a book?’ It’s crucial, on the one hand, to choose a book idea that allows for story development, for rising and falling action. Here are 7 steps to make your process easier:

1: Choose what to write a book about shrewdly

Choosing a subject and central idea that sustains your interest and can carry a novel-length story is key. Answering the question  ‘what should I write a book about?’ is easier if you know what type of story you’d enjoy crafting. When finding your central idea, think about:

  • Any subjects you know intimately that could enrich your story (for example J.K. Rowling and Donna Tartt both studied classics and both draw on this rich heritage for inspiration, from themes to character names)
  • Whether or not your core story idea has enough potential for tension and change (of place, character, setting and/or time). Tension and change create narrative instability that keeps a story moving and interesting

These aren’t the only points to consider when finding your novel’s central idea, of course. To write a book that has a good chance of being successful commercially, learn what subject matter is currently popular in your genre and what is considered over-represented. Larger publishers would easily turn down another 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight clone. Think about what makes your central idea fresh, distinctive, ‘you’.

2: Learn how to write a novel outline

Not everyone is a plotter by nature, but the extra time you take to outline does help. This is because you consciously start working out structure underpinning the action. The sense of direction and purpose that grows out of this process helps maintain a narrative thread from scene to scene.

Your outline can be as detailed or rudimentary as you like. Plot simple chapter synopses on a timeline if you like, or else a one-page summary per chapter, detailing possible events. Read about 7 different outlining approaches here.

The important thing to remember is that like all good guides, you can depart from your outline and make your own detours. The idea finder on Now Novel is a prompt-driven process you can use to flesh out the underlying themes and ideas of your novel, too.

3: Put in place a consistent, structured writing process

What will help me write a book? Hilary Mantel says vigilanceBuilding up momentum is crucial for successfully finishing a manuscript. Even if you only write 300 words per day, doing so consistently will bring the final page closer paragraph by paragraph.

Successful published authors often discuss their writing processes in interviews and these can be insightful for how we approach routine and process. Hilary Mantel, who wrote the Booker-winning, complex Wolf Hall describes her writing day thus:

‘The most frequent question writers are asked is some variant on, “Do you write every day, or do you just wait for inspiration to strike?” I want to snarl, “Of course I write every day, what do you think I am, some kind of hobbyist?” But I understand the question is really about the central mystery – what is inspiration? Eternal vigilance, in my opinion. Being on the watch for your material, day or night, asleep or awake.’

A sound process is both this constant vigilance and constant determination to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, even when the going gets tough. Whether you need a writing calendar plotting out when you will work on which part of your book or you prefer a freer process, do your best to write every day. If narrative doesn’t come to you, use the time to research an important scene or chapter or flesh out a character profile.

4: Get your writing resources organised

Keeping the raw materials of your novel organised will make your task much easier. Keep a folder for each chapter where you can store the chapter synopsis, visual images that you might use to inspire setting descriptions, character sketches, and other details.

If you’re writing a chapter set in Prague, for example, store pictures of city streets and other details in your folder so that if you have a question (would this street be cobbled? Tarred?) you can quickly find a relevant textual or visual source.

Evernote is a useful app for saving research information you find online to organised notes and folders. Use it to avoid wasting precious time tracking down previously found factual information for your story.

5: Turn off perfectionist self-criticism

Margaret Atwood - quote on perfectionismWriting a first draft is often frustrating. There may be a gap between the idea as you’ve pictured it in your mind’s eye and how it comes out on the page. Remember at all times that a first draft is like a rehearsal or a play reading where the actors are still finding the characters’ voices, mannerisms and motivations. Nobody nails it the first time around.

Do your best to turn off your critical voice until you need it to revise and edit. As Margaret Atwood says, ‘If I waited for perfection I’d never write a word.’

6: Mix narrative with simplified summary to flesh out later

When you’re writing a draft, there could be parts where you need a link between scenes or events and you’re not sure how characters will get from point A to B. Instead of letting scene transitions or other details bog you down, try writing a quick summary of what needs to happen at this point and move on.

For example: ‘[The party leaves the city early the next morning, not to delay reaching the neighbouring kingdom. They come to a great wood. An hour into the interior they encounter a band of army deserters. Describe tension of their interaction – mutual suspicion. The deserters reveal crucial information about obstacles on their route forcing the party to reconsider their path.]’

7: Get help from a writing coach

If you struggle to make your way through the complex book-writing process on your own, even with a plan and writing schedule, a writing coach will help. At Now novel we often receive emails asking ‘how will you help me write a book if I get a writing coach?’ Your coach will:

  • Provide consistent encouragement and support and will be available to answer questions you have about your story or process
  • Give you an experienced, external perspective on your work-in-progress
  • Be a constant reminder to knuckle down and write, providing an external source of accountability

Want to finish writing your novel this year? Get help improving your process and telling your story now.

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  • Most of the advice is good. There is something I disagree with, though: I want to snarl, “Of course I write every day, what do you think I am, some kind of hobbyist?” as if writing was bad for a hobby, or if having it as a hobby needed disdain… Why this haughty attitude?

    • A fair observation, Elena. Perhaps what Mantel maybe was trying to convey is her frustration with the idea that writing is some sort of vacation where you sit around and play only – the notion that writing isn’t hard work.

      • I agree that most hobbies in the world aren’t just play – they involve hard work. Be it a craft or another, or painting, or writing… it is “play” just because we do it for relaxing, after coming from our daily job, because we like doing it, but it comprises as hard work as any other human occupation.

  • Danie J Botha

    “…Instead of letting scene transitions or other details bog you down, try writing a quick summary of what needs to happen at this point and move on…”
    Makes sense. Something I have to learn to do more often.
    I would (too) often mull over a hiccup in my story flow, refusing to budge until I’ve “solved” the dilemma.
    It seems to me Elana, as some people acquire fame (insert: power, money, position), and this is not restricted to authors, they become entitled and may lose some compassion for their fellow men and women.
    Thanks for the post, Bridget!

    • Hi Danie, thanks for contributing your perspective. It’s true that a hiccup can feel like a roadblock sometimes. It’s so important not to let one derail one’s entire writing process. It’s a pleasure, thank you for reading (and sharing).

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