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Tips when writing a book: Top 10 from Now Novel’s webinars

Many tips to remember to when writing a book are shared in writing seminars, interviews, critique circles and webinars around the world. Here are ten curated from Now Novel’s monthly writing webinars where authors from 5 continents come together to discuss writing craft:

Many tips to remember to when writing a book are shared in writing seminars, interviews, critique circles and webinars around the world. Here are ten curated from Now Novel’s monthly writing webinars where authors from 5 continents come together to discuss writing craft:

Remember these tips when writing a book:

  1. Choose SMART and attainable goals
  2. Create a concrete action plan
  3. Develop your writing voice
  4. Create rich character journeys with arcs
  5. Show more to immerse readers
  6. Use conflict as an engine that drives story
  7. Use POV to help readers live each scene
  8. Do quick and easy research to start
  9. Structure key scenes around action and change
  10. Learn editing techniques to transform drafts

Let’s explore each of these 10 tips from our writing webinars in brief:

1. Choose SMART and attainable goals

When you’re starting a new novel or story outline, it’s crucial to set yourself realistic, attainable goals.

Writing goals you can reach are:

  • Motivating
  • Rewarding
  • The surest way to finish

Instead of nebulous ideas (‘I want to be an accomplished author’) you need tangible, concrete targets you can measure your own performance against.

In our webinar on getting started, we shared and discussed individual SMART goals, a key step in creating a good action plan. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Use the table below to write down your own smart goal (take a screenshot, write over the image and share it if you like, using the hashtag #nownovel so we can share your goal).

Type of goalPart of taskExample
SpecificDraft first page
MeasurableWrite 500 words
AttainableWrite pre-TV tonight
RelevantFinish first chapter
Time-based1 hour this eve

SMART writing goals empower you to:

2. Create a concrete action plan

There are countless sayings about plans, such as ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ or ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’.

They’re true. Sure, you can make it to the end by ‘pantsing’. Yet plans illuminate the path ahead and make it a little harder to get stuck.

As we mentioned in a previous article, studies have found that simply writing down your plans actually increases your likelihood of achieving them.

The value of having a plan has been a running thread in feedback from participants in our Group Coaching course.

Several members have said ‘I’m further than I’ve ever gotten before’. This all boils down to having an action plan that is rigorous but fun to follow.

In our ‘Getting Started’ webinar, writing coach Romy Sommer shared a simplified version of an action plan (though our discussion and Q&A session went into more detail). For a January to August approximate timeline for writing a book, this was:

  1. Write 15k words per month in Feb/March/April
  2. Revise the full manuscript in May
  3. Send out to beta readers in June/research agents
  4. Do a final revision in July/research agents
  5. Submit to agents

Your own action plan may go into more detail (and you may need to revise it as you go), yet keeping a list like this close to your writing space is a good way to hold yourself accountable.

FINISH YOUR BOOK IN 6 MONTHS

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Now Novel group coaching

3. Develop your writing voice

As far as tips when writing a book go, this may seem a little hazy. After all, what is ‘voice’?

In our writing webinar on voice, we listened to extracts by several writers and shared adjectives to describe the overarching effect of their tone, subject matter and style.

It was fascinating to see the overlap and individual nuance, too, in how everyone viewed each writer’s voice.

As you write your book, think, ‘What three adjectives do I hope readers would use to describe my writing?’ Do you want your stories to be associated with a warm, comforting and wise voice? One that is cynical and darkly humorous? One that is moving and deeply felt?

Being self-ware about what your voice conveys (or, at least, what quirks of style and subject matter you lean towards) will help you lean even further into your distinct strengths and leave your own, indelible stamp as a writer.

4. Create rich character journeys with arcs

Entire libraries have been built and have lasted centuries on the strengths of rich character journeys.

Today, when we read Dickens or Austen, we’re often amazed at how ‘modern’ or relatable many characters seem, and how recognizable their journeys (whether from poverty to wealth or from confronting oppressive societies to embracing individual freedoms).

Aside from the way these authors’ works have been canonized by academia and other taste-makers, there’s a particular reason many endure still: great character arcs.

One of the tips when writing a book Romy shared in our ‘Understanding Character Arcs’ webinar was this:

Character arcs give the story purpose and create a sense of journey.

Romy Sommer, ‘Character Arcs: How to create compelling characters’

There’s a sense of purpose, drive and direction in Pip going from being a orphan reliant on the kindness of his crabby sister to the independence as the benefactor of a mystery wealthy person (who turns out not to be who he thought it was) in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

In the full webinar, we discussed different types of character arc, their uses, and how to make character arcs more involving by using familiar story beats.

5. Show more to immerse readers

One of the best-known tips when writing a book is ‘Show, don’t tell’. This advice, though, is often misused.

The late Ursula K. Le Guin gave good caveats about this. Good reasons why ‘telling’ in stories has its uses.

Even so, showing your reader events allows them to inhabit your story, rather than leaving them with a drier, more conceptual and removed experience.

For example, instead of telling your reader ‘She loved it when it snowed’, you could say ‘She caught snowflakes on her tongue’.

Tips we shared in the webinar to show more:

  • Use actions and gestures to suggest character
  • Use dialogue to reveal information (e.g. “Didn’t you sleep last night? You look shot.”)
  • Use body language and sensory details for inference, tone and mood

6. Use conflict as an engine that drives story

The importance of using character arcs in your story is outlined above.

An equally important element of character arcs is conflict.

In Now Novel’s webinar on story conflict, we discussed two core types of conflict: Internal and external.

Romy shared the following:

Your main characters need identifiable, believable goals.

The motivation is what makes readers care whether or not the characters achieve their goals.

The conflict is the reason why why characters cannot achieve their goals – at least not before the end of the story.

Romy Sommer, ‘Internal Conflict vs External Conflict’

Outlining the goal, motivation and conflict for each primary character as you head into writing your story is one of our top tips when writing a book. Why? Because it will help you create character arcs with drive, direction and purpose.

Tips for writing a book - Wes Anderson on conflict

7. Use POV to help readers live each scene

Deep POV draws your reader into your world, like Alice down the rabbit hole.

The real masters of POV make us almost forget we’re reading a story.

In this extract from our webinar ‘Deepening your POV’, Romy shares several tips to use POV to immerse your reader:

8. Do quick and easy research to start

Tips when writing a book don’t often cover the important topic of research.

How do you balance research with writing if you are writing historical fiction, or realist fiction based in an unfamiliar location, vocation or other detail?

In the Now Novel webinar ‘Research for Writers’, Romy shared a list of simple research tips to keep moving forward in your draft:

  • Use Google Street View for a quick ‘virtual tour’ of a real place you want to describe
  • Pick out an authenticating detail (for example, the smell of lemons in a city where there are many citrus trees)
  • Use online review sites (travelers often reference strong impressions about specific places that give the gist of experiences a local or foreigner might have there, too)

9. Structure key scenes around action and change

When writing a book, a scene is a useful structuring and guiding unit to focus on. We already discussed how you can use the Scene Builder on Now Novel to organize scenes.

In our webinar ‘Hooking the Reader: Crafting a page-turning opening chapter’, Romy shared the following tips for starting scenes off strong:

  • Start at a point of action
  • Start at the moment of change
  • Show us the main character’s current everyday world
  • And show us what’s missing from their world
  • Sprinkle the backstory in

Keeping your scenes light on backstory and well-paced will help to keep readers engaged and involved.

10. Learn editing techniques to transform drafts

Working with a professional editor is vital if you want to produce a publishable manuscript but tend to struggle with SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) or finding the mot juste (the appropriate word or expression). Even if you have fantastic language faculty, everyone makes mistakes.

However, an editor does cost money. It helps if you can get the most from your editor’s time and focus by sending an already-competent draft.

In ‘Self-Editing Techniques’, Romy shared tips for what to focus on during your first pass or structural edits. She suggested asking (among other questions):

  • Does every scene contain a goal and an obstacle?
  • Are conflicts and motivations clear to the reader?
  • Do the characters behave consistently?

Do you want to transform a rough idea or draft into a finished novel? Join Group Coaching for a 6-month, structured plan to finish, including coach Q&As, webinars, story outlining tools and writing sprints to keep you accountable.

By Jordan

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

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