How To Write A First Book

How to write a first book. How to write a first book? How to write a first book…
As with the three sentences above, an approach to the same task can be very different, depending on the person and the variables involved.  Of these variables – the one which matters most:
Is my approach effective?
If the approach you take to writing your first book doesn’t facilitate the completion of the book, then it’s just an exercise in futility.
What resides below consists of a few questions you should ask yourself before you start writing your book and tips to assist you along the way, to help guarantee that you see your “word baby” through to completion.

How To Write A First Book – Question#1: How long should my book be?

One of the first questions that comes up when budding authors consider writing their first novel is how long it should be.  The answer (at least to to some degree) is irrelevant. Write the book until it is complete. If it is a reference book you are working on, write until the topic is covered in an exhaustive enough manner that it provides a detailed level of insight, without alienating the audience (in other words – if written for beginners, give a step by step instructions without making it so technical that more specialized knowledge is required to understand your instruction). If it is a novel, write until the story is told.  A first draft is often a dog’s breakfast – messy, with less than favorable symmetry to the tale.  At least my first drafts usually are. You can tighten up a novel and make it more cohesive during the edit stage.  Don’t try to edit during the initial draft.  There is perhaps no better way to kill your novel stone flat than opening the door to your “inner editor”.  Tell your inner editor to leave the room, the house, the country.  Ideally, you will think of the most embarrassing moment you’ve ever had, something you haven’t told your best friend about…something that makes you blush to even think about.  Write about that.

The length of your book doesn’t matter so much as voice and tone. If you’re in a hurry when you write, that tone will be reflected in your words.  The novel will appear rushed to the reader.  Take the time to write about the specifics. Details allow a reader to create their version of your story in their own mind’s eye. Such imagery is essential if a book is to gain traction with a reader.
Whether your book is 40,000 words or 400,000 words, what’s most important are the habits you create to allow for completion of your journey.

As a first time novelist, bear in mind that if the intent is to have the book published by a legitimate and established publisher, length will play a factor.  The number of first time novel writers who have had books published with lengths over the 80,000 word mark is much lower than the number of first time published writers with books at or below 80,000 words.  Publishers are no different than any other entrepreneurial upstart, they play the odds.  One way for a publisher to hedge their bets is to keep the production costs lower.  Less pages means less costs at the printer.  As a general rule, publishers will be less likely to consider a first time novelist once the book moves past this mark.  It’s not impossible to have a larger book published as a first time novelist, just more difficult.  Why stack the odds against yourself, if you don’t have to?

How To Write A First Book

How To Write A First Book – Question#2: How Do I get Started?

When I talk about habits that get a writer from start to finish, I realize you may not know where the start is. If today is the first day you’ve resolved to write a book, let me congratulate you.  Then I’ll tell you it is an undertaking, in the purest sense of the term.  If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.  With that said, how can you make it easier for yourself?

Create an outline. Much like your book, your outline will go through a round, or several rounds of edits. By the time you have an outline you are happy with, you will have a structure to support your story from beginning to end. Think of it much like a high level map. You may not be able to see all the details, though you’ll have an idea of the major points along they way that will impact the story and it’s characters which, in turn, will drive your story forward.

How To Write A First Book -Question#3: Where can I get ideas from?

Ideally you already have an idea for you story, which has been brewing for some time. Perhaps you do, though there will be other elements of consideration required when it comes to plot, character development and back story. Here are some ways to create ideas for all:

  • Write everyday.  If you haven’t set this habit in place, this should be your first priority.
  • Write at the same time each day
  • Pick a spot to write in.  Try a few initially, as you my find some spots produce better results than others.
  • Write a daily minimum. Make it reasonable. Once you create a benchmark for yourself, it becomes easier to meet over time.
  • If you are having trouble getting started try a few 10 minute writing exercises, or write a quick story of 100 words or less, using a random word generator, such as the one provided in this article by Copyblogger.
  • Consider joining a writing group, such as NanoWriMo once you have been writing a little while. If the daily writing requirement of NanoWriMo is too steep, that’s no problem. Consider a local writer’s group. Most of the writing process can be solitary. It’s good to put your work out there to people who not only can offer constructive feedback, though also understand the risk taken by offering your work up for criticism.
  • Break the work up into much smaller parts.  If most people actually understood the blood, sweat and tears that went into writing a book, they’d probably pass. Fortunately, by breaking the book up into much smaller parts, completed through a daily routine, the pain is reduced to a manageable amount. Instead of feeling like you’ve been run over by a bus, it’s a little more like you were stung by a bee.  Irritating, though survivable.  Unless of course you have an allergic reaction to the bee sting and go into anaphylactic shock. Then all bets are off.

How long should a chapter be?

If you’ve ever tried writing a book, you know this question can be a perplexing one to answer.  According to The Oxford Dictionary, the latest definition for a chapter (relating to a book) is:

“A main division of a book, typically with a number or title”.  Does that clear it up for you?

Me neither.

So how long should a chapter be? Below is a list of tips on defining what a chapter has looked like in other books and how you can apply such reasoning when you create your own book chapters:

How long should a book chapter be – Not all books are created equal.

Historically, a chapter could be as short as a few words, to as long as several thousand. The short answer is there are no hard and fast rules as to the length a chapter must be. The question you should ask yourself is why the chapter is needed. If you’re writing a reference book, where you’re teaching a number of different principles, then they book will likely be broken down by individual principle. If the book is fiction, your chapter will be broken down for a very different reason.

How long should a chapter be – Do I need to break my book into chapters?

A question you need to ask yourself as a writer is whether your book needs chapters. While they are nice to have from the reader’s viewpoint, the question then becomes, what is the purpose of the chapter? In a novel, If the chapter does not identify an end in thought, a change in events, a shifting from one set of characters or location, then why is it there? A chapter should serve to show a clear break, having the next chapter drive the story forward. If the process is not logical or linear, you may find the reader becomes confused by such breaks.

How to Write A First Book – The Editing Process

Write, write and rewrite.  Once you have done a first edit of the book, put it aside for a few days.  Take your mind off of it completely.  Then go back to it with a fresh set of eyes.  Be merciless.  If a passage is awkward, write and rewrite until it works.  If it doesn’t, remove it.  There’s no value in offering poor writing to your reader, no matter how important you think it is.  If it won’t make the grade it’s not going to move the reader anyway.

As a first time writer, it is worth considering hiring professional editing services.  It doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, either.  You’ll  find many reputable book editors who have reasonable rates, without having to look around too much.  I suggest staying local, as you may find there are more questions which arise from the notes the editor provides.  Being able to meet face to face is a benefit.  An independent party with the required skill set will offer you exactly what you need; a way to look at your writing without emotion.  As a first time novelist, this concept can be a difficult one to master.  They are going to look at your writing from a practical “nuts and bolts” point of view.  They will tell you what works, what doesn’t.  Having an editor will improve your writing.  One objection a first-time novelist may have is the hesitation with putting their writing up for scrutiny to a complete stranger.  First, a stranger is perhaps the best person to look at your writing.  Neither of you have had a chance to make any prejudgements, which may taint the editing process.  Second, if you are serious about being a writer, you had better get used to having your writing exposed to one and all, if it is to have any commercial viability.  The days of sitting in a little hovel, grinding out a book in relative obscurity is over.  In this day and age, much of the marketing responsibility is left to the author.  If you have no social media (read: built-in sales, which the publisher will approve of) it will be a strike against you.  Once you are an established writer with commercial success under your belt, you can the shots with your publisher.  Out of the gate, you had better be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do whatever is needed.

How to Write A First Book – Coming Back Down To Reality

Once you are done writing your book, pat yourself on the back.  You are now part of a very select group, when considered on the whole.  That makes you special.

That however, is about as special as it will ever get.

If you were expecting a ticker tape parade, or some bronze bust of your image to grace the halls of the International Writing University…of Writing, or some such – go ahead and abandon the fantasy right now.  You may have success with your first book.  You may find rare success.  You may write the novel of the century.  The odds are not in your favor.  Still, do not let this dissuade you.  If you are a diligent writer, over time, you will have success on some level, provided you are putting the work out there for consideration.  The more you right, the better you get.

Some writers will tell you not to read any other authors too much, for fear of using their tone.  I believe this to be nonsense.  If a writer’s tone appeals to you, it’s probably because their is a familiarity to it for you.  Something about it rings true.  If this is the case, why wouldn’t you want to use such a tome.  All writers of merit have liberated something from one another, in one form or another, at one point or another.  As long as the finished product is authentic to you, that’s all that matters.

Lastly, realize what it is that you are doing.  You are creating something from thin air – a conjurer of ideas, who forms these ideas by wielding the written word like it was damn hammer.  When you are done, it may be the literary equivalent of Michelangelo’s “David”.  Perhaps it’s akin to the “Coles Notes Reference Guide for 50 Shades of Grey”.  It doesn’t matter.  You’ve created something from nothing.  Be proud of your work.

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