A few weeks ago, I traveled back to Ohio, where I got together with a few old friends. When I “came out” to them as a writer, I was surprised to hear how many either wrote fiction or wanted to write fiction. These are really interesting and lovely people who really should write books. So why haven’t they?
One reason is that people don’t really know how to get started writing a book. My students freak out about a 5-page paper. How can anyone who hasn’t ever written a novel even conceive writing (and polishing) 300 pages worth of text?
So here are my top five tips for them and for anyone who is serious about writing and completing a novel:
(1) Read constantly in as many subjects as you can. My best ideas for books have come while I was reading something completely unrelated to writing. Make time for reading. Always.
(2) Open to the beginning of a book you love and copy that author’s opening. For instance, I am writing a book in third-person, which I’m not used to doing. So to get started, I looked at the first line of a third-person book I’d read recently, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which says, “The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.” So I wrote, “The event that would change the MC’s life happened before she was old enough to realize what was happening.” I ended up cutting that line, but by using it as a basis for writing, it helped me realize where I really did want to begin my book.
(3) Write longhand, at least at first. I don’t know what it is about typing things out on a computer, but it is harder to change your mind about your draft. Either you can save the file and open a new document, starting afresh, or you can delete everything you’ve done. Neither option seems ideal. But when you write on paper, you can use multiple drafts and rewrites to craft how you want to begin. I usually write the first 15,000-20,000 words out longhand.
(4) Type it out. After you’ve written 20,000 words of longhand draft, you will likely hit, what I call the 20,000-word wall. So at this point I type up everything I’ve done so far, editing as I go. This is great because, first, it gives your mind time to change gears, so your creative juices get a break. Second, it ensures that the foundation of your novel is good, which ensures that you have enough material to build off of for the remainder of your novel.
(5) After you’ve typed out those first 20k, make a schedule, and stick to it. Below is my schedule for the last book I wrote. I wrote 2,000 words a day, sometimes more. And by the end of June, I had a first draft completed.
What about you authors out there? How do you begin writing a new book?