How Do You Actually Write a Book?


The Process of Getting Started
and
What Happens Next

I need to state upfront that I am not a published author as it stands. I don’t have a publisher, an agent, or even any feedback on my first book. So my aim in this post is not to present myself as an authority on writing techniques or how to get published! (Apologies for the click-baity title, but getting your blog noticed these days is hard fricking work, and shortcuts are sometimes needed).

I imagine that’s sent a few people to click the ‘back’ button on their browser so that they can find some ‘real’ advice from a ‘real’ author.

But for anyone who’s stuck around, I just want to share my own experiences of writing a book. To say I had no idea where to start would be an understatement.

One day I dreamed up a wacky idea that I thought would work well for a novel (I hope you don’t mind me not telling you what it is at this stage, but as I’ve mentioned before I have a weird anxiety about letting people know too much about my book).

For quite a long time I did nothing with this wacky idea. It just popped up every now and then in my brain, and I’d be like ‘that’s such a good idea for a book’ and forget about it.

Then a few months (no kidding), miracle of miracles happened – I actually started putting some words down on the page. And I have to say it was the best feeling. Suddenly I felt productive, and like I Could Do This!

Right, first paragraph done, the rest should be a breeze…..or not. It took me weeks to write another word.

That first paragraph felt so sublimely easy. It just came to me.

In truth, it didn’t. Those months I spend ignoring my story idea had actually been a massive process of percolation for more ideas. Every time I thought of the general theme, I’d add on a few more small details…what if X does this, or maybe Y happens.

By the time I came to write that first paragraph I’d been secretly planning my novel for months – it was so secret even I didn’t realise it until I started writing.

So why was I having so much trouble with the next paragraph? Well, I’d been rehearsing the first few sentences in my brain for a few weeks. They were pretty solid. And I’d been gradually fleshing out the overarching story during those months of percolation.

But a rough story outline is not the same as a complete story. I knew vaguely what I wanted to say, but it took looks of back and forth in my brain, and on the page to actually start saying it.

Balloons in sky
You can’t beat the feeling of finally getting words on the page.

Eventually I did manage to write paragraph two, and for me that led to a few more paragraphs, and then even some fully formed chapters. I was on a roll! Until I wasn’t. It was stop-start the whole way. The stops and starts varied in their length, some weeks I’d be writing a chapter a day, other times I’d go months without writing a single word.

Honestly it did freak me out when I was having a ‘dry spell’. It felt like I would never complete this blasted book (Spoiler alert: I did). Or like I just wasn’t cut out to be an author. After all, pretty much all the advice I read said that I should be writing at least something every day. Yet there I was, day after day, having nothing to write, and more worryingly, no desire to.

How did I solve this annoyingly frequent conundrum? Oddly I started writing about other things. Unbeknownst to me, my brain had been in story planning mode even when I felt totally uninspired to write my main story. And one day I felt compelled to start writing a totally different novel, so I did that instead.

Confession: I was very worried at the time, that this would mean I’d never actually get around to finishing my main book (see spoiler above). I will readily admit that I have a terrible habit of never finishing anything. I cannot even count the amount of projects that I’ve started and not yet finished. Not only writing projects either – there are various knitting and sewing projects as yet unfinished, along with a myriad of other hobbies that I’ve just dropped completely, even if I enjoyed them.

My difficulty with sticking at things is a family trait, and one I’m acutely aware of. So in my heart of hearts it was a foregone conclusion that I’d never actually complete one of my novels, and I think I’d almost accepted that as fact.

Except, one day, something bizarre happened – I started writing a new chapter for my main book. Completely out of the blue. In fact, it was the very final chapter. I therefore clearly knew exactly how I wanted the book to end, which in some weird way, convinced me that the rest of the story was in me somewhere. Now I’m not going to claim that I became a writing machine, not by any stretch. It was still very stop and start, but I think that knowing there was a defined end to my story really helped.

And now I have a first draft of a complete manuscript. I have no idea if it would be ‘worthy’ of publication (more on this in future posts) but I do have a first draft. And that is HUGE for me. I’m really proud; even if no one else ever gets to see my labour of love, I’m pleased with how it came out. But more importantly, I’m proud of myself for getting it done.

So what’s the point of this rather long, rambling story?

Well, for me this success proved to me that I can actually finish things when they’re important enough to me.

But it also reminded me that there is no one way of doing these things. As I’ve mentioned a few times now, some people love having a structured approach to writing – something like National Novel Writing Month might be ideal for them. But it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t have that discipline. I’ll readily admit that I put other things ahead of my writing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to me, or that I won’t get round to it.

Equally though, I’m not so focused on my writing goals that if I was to be given a day to live I’d regret not finishing my novel. I actively chose not to prioritise it, other things were more important to me at the time. However, for others of you, not finishing your novel might be your biggest regret. If this resonates with you then maybe you do need to make it a bigger priority (if it’s not already).

And don’t be afraid to admit that Becoming an Author isn’t the most important thing in the world for you. It’s easy to get swayed by all the messages out there – especially if you’re part of writing groups – but the truth is that for some people writing is just a fun hobby. Something you do to relax and engage the brain. And that’s just as valid as other people’s aspirations to become a published author. But do be aware that how you view your writing probably will probably influence how much effort you put in and the way you choose to work.

I suppose the moral of this story is to learn what works for you. Is it deadlines and external accountability? Is it just picking it up when the time feels right? Is it setting up a structure for yourself to stick to?

Maybe you already know exactly what works for you – great, get cracking! If not, then don’t be afraid to experiment.

And don’t forget to share – we’re all unique but we can all still learn from each other.

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