So you want to write a book: Steps to take before Chapter 1
It starts with the whisper of an idea; a concept, an inspiration, a fresh take on something that has already been done. Perhaps it’s something you’ve seen, or a song that you heard. Perhaps you’ve read something and thought “I can do better.” Perhaps you’ve read something and thought, “What great heights to aspire to.” Wherever the idea comes from, you know it’s a good one – and just like that, the whisper has a name: you want to write a book.
This time, when creative inspiration and excitement are firing on all cylinders, is, for me, the most exciting part of writing a book. I know this feeling well. I've written 12 books to date, and each one has felt like something entirely new for this author. The beginning is so packed with potential – and that’s exactly the reason why it’s the most crucial time to set yourself up to succeed. Writing a book is very hard work; it’s akin to climbing Everest in your mind. (Much less risk of death and freezing, more risk of drinking while crying.) I've failed at this so many times that it's made me kind of an expert on how not to start a book, and what steps you need to take before you start.
Staring down a high word count can be intimidating, but figuring out your word count for your genre is actually one of the most important things to do before starting your book. Each genre (for example: fiction, YA, horror, historical fiction) has a suggested word count for debuts, and it’s your job to find out what that is. (The Write Life is a great place to find this information.) Once you know your word count and genre, you will be putting your feet on the best path for success, by making sure you are on the right map.
The next step – and one that you should never ignore – is to read books like your book within that particular genre. Are you wanting to write the next Divergent? Then you need to read popular, current titles in the dystopian genre. Read these books until you are blue in the face, and then read some more. Why? First, if you are not a reader, you do not have the tools to become a writer. So get reading. Second, you need to be familiar with the common terms and big author names within your genre. Are you a romance writer? You need to know what HEA means. Third, it’s important to make sure that the book you are writing has not already been written. I met a woman at a writing conference who had written a book very similar to The Hunger Games. Because she wasn’t reading in her genre, she didn’t notice when that book began to rise, and was surprised when publishers outright rejected her. All these things above should be done before you ever put your pen to paper; consider it your research phase.
Now that you feel ready to pull out your pen to paper and pour out a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, there is actually one more thing that we need to talk about first: your tools. I have found tools to be an essential part of a writer’s success. I started writing my first book on a desktop computer with a hard, uncomfortable chair. I burned out pretty quickly because my body was uncomfortable. For Christmas, my dad bought me a small laptop, and within six months, I was holding a finished novel. Why? Because the right tools had made writing an enjoyable, relaxing act rather than one that felt like punishment. Tools are important. You can love the act of writing, but if you don’t have the right tools, you will fail. I have become extremely picky about a number of things, from chair and table height to keyboards to what I wear when I write. For maximum creative output, I know I need minimal distractions and a hot drink. It will be worth it to ask yourself: what does my happy writing place look like? What are the ideal conditions and tools that I need to write my book?
Once these things are in place, I feel like you are ready to begin the incredible, terrible, life-giving and soul-sucking process of writing a book!
Don’t know where to begin, or want to meet other writers in your area?
Come to the Anythink Writer’s Group Meetup on Monday, Oct. 7 from 6:30-7:30pm at Anythink Wright Farms. Join us for an introvert-friendly evening of writing, sharing insights, and getting to know fellow writers in your community. All writers are welcome, regardless of experience. Pizza will be provided. Appropriate for adults. Space is limited; online registration recommended.