The first thing I did when I decided to write a book was look up “How to Write a Book.” With so much advice out there and so many conflicting opinions, it’s hard to know what will really work for you. Writing a book has to be a customized experience because your book and its author are unique in every sense.
Among the multitude of advice that I encountered during my vast Internet search, I found a shockingly small amount of advice that I felt could apply to me. While the world told me to one thing, I found myself compelled to do the opposite. Confused and conflicted, I shut down Google Chrome and decided to write by trial-and-error. If it worked, I would keep doing it. If it didn’t, I would stop.
As to be expected, I found several ways of writing that didn’t work for me. I have since changed these habits for both my sanity and the quality of my manuscript, but I had to learn the hard way. So, in commemoration of my many failed writing attempts and the mistakes that caused them, here is a six-step way for how NOT to write a book.
- Know exactly what you want to say. While outlining the entire plot of your novel is admirable, it is also draining. When I started writing my novel, I had a few failed outlines rotting in my writing folder when I decided that it just wasn’t for me. Outlining is a great practice for getting a handle on your first few chapters, but you need to trust yourself during the writing process. It’s okay if your outline points to the left but your characters point to the right. Listen to the voices in your head; they know what they’re doing.
- Have no clue about the ending. While I am not a proponent of outlines, I am a proponent of knowing where your characters are going to end up. Planning your ending scene first gives you direction and purpose, as well as giving you the freedom to find your way there in the most creative way possible.
- Set a strict writing schedule and stick to it. I commend you for setting a schedule; I really do. However, the muse doesn’t wear a watch and will not conform to your color-coded planner. If you’re like me, you could write 2,000 words one day and 13 the next. Just get something done each day: writing, planning, even thinking about your novel. Allow yourself the flexibility to write when you feel like writing, plan when you feel like planning, or outline when you feel like outlining (if you’re into that kind of thing).
- Switch tenses and perspectives in the middle of your plot. There are two things you MUST know (in my opinion, of course) when you start writing: your verb tense and your perspective. It’s a pain in the ass to comb through a half-finished draft and switch every single verb tense and change every sentence to match a certain perspective. For the love of all that is good, just save yourself the headache and pick a tense and perspective from the beginning.
- Let everyone read your manuscript. Don’t do it. Seriously, just don’t. Pick one or two people who will be supportive but will also be honest and let them read your draft when you feel comfortable. In the past I’ve overshared, I found myself conflicted and confused about how to take the many critiques I received. By winnowing down who I let see my work, I could focus more on my thoughts and opinions versus what the masses were screaming at me.
- Edit as you write. The argument here is that it will make the editing process easier when you finish your draft. A line edit here and a line edit there are fine, but don’t overhaul your plot or cut an important character before you’ve even written the climax. Get the entire story on paper first and then mess around with it: it’ll be much less confusing when your manuscript is done.
18 thoughts on “How NOT to Write a Book: A Six-Step Process”
This is a really great post, Annie! I use a writing schedule, but it’s more of goals for me that day (and it’s how long — not how much). I like to outline, but I think it’s important that you know that your story is allowed to stray from the outline! Otherwise where’s the point in writing, right? Great tips! 🙂
Thanks May! I like your perspective on outlining 🙂
Great post! I’ve got to agree with you on a lot of these, though I admit I’m the kind of person who’s more likely to flourish under a strict schedule. For me, setting up a time every day to write helps me … and I refuse to let the muse rule my life (which is probably a huge mistake; I’m basically telling creativity to take a nap and putting it in a schedule … *bites nails* *wonders what’s going to happen next*). But good tips! I wish someone had told me all of this when I started writing! 🙂
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kellyn!
What a wonderful post! I am pretty new when it comes to writing and the first thing I did was look for “How To Write a Book” videos and posts as well 😂 but they were just too vague and confusing!
I’m so glad I stumbled across your post though! This is very helpful and I will definitely follow most if not all of these steps when writing my stories! Thanks for this 😊
Aww thanks so much!! I’m glad you thought it was helpful–happy writing:)
This was a cool post! I definitely agree with #2…I have been guilty of that too often! So, for the novel I’m currently working on, I decided to write the ending first…and then come back to the beginning. It’s been really helpful because now I know where I’m going and what my main conflicts should be.
What is your book about?
Yes, that has been helpful for me too since my novel is in the thriller genre and has a lot of intricate twists and turns. Mine’s about a girl training to be a spy, how about yours?
Oh, I love books with twists and turns! And ooh, that sounds interesting! My novel is a retelling of The Little Mermaid with mermaid warriors and fun stuff like that. 🙂
Ok that sounds amazing!! If you need a beta reader, I’m your gal 🙂
Aww, thank you! I may need one after this draft, so we’ll see… 😉
I’d be happy to help 🙂
I love to read Annie, love to paint too, and would love to be able to write, but I just can’t. Maybe I overthink it but when it comes to writing I just feel everything needs to be just so, and I’m convinced I’ll write my characters into scenes they can’t get out of, and I’ll get to the end and it’ll all fizzle out into nothing. Its weird, like I’m almost afraid of starting and I’ve heard and seen others be like that about painting, afraid to make those first few marks, put the paint to the paper, where I just wade in and slash paint everywhere, with a basic idea of what i want but letting the painting change as it needs. I just can’t seem to apply that approach to writing though. I have got a couple of early chapters of book ideas but reading it back I was bored by what I’d written, there was no magic so that was it for me. I would love to write, but not having a real burning desire to, i’ll stick to reading and painting. there’s only so many hours in a day anyway 😉
I did try writing short stories many years ago, but TBH that was a mistake as I don’t enjoy reading short stories 😉 so what made me think there was any way I could write them is anyone’s guess, apart from the fact it was early stages in a writing course I was doing.
All that leaves me in awe of those of you who write stories that leave me lost in them, emotionally drained for the characters, wanting the HEA and totally taken out of the real world and my problems for a few hours. I’m a re-reader of favourite books too, love to find things I missed first time round.
That’s awesome that you love to paint! It’s such a great creative outlet and is kind of like writing in that you get to tell a story, but not always in the most obvious way. What are your favorite things to paint?
depends on my mood, but I love to paint imaginary scenes as well as still life subjects like flowers from my garden, pets, even people occasionally. I’ve used watercolours, acrylics, oils, waxes, soft and oil pastels, separately and together in mixed media. I started with watercolour and it just grew…Lately though I’ve been doing acrylic pours, a fantastic and addictive process “my name’s Jeannie and its been 36 hours since my last pour…” I used to paint daily, but health issues/joint paint mean the last few years have been paint free, but this is a technique I can do without pain, so long as I’m strict and don’t spend too long at it. Its great to be back painting. I love to share fun things so as well as my book blog I now have an acrylic pour blog. I can deal with that kind of writing 😉
I admire your honesty about the mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learned from them. It looks like you’ve developed some good habits that work for you, but I think there’s a fundamental technique that ensures you write to your full potential – you must be fully immersed in the place you’ve created with the characters you’ve invented. If you don’t write from that place, how can you expect your readers to find it?
Trial and error will allow you to find your true “writing zone” where the only world you inhabit is that of your story, free of distractions. Once there, the characters will be as real to you as your closest friends, and you can create the next scene simply by putting them together and letting them tell you what to write.
Bear in mind that you do need to know your characters fully – their hopes and fears, their goals and their backstory. When you reach this level of understanding, every sentence or line of dialogue will ring true, and thus will hold the reader in the fictional dream you’ve created. The reader’s immersion depends on your immersion, so finding a place and time where you can cast off the rest of the world for a while is the key to writing the best possible prose.
Good luck with that novel.
Thanks for taking the time to write this comment! I totally agree with you–while I may not know what my characters are going to say or do, I need to know who they are and what they want.
No matter how many twists are in the plot, all the best stories are rooted in good characters. Imagine ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with a cardboard cut-out attorney instead of Atticus Finch.
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