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.