This is a question that comes up all the time: how do I start writing my book? Where do I begin? How do I get good at writing?
Okay, that was three questions, but stay with me here, because all three of these questions stem from the same source. Everyone wants to write a book, but many people are unsure how to start, or worried that they don’t have the necessary skills.
Part of the motivation behind my “Finish the Damn Book” project was to totally eliminate these questions from a new writer’s mind. In the book I discuss the ideology of treating a book like a Role-Playing game. Yes, just like World of Warcraft.
In RPGs, your character earns experience for each task that is completed, whether that’s killing a monster, gathering in-game items, or finishing quests. Writing is just like that, and just as much fun, if not more. Instead of “grinding” by killing monsters, you get experience points for each word that you manage to get down on the page. You get bonuses by learning new writing tricks. You level up by finishing a story.
My initial advice, of course is to start small. If writing a whole novel seems like an insurmountable task, then start with something that isn’t insurmountable. Start with short stories and flash pieces. If you already have some story ideas for a novel, then write short background stories about your characters. You will get to know them better, and be able to write about them.
When you are doing world-building, you can do the same thing. Writing little stories about interesting pieces of the world you envision.
It doesn’t matter if you have an MBA in English or dropped out of high-school, the best way to improve your writing is by getting words down. Write something new everyday, and get as many words as you can. Make it a habit, and the more you write, the better you will get.
Writing short also allows you to get experience with the whole of the writing process while you are learning. As you edit your stories, look up writing advice with Google. Anything you are unsure about, look it up. The Internet is a magical tool that can elevate your writing quickly, but keep writing.
As you learn and grow, go back to those initial stories. They are going to look horrible, and this is what you want. It means that you are learning and growing as a writer. You’re getting better every day.
Of course, if you want to start on your story right now, that’s totally cool. Just start writing. Try not to worry about where to start, just focus on where your character is headed, and add something new to the story every single day. Ideally, you want to be adding 500 words or more to your story (about a page or two) each day, but as long as you get a sentence down, then you are making progress.
Don’t edit anything until you have the story down. This is another good reason to write short bits. You can start the editing process quickly, and you can continue to improve. Even if you are writing a novel, when you get stuck, sometimes the fastest way to un-stick is by jotting down a quick little story.
Don’t know what to write next? Just write boring stuff until the story comes to you. Don’t be scared to write garbage. Trust me, a finished first draft that needs some work is monumentally better than spending fifteen years working on a “perfect” book, only to discover later that there’s a bunch of garbage inside. And that will happen after you finish the draft, I promise you.
Some basic tips:
- Don’t try to write long, involved sentences. Many times, short, simple sentence structures are best, and make for punchy writing that is fun to read. Many new authors try to write fancy sentences and end up with boring, indecipherable garbage (which must be distilled during the editing phase).
- Try to capture feelings. The reader isn’t trying to gain information, they are trying to enjoy themselves. Think about the difference between watching a television show versus hearing about it from one of your friends. Which is more interesting? Why? You can do this by showing what the main character is experiencing directing, instead of dumping information. “She was angry with Mike” versus “Every time mike walked in the room, her face warmed and her nails dug painfully into her palms.”
- Don’t overload on dialogue tags, and refrain from fancying them up. Nobody wants to read a section of dialogue filled with “she screamed,” “he pleaded,” “she croaked.” We don’t need every inflection or gesture pointed out. Unless you absolutely need to, just use “said” or nothing at all. “Said” is invisible to the reader, and won’t bog down your dialogue.
- Try to avoid story filler. Don’t repeat the scope of the story, or the history of the main character. You will end up having the same content repeated every few pages (because you aren’t writing the whole book in one day). If you are trying to keep track, jot down ideas.
- Avoid back-story. Don’t tell me the history of your main character. You know them well enough, just write what’s happening, and you can add any needed details during the editing phase to explain things that might be hard for the reader to accept. Tell the story, not the history.
- If you are writing non-fiction, then you can ignore a bunch of this. Deliver your message, use concise, direct sentences, and keep everything simple and clean.