Maybe you’ve dreamed of it all your life or recently a new idea has entered your mind that you can’t stop thinking about. While the idea of writing a book or novel may seem scary or overwhelming, anyone can write! You don’t need an MFA in creative writing or a literary agent, all you need to do is put pen on paper and write your story. If you’re stalling out, unsure of how to start the project of writing the first draft of your book, follow this guide to up your skills, meet your goals, and be successful.
Step by Step: How to Write a Book
In the simplest terms, all you have to do to start writing a book is to type the first sentence. But to set yourself up for success, there are some other steps to take to make sure you’ll be able to see the project through to the end of the first (second, third, etc.) draft. Follow these suggestions and you’ll be holding the first draft of your book in your hands before you know it.
Set Up Your Writing Space
Distraction is the biggest enemy of the writer. One of the best ways to avoid this is to have a dedicated space for writing. This will help you get into the writing mindset and keep your family or roommates from bugging you as you work.
A dedicated office space with a door you can close is the dream for any writer. Make sure you have a desk and a comfortable chair. I like to sit near a window so I can stare out when I get stuck. Try to keep distractions out of the room. Your phone can hang out somewhere else during writing time.
If your home doesn’t have enough space for a dedicated office, a small writing desk in your bedroom or living room is a great alternative. It will help you get into the writing mindset when you sit down, as well as signaling to everyone that you’re busy writing.
Philip Roth exclusively worked at a standing desk when he wrote his books. Get more writing space inspiration from the writing desks of famous authors.
If space is really at a premium, you can set up shop at your kitchen table. Create a little pre-writing ritual to help achieve the proper mindset. I like to get a cup of tea, grab my favorite notebook, and put on my headphones to drown out household noises.
If you find that working at home is impossible or it’s hard to keep your family members out of your hair, a remote writing space might work better. Grab your laptop and your headphones and spend some time at a local coffee shop or the library. Keep your wifi turned off on your computer to really help you focus.
Set Aside Writing Time
Writing a book takes time. The fastest writers can bang out a first draft in a month, but it’s not uncommon for it to take months or years. To meet that goal, you’ll need to be consistent with your writing time.
Make sure to set aside time just for writing. Many writers tout the benefits of writing every single day, but that is not a requirement. Figure out a schedule that works for your creativity and your life obligations. If you work a traditional full-time job, maybe you can spend 30 minutes before or after work (or on your lunch break) writing every day. If you work better in large chunks, set aside your Sunday afternoon to power through a few hours of writing time.
When your scheduled writing time comes, you have to be disciplined. Treat it like you would an important business meeting. Show up on time. Sit down with your computer or notebook, put your phone away, and write. If you’re stuck, try some activities to beat writer’s block, but if you really can’t write you have to keep with your schedule. Even if it means you’re just sitting there brainstorming, you’ll make more progress than you would scrolling on social media on your phone.
If your life is too chaotic to schedule writing time in advance, try to squeeze it in when you can. Carry your notebook with you or write on your phone anytime you’re stuck waiting. Make daily or weekly writing goals and seize time whenever you can to meet them (more on this in the next section).
Set Realistic Goals
Since writing a full-length book can take so long, a good way to stay motivated is to set smaller goals along the way. The best way to make sure you will be able to meet your goals is to make them realistic. We have a whole article on how to set writing goals you can actually achieve. The biggest key to your success is making sure your writing goals are realistic.
While you may like the idea of writing an entire book in a month, if you can’t commit to writing 2000+ words a day, you’re going to fail that goal. Think about your writing style and how much time you can commit to writing each day, then build goals off of that. Don’t make the goals too easy, you still need a little challenge. Many writers find daily or weekly word count goals work great. Another good option is writing times. Spending 10 hours a week writing is a great goal for writing a book.
Do the Writing
This is the most important part and at the same time the hardest part. You have to actually write the book! Now that you’ve set yourself up for success, you’ve got to put your head down and write the words.
Show up for your writing time and meeting your goals, you will eventually finish the first draft of your book. To make this process a little easier, follow the next three suggestions.
Develop Your Idea
While many writers are pantsers who just start writing without any preplanning, you may find that tricky, especially if this is your first book. Spending some time brainstorming your story will make it easier to meet your writing goals because you’ll know exactly what you need to write.
There are many approaches to developing your book idea. Feel free to try a bunch of them to find the ones that work the best for you. Creating a plot outline will give you a guide for your writing sessions. Don’t forget to spend some time developing your characters (creating a character profile is a fun way to do it).
Develop Your Craft
You’ll learn a lot just from the process of writing your first draft, but you can really develop your craft by seeking outside knowledge. Enrolling in a writing program at a college may not be within your budget, but there’s plenty of options to add new tools to your writing toolbox.
The easiest and most affordable way to learn writing craft is by reading books on writing. There’s a whole variety of books with writing tips available for a variety of genres and types of writing. I recommend going to your local library or bookstore and browsing the writing section to find some books that will go with your project. You should also consider these books on writing fiction.
If you’re looking for a bit of socialization with your learning, consider joining a local writing group. This will not only give you some moral support as you write your book, but many of these groups involve critiquing each other’s work. Surprisingly, you’ll often learn more from critiquing other writer’s rough drafts than you will from getting your own work critiqued. If you don’t know any local writers, you may be able to find a group on Meetup.com.
If you think you’d benefit from a more structured learning experience, you could take a creative writing class. Many community colleges and local organizations will offer classes for a fee.
If there isn’t anything available locally or you prefer to learn at home, a Masterclass membership gets you unlimited writing classes from professional authors like Margaret Atwood, James Patterson, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oats, Dan Brown, David Sedaris, and more.
To be a good writer, you need to be a reader. Read all kinds of books. You’ll find there’s plenty of books you need to read for research to write your book. You should also read other books in the genre you’re writing.
Make sure you’re also reading books for fun and books outside of the genre you’re writing in. Also, seek out diverse authors and voices. Variety and diversity in your reading will help you develop as a writer and avoid cliches in plot or characters.
Save money by brushing off your library card or subscribing to Kindle Unlimited.
When You Finish Your First Draft
Celebrate! Finishing the first draft of your first book is a huge accomplishment. Treat yourself to a nice dinner or a special gift. Then put your book in a drawer. You need some time away from it. While it rests, keep reading and start working on a new project. Then after a few months, when you’re ready, read through your draft and start working on the next one.