On Writing a Book

Well hello there!

I’m sure you read the title and thought, “I don’t think this has to do with a fairytale.” You’re correct! It doesn’t. Well, in a roundabout way it could, but you get my meaning. I’ve written about writing before, both on my book The Coffin-maker’s Basement, and on being a writer in general from my So You Want to be a Writer? post. I’m at it again!

If you follow me on Instagram  you know that my A Day in the Life of a Writer posts have been quiet as of late. It is because of this that I thought I would write about writing! So for my writers, writer-admirers, and other creatives out there, this one is for you. Here is how to write a book. Or, better stated, here is how I write a book.

It is important to note that writing, like many crafts, is an art. There is no “right” way to do it. There is your way, and my way, and JK Rowling’s way, and Stephen King’s way, etc. Because there is no one correct way to write, it can’t be formulated. Sure, some people do and try to create formulas for writing. If it works for you, great! If not, then you’re probably more like me in that following a formula is basically like filling out Mad Libs for a novel. It feels…two dimensional. BUT! We all find our own formulas and rituals, the idea is that they’re our own, and not any one, end-all-be-all formula.

Without further ado, let’s raise the curtain, shall we?

Pantser or Plotter?

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard this question before. Or, in the very least, have come across the phrase. For those who don’t know what a “pantser” is, I didn’t know what it was either. Rest assured it has nothing to do with pantsing someone. A pantser is someone who flies by the seat of their pants. In other words, they start writing the book by diving in!
Now, a plotter may be easier guessed. They are the type of writer to plot their novel before sitting down and writing it.
used to be a pantser, now, I’m a plotter.

I used to think the novel would pour out of me, and it would flow and flow if it was a worthy idea. I shouldn’t have to plot, I thought. That’s too sterile, and I don’t want to plan everything out! I want to let it happen!

And then, one day, I had to outline for a creative writing class (*cough* looking at you, Vicki *cough*) and outlining my novel just sunk right into me. It makes sense that it would, too. I’m one of those people with planners. I like seeing things laid out, it makes my head feel less cluttered if I can physically see what it is I need to do. Writing turned out to be the same.

So! My recommendation to you, dear writer, is to outline your novel! You don’t have to write scene for scene, or even chapter by chapter. I would tell you to do what feels best to you, but the idea is that by outlining, you can see the overall arc of your book from beginning to end, and all the things in-between. Outlining can help you to see that while you want A to happen in the beginning so that C can happen by the end, you need to have B somewhere in-between with a couple of little goals and obstacles intermixed. I also believe outlining can help stave off writer’s block. 🙂

But that doesn’t mean the outline is something you need to stick to. I have several outlines for CMB because it started one way, then when I started writing it morphed into something else, and when I started researching it phased again, and so on. Your characters have lives of their own, it’s our job as writers to tell them as best as we can.

Great, so you’ve outlined your novel! Now what?

Well, I’d tell you to get writing.

Sit and write. Block out time, MAKE THE TIME. One of the most frustrating things for me to hear is, “I just need the time, then I’ll write.” You’re kidding me, right? I didn’t pass my classes my first semester at Berkeley with As, do extracurriculars, and oh, yeah, finish writing a novel, because I had time. I made the time. Like I said, I’m one of those people with planners. I blocked out sections for everything each day. But my Mars and Uranus is in Capricorn, I just work that way.

So, if you can’t get to writing because you don’t have the time, find the time. Cross oceans for time. Dig for time. Sell your soul to the devil for time (I don’t recommend this one). You get my point, just find the way.

Now, if you know all this already, or have found extra time under couch cushions or lying around the floor, get to writing! My words of wisdom to you on the matter of the first draft:

  1. The first draft’s job, for the writer, is to get done.
  2. The first draft’s job, for the reader*, is to convey a good idea.
  3. When writing the first draft, there will probably be things you’ll need to research. If researching a certain topic sounds like it would disturb your writing flow, write what it is that needs researching in ALL CAPS. I think I mentioned this in my SYWBAW post, either way, I’m saying it again. When writing CMB, I needed to look up a common breakfast in Russia, if eating breakfast was even a thing over there. So, I wrote in all caps, RUSSIAN BREAKFAST, where said food would have taken place in the scene.

*You do not have to have a reader for the first draft. I, personally, blanch at the thought of anyone reading my first draft. Also, it’s still mine at that point. My characters, and myself, are growing together. I don’t want to bring in someone else until everyone is ready to reveal themselves. If that makes sense. You get the idea. Do or don’t, there’s no have to. (Which is pretty much the thesis of this post, haha)

Anyway, those are my three tips to you for the first draft. But, long story short. Just write. 

It will take time, and you’ll go through this lovely cycle that I like to call the “Phoenix Process.” It begins with feelings of elation and excitement. You’ll be excited for yourself and your project, you’ll fantasize about all the great things that will come of it. In other words, you are on fire! And then time will pass. You’ll read over things, you’ll tweak constantly, second-guess yourself. You’ll wonder how on earth you could have been so excited, how you could have thought of yourself (or the book!) as good. You’ll burn out. Turn to ash. It’s up to you if you rise again. Writing a book, as I said in my earlier post about writing, takes tenacity. Fortitude is something writers –all artists– must remind themselves of. Stick with it or don’t, but for now, try writing a book.

Maybe later we’ll get into editing and researching.

 

Good luck!

-M

 

I post every other Thursday. Click the Follow button on the right-hand side of the page, and you’ll get a notification every time I post. That’s only about twice a month!

Happy February. 🙂

 

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