So you want to write a book? But you don’t know how to start? I’ve talked to so many people who are in that place, where they feel like they have a story inside, but they don’t know what to do with it. So I thought I’d pass on a little advice I’ve learned over the years.
I have always loved writing, but I’ve only started seeing myself as a writer in the last 12 years or so. In those 12 years or so, I’ve been an administrative assistant, a hearing impaired interpreter, a library assistant, and finally a copywriter. It’s difficult to hold down a job when you know you aren’t doing what you were designed for, but it’s a good character building experience. And character is ultimately what you need (other than God’s grace and favor) if you want to succeed at anything you do.
Totally uplifting, right? And it was even a Christian writing conference. I was shocked. But in many instances over the years, that’s the tone of the advice I’ve been given by other established writers. Basically, choosing writing as a career is a pain in the neck and you’ll spend most of your life starving and frustrated. And even if you do manage to get published—and the odds are astronomical—you’ll still be unfulfilled because your book will probably only sell a few copies.
Sounds like a dream job, huh?
I’m not going to lie. It’s not exactly wrong. But I think I’m too much of an optimist to ever fully embrace that way of thinking. And if I’m going to give anyone advice about writing, I want it to be encouraging and actually useful.
1. Care about what you write
If you’re trying to write someone else’s story, that’s one thing. I know ghostwriters, and they love their jobs. But ghostwriting is completely different than writing your own story. When it’s your story, you’ve got to care about it.
You don’t have to love it, especially not at first. Actually, I guarantee you that you won’t love it at first. In fact, you may not even like it. But you don’t have to love it or like it. Just care about it enough to start it, enough to finish it, enough to do it right. Because I promise if you don’t care about it, you’ll give up.
2. Take the job seriously, not yourself
Don’t be fooled. Writing is hard work. Sure, it’s just sitting most of the time and typing on a keyboard, but if you’ve ever tried to write something, you know just how much of a strain it is on your brain. It’s challenging enough to write about something you enjoy, let alone the hard parts where you’re not loving the story as much as you did when you started. So it takes dedication and serious effort to write.
You have to be serious about getting the work done, but if you take yourself too seriously, you’ll give up before you start. You can’t take yourself too seriously because otherwise you’ll realize you’re sitting at a computer talking in different languages and screaming at people who don’t exist—or having complete conversations in your brain when nobody else can hear them. Or you’ll be in the middle of a scene and you’ll make yourself cry because what you wrote is just so beautiful, you can’t contain it.
If you take yourself too seriously, you won’t let yourself do any of that. And let me tell you, you need to. The best books I’ve written (that people have told me) have been when I’ve allowed myself to experience the same emotions my characters do. I have to. Because only then can I infuse those emotions into the characters themselves.
If I am stiff and emotionless, my characters will be also.
3. Don’t find time to write, make it
Finding time indicates an accident. Making time indicates intent. The best writers I know don’t just happen onto a time when they have a few hours to spare. No, the best writers I know are engaged in several other areas of life, and they don’t have the luxury of being free enough to write whenever they want to. So they have to plan ahead.
Identify the best times that work for you. Are you more productive in the mornings? Are you less productive at night? Know that about yourself, and set your writing schedule accordingly. And once you have it set, guard it fiercely. Treat it like a job. You’ll never finish your work if you keep putting it off.
At first, it’ll be easy to keep to your schedule. But life always happens. And, of course, it depends on the individual. Or it depends on how much of life happens at one time. But whatever you do, just keep to some kind of schedule.
Or you can do what I do (which I don’t recommend, but it works for me). Just carry everything you need to write with you in a gigantic backpack so you can write whenever you have a moment to sit down.
At coffee shops.
There are lots of different things I can say about writing and how to write and when to write and where to write, but the truth is, all that depends on the person. Some people make outlines. Others fly by the seat of their pants. Neither way is right or wrong.
But what I’ve learned is that these three concepts are the most important if you want to start a book and finish it. These three concepts don’t change, and if you can grasp these and fully work them into your life, you can actually do just about anything.