How to Write a Book: My Method
There’s a ton of info out there on how to write a book. But this is what I did, and what worked for me. I wrote a lot before writing a whole novel. And it’s sequel. I have two other almost finished manuscripts on my hard-drive. They aren’t great and they will never see the light of day. Also several other projects at various stages.
You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to write ‘practice books’ before writing a book. However, I’ve found it helps define how you write and what you want to say, exactly. What do you want to show? What’s the message?
But let’s keep it real. This is what I did to write a book: I set out to write two pages a day. Five hundred words. My logic was that after a year, I’d be around 720 pages. I didn’t need that much but certainly I’d have a book in there somewhere. Estimate it at 150 000 words, if you put in 300 days. The average book is about 80 000 to 100 000 words. This worked for me as I’m not very fast and, as is often the case in a first book, didn’t have an extremely defined story line. I also do not write in chronological order. I have a vague plot, I can place start and end, and a few important points in between. But it doesn’t come out in order. More on that after.
It could be argued that it may be a miss, and you could end up with just 720 pages of mumbo-jumbo. Especially as I just said, sometimes the story line waffles. I mean, let’s face it, when it’s your first book and your story can be anything and your character anyone, there’s no parameters, no path to follow.
However, as I went along, the storyline developed. There are a few techniques to plot out your story. More on that in another blog.
Write from what you know. Writing your first novel is enough without throwing yourself into massive research. Note I said massive. You may or may not do some research, but don’t make it uphill for yourself all the way. I set my book in Montreal, because I lived there for many, many years. I set it in the present day. You may have a job, an activity, lived somewhere that you take for granted but that isn’t common for the rest of us. Use that.
If you set your story in a past century, you will have to do some research. Your story may not refer that much to elements of the times, but for veracity’s sake, for setting, for realism, it will have to at some point. And you’ll have to be on point, or you’ll get called out. Same for a country or city you have never been to.
It helps if you have someone who has lived there, has done that job, knows that subject. There are always quirky details that make it real. In my story, my main characters go scuba diving together. Why not parasailing, or jet skiing, or climbing? The setting lends itself to all these. Because my brother is an advanced scuba diver. A short phone call and I had priceless details that aren’t in manuals or would take hours to find online, if at all.
Dosing the Details
Don’t feed back all your research to your readers. It’s not a lecture. Sprinkle the knowledge, like a spice. Don’t explain everything. Again, you’re not teaching a class. If your readers don’t know what a BCD vest is they’ll look it up or figure it out.
Choose One Tense and Stick to It
Books are usually written in the past tense. Or the present. Choose one and stick to it or it will be a nightmare to correct later. It also makes flashbacks or memories harder to write as you don’t know what tense you are starting from. You can change your mind, depending on how it flows for you, but try to settle that point at the start.
Don’t Censor, Don’t Trash
Don’t censor yourself. If you think of 3 ways to write something do it: edit later. If you think of 3 words for the expression on your character’s face, and all seem good, then put them in. Sort it out later. Put in more rather than less.
Secondary characters can take up too much space. One of Marc Fisher’s rules, in his book Conseils à un jeune romancier (and if I ever find the translated version I’ll yell it from the rooftops), is, and I am paraphrasing here, don’t make a secondary character better than your main character. Your readers will be divided. That isn’t to say they are all gray and dull, but your hero is your MC. I’ve written whole scenes involving a secondary character only to cut her out and just refer to her in one line.
If she gone for good? No, she’s just waiting in the wings in the Blurb File. And it’s not a bad idea to fully write out your characters. Like research, this give you the feel of who they are and where they’re coming from. I’m going to make my character profile sheet available through the newsletter. So don’t forget to sign up. It’s great prompter to help you flesh out all your characters. I’ve found that when I have a full grasp of whom my people are I can write about them more easily and better.
The Blurb File
This is a great way to ditch the paper and avoid losing those little bits that are gold but don’t fit anywhere. I used to have countless pieces of paper with ideas for scenes, compelling phrases, snippets of witty banter. Now, I put them all in a file I title Blurbs. I used to have things written down on Post-it’s, napkins, bubble-gum wrappers and countless little notebooks with ideas scribbled all over the place in ineligible hand. Then they get misplaced or lost. A blurb file is the repository for all those odds and ends. A much better way to keep track of your ideas and make sure you don’t lose any of your precious work. And you can search by keyword.
What if you’re on the go? Or wake up in the middle of the night with that great plot twist idea? I use the notes function on my phone and dictate notes to myself. It’s easier and faster and I transfer directly to my laptop. If you struggle with typing, or can’t keep up with the flow coming from your imagination, consider dictating some of your writing.
In fact, the first scene I ever wrote for my manuscript never found its way into said manuscript. It’s been sitting on my computer for quite a while. But with the projected series, it’s going to find its way into book 3. It’s an excellent scene (if I do say so myself). Why would I delete this just because I can’t fit it in somewhere? The same thing applies to scenes or even small parts of a scene, conversations you cut out, descriptions you shorten. Save those. They might come back in another part, another book. Or you might decide to put them back in. Don’t let anything go to waste. Don’t waste your precious efforts.
Another excellent way to keep things in order is to open one document per chapter. Don’t try to write your whole manuscript in one document, it’ll quickly become confusing and unmanageable.
Numbers and title your chapters by what goes on in that chapter. You can even have a summary at the start of each document. It’ll make it much easier at a glance to know what’s going on in each document in your list. For example, Chapter 3 Jill fell down the hill.
I usually define chapters pretty quickly on. If you are the type to plot out your whole book, then you do this all at the start. Because I don’t write in a straight line, and because I often have an idea for a chapter but it hasn’t spelled itself out fully yet, I rely on creating chapters that are markers for steps in the story. I fill in the blanks as I go along.
I can ‘see’ the whole story by looking at my list of chapters on-screen. But there are other methods, such as using index cards with a brief summary of each chapter. Once you define what you want to happen as the story goes along, you just have to write the chapters.
Where to Save?
If your computer has ever crashed and you lose your work, you know how heart wrenching this is. Authors post about this and I still get that dreadful feeling from when I had a laptop that regularly went berserk.
I save my work in an email draft. There’s also have an external hard drive as a backup for our whole system. But I like the easy access from anywhere with the email. I tried USB keys, and before that disks, but the email method works. Just upload as if you are sending the manuscript, put the tile and date in the subject line, but don’t put a receiver and the save it as a draft. Gmail does this automatically. And all your versions are in dated order.
Are there parts of this you’d like to see explained in greater detail? What’s worked for you? As I am going to publish in 2022, I want to share more on that journey, maybe it’ll help someone. When I started I was experimenting, just ‘getting it out of my system’. I honestly thought I’d write 150-200 words and be done and get on with my life! Then it turned into something, and I go so overwhelmed. Walking-around-in-a-dark-room-blindfolded type of overwhelmed. Freaking out overwhelmed. It was a lot of trial and error and wasted money before figuring it out. And I’m still learning, but I have a plan and it’s clearer. It was especially connecting with an editor and other indie authors online that I learned and began to feel confident in the process. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
The newsletter presses are warming up. The first installment will be sent in May. All the latest on my book: release date, cover reveal, special pre-order prices, will be announced there first. Also some giveaways! (Hint: it’s art!). As always, it’s once a month. Maybe twice, as pub date approaches. Your email is required for this purpose only.