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8 Questions You Need To Answer Before You Start Writing Your Book

8 questions you need to answer before you start writing your book. questions marks. colourful.  illustration drawing by Katherine M Kennedy

There are some elements of writing tips and advice, like the hatred of adverbs, that, while good to know, are not essential. Others are more important. Knowing and understanding them will help set you up for a more successful writing process. Writing is hard, and it only gets harder the further in you get. Set yourself up for success from the beginning.

These are the eight elements of writing that if you don’t know about when you start, you will know about when you finish. Save yourself some time and start working on them from the beginning. That way, you won’t have to go back and fix it all at the end.


1. What Point Of View (POV) Are You Going To Use To Write Your Book?

There are some things that, and I apologize for speaking in absolutes, you are going to HAVE to know before you start writing your book. If you write ten chapters and then start finding out about POVs, I’d argue you haven’t started writing your book yet. You’ve just been practicing for the big event (sorry)

Once you have established your POV, there is a lot more that you will need to know. In terms of writing rules, the most complex POV is omniscient, but third person comes in as a close second. If you want to avoid the mire that is POV rules, then I recommend first person.

2. Are You Going To Edit As You Write Your Book Or Edit Once You Have A Completed Draft

The earlier you can figure out if you are going to edit as you write or edit after you have completed your manuscript, the better. Even with all the best intentions in the world, you might still find yourself falling in the middle, but it's best to know your approach and try your best to stick to it. If you do start editing, then make sure to track your edits and manage your document control and naming conventions. Chaos ensues when you don't

3. What Is Head-Hopping And How To Avoid It

Head hopping is when the POV of the book slides into a perspective without warning and when it doesn’t make sense. Head hopping is always seen as a negative, while POV switching is not.

4. What Is The Genre/ Word Count Of Your Book

Publishers are much more likely to reject a book that is too long or too short for its genre. And genre lengths can vary massively from one to another. A sci-/fantasy epic can reach the heights of 120 000 words, while a self-help might be pushing it at 70 000 words.

If you are going the self-publishing root, you have more room to play with word count, but not by much unless you want to fall out of the mainstream and read expectations. That’s because reader expectations align with traditionally published books.

Knowing your word count lets you pace your book accordingly, putting plot beats where you want them, refusing calls, and pinch pointing at the right moment. Even if you are a pantser, you will need to manage yourself to make sure your introduction doesn’t stretch on for 40 000 words leaving the reader with a lackluster half a book of actual story.

Knowing your genre will also help you to better understand the tropes, story beats, and expectation reader might have for your book. If you are going to market it as a romance when it’s actually a thriller, you are going to be hit with a lot of justifiably angry reviews, regardless of whether the book is good or not.

5. Are You A Pantser/ Forester Or A Plotter?

While most fiction writers are reportedly plotters, most of us sit on a spectrum between plotter and pantser. Knowing where you sit will enable you to better research and build your story. As a pantser, I frequently could only find information on writing that aligned with my style by including ‘pantser’ in Google queries. (i.e., why is writing so hard+pantser.) It’s beneficial to know the pitfall and benefits of each writing style. That way, you can be sure to avoid weaknesses and bolster strengths.

6. How Are You Going To Approach The Formatting Of Your Book?

While not strictly speaking necessary, you can save a lot of editing time and a fair amount of confusion later by approaching your writing with a clear approach to the basics of formatting. Change your page margins and set your indents. It’s really hard to understand and write dialogue without adding indents—I think it’s why so many new authors use ‘said’ too much in their first draft because they struggle to differentiate between speakers without the indents. While you don't have to avoid using 'said', you can have too much of a good thing. While there are industry standards for some elements of formatting, some choices are up to you (at least until you get formally published):

7. How Are You Going To Manage Your Filing System/ Naming Conventions?

You are going to end up with different versions of your book, ones that are edited, ones that aren’t, and whole other versions that you recovered from your computer after you accidentally deleted them. Try your best to establish a filing system early on.

Using a program like Scrivener will help somewhat, but even with writing programs, you should always keep a backup. When I (foolishly and naively) updated Scrivener, my whole book vanished. Thankfully, I had pulled a version from it a couple of days earlier, but I still lost a massive amount of writing. And as everyone who has ever lost writing knows, that work can never be rewritten quite the same and was also the best thing anyone has ever written ever.

8. Are You Going To Use American or British Spelling (or something else altogether) While Writing Your Book?

This one often slides by unnoticed, but it is incredibly important. Decide early on if you are going to write your book using British or American spelling. It takes a lot of work to reformat a whole, complete book (trust me, I’m doing it right now)

I recommend researching this topic before making a decision. While the choice might seem obvious to you right now, there are strong rationales behind spelling, and some might not align with your preconceived ideas. Where your book is set may impact the choice, as well as the intended audience you are writing for.


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