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How To Write a Book with No Experience

The first time I said, "I'm writing a book," I almost died of embarrassment. There was something so juvenile about it, like I was trying to build a rocket out of cardboard, tape, and wishful thinking. I had never written a story that wasn't for school. I'd never written fan fiction or even attempted a long-form book. 120 000 words later, and now I have. I've written a book, I've finished a book.

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Take The Advice You Want, And Leave The Rest Behind

Whenever I stumbled across a writing problem—a scene that wouldn't behave, a character turning evil on me—I would take to the internet. It did break my brain a little bit. There was so much information and so many rules that, if broken, would instantaneously make me a bad writer. I started to write like a weirdo, and I hated it. Once I recovered, I took on the idea that I wanted to know and understand the rules so I could decide when to break them. Life got more fun after that. This applied to every bit of advice I offer up. If you want to go in the opposite direction, then please do.

Write To Match Your Mood

When I first started writing, I tried to do so in a linear fashion, one scene after the other. This worked for a while until it didn't. Trying to write a goofy scene when you're in a bad mood doesn't work. Adjusting your mood for writing is much more complicated than writing to your mood. Grim scenes flow much smoother when you're feeling a little bit depressed, and funny scenes work better when you just watched a comedy.

Find Your Style

Finding your style and sticking to it is one of the biggest challenges a writer faces. Every poorly written scene or awkward intro I've written can be traced back to this one massive problem, the struggle with writing style. The writing wasn't always bad; it just wasn't me. It stuck out like a sore thumb. Sometimes my style lends itself perfectly to a scene. Other times, it's a massive weight around my neck. I wrote and rewrote, deleted all of it, and started from scratch.

Do you tend towards a flowery, poetic style, or do you prefer something satirical like myself? It's a balancing act. Sometimes you can give yourself too much space to be yourself, leading to meandering pages that go on for too long. Other times you stifle your style so much that the writing doesn't fit. It's like it belongs to someone else.

Write What You Read

This is a big one. The truth is that you do have experience, loads of it. You have studied your whole life through every book you've read. I once came up with a really cool idea for a book. I was pretty excited about it. I thought about it incessantly. Then I started to plot it in my head. I treated it with kid gloves, trying hard not to kill the idea with too much detail. I tried to write the first chapter in my head. I got nowhere.

I couldn't imagine the characters. I couldn't imagine how they would feel about anything, how they would react to the situation, how the situation would even work. Why? Because it isn't my genre. I'm not even sure what genre it would be. A deathly serious YA drama? Phycological thriller? I don't read those. Sure, I've dabbled in some Jeffree Dever, and I loved Gone Girl—both the movie and the book—but thrillers aren't my genre of choice. I know nothing about them, I don't know how they plot, I don't know they are written. I don't read enough of them to have that information squirreled away in my brain. Sure, I could research (and I did out of sheer curiosity), but it's not the same as the hands-on experience of reading. Maybe one day I'll be able to take my idea to the page, but it will have to be in my style and genre.

Find Your Character and Style Anchors

Okay, this might just be me—I am a ghostwriter, but I'll share just in case it helps anyone else. I have books and authors that match my various characters and scenes. When I'm writing them, and I need to get into the right mind and tone, I'll pick up an author and read some of their writing to get myself into the right frame of mind.

I once unthinkingly wrote a whole scene after reading some Jane Austen. I hadn't taken time to get her style out of my head or read any of the authors I consider palette cleansers. So, I ended up writing in a strange mimicry of her style rather than my own. It was hilarious but also a massive waste of time because while I am a Jane Austen fan, my style doesn't reflect hers all that strongly.

Remember That You Control Your World

I want to get this embroidered on a pillow or tattooed on my wrist because I constantly forget it. The number of times I've gotten stuck on a plot point or scene all because I have completely forgotten that I control the world I'm writing. If the scene is boring, move the characters. If you need someone to drop some information, introduce a character. I struggled for a long time with my main character because she wouldn't stop moaning. Seriously, she moaned incessantly, and I hate moany characters. I honestly thought about ditching her altogether and picking up her cousin or her friend as the main character.

I had forgotten that I controlled her, forgotten that I was the one making her moan so much. It was bizarre, but that's what happened. Once I remembered that I was the author, I wrote in some backstory, a few scenes that explained her somewhat relaxed attitude towards harrowing moments in her life, and voila, she stopped moaning. Instead of whimpering and crying whenever anything moan-worthy happened, she loved it. The little weirdo thrives off of chaos.

Finish Your Book

Even if you think it's the worst thing you've ever written, finish your book. If your plot falls apart and nothing makes sense anymore, finish it. Every section of your book is going to come with its own hardships. The beginning has the daunting blank page factor, the middle is famously a struggle, and then the end needs to wrap everything up satisfactorily. If you keep abandoning books before you finish them, you will become an expert in writing beginnings. You need to learn to navigate the beginning, middle, and end. Six half-finished manuscripts don't add up to a book, and that's six endings you've never written, six opportunities that were never realized. Most people quit around the middle of the book. It's the most challenging part to write. Don't be most people.

Don't Be Surprised When Writing Gets Harder rather Than Easier

We feel like it should be easier, but writing a book gets harder the further in you get. There's a good reason for this, the more we write, the more of a historical burden we have. Starting a book is actually rather liberating. The page is blank, which can be daunting, but there isn't any precedent; nothing is holding you back. By the time a writer gets to the middle, all sorts of promises have been made. There are mysteries, unanswered questions, details that won't make sense if you don't fill them in, and things your well-rounded characters would never do or say. There is precedent, an established tone, and ideas. Even the way your character looks can become a weight around your neck.

Don't Get Hung Up On The Details

There is a lot of advice out there for newbie writers, great advice, but I often find it's advice for the editing process rather than the first draft. Don't worry about adverbs, don't worry about saying too much, passive voice, or any of that nonsense. That's for editing. And you will have to edit until your eyes blur, and you are begging for mercy.

Don't Get Too Attached To Your Writing

I learned this through harrowing experience. 8000 words, that's what I had to delete and rewrite to close a plot hole that was big enough to cover a continent. It was painful, extremely painful. I made it worse for myself because I kept trying to refurbish the words. I tried to keep bits I liked and refurbish them into the new writing, which led to inherited problems. I spent maybe two months editing two chapters over and over again, trying to make them work. Eventually, I had to admit the truth. It didn't work. Those two chapters had to be deleted outright. I liked the new writing so much more, so in the end, it worked out.

Figure Out If You Want To Be A Writer, Or If You Want To Be Someone Who Has Written

I've always wanted to write a book. Why wouldn't I? I love reading, so of course, I want to contribute to the bookshelf. I had never tried to write one before, not because of a "fear of failure" but because I was afraid I wouldn't like writing. I was worried I wanted to be an author but would hate the process of getting there. It's an important distinction because if you don't enjoy at least some parts of the writing process, you'll never make it to the end.

The best moment I had while writing wasn't when I finished the book or put the final word down on my last round of editing before sending it to a real editor. It was when I realized that I like writing. That even if I never become an international sensation, I enjoyed writing. It made me want to rip my hair out and bay at the moon, but even that was kind of fun. I even liked the panicked moments at 3am trying to fill in plot holes.

Admit That Plotting Is Not Writing

People can spend years plotting out their book and never actually get down to writing. This makes you an experienced plotter, but it doesn't make you a writer. Only writing makes you a writer. I'm a pantser—I write on the fly rather than plotting out my book— so I have bias,


Seriously, research and then research some more. You can save yourself a lot of editing time if you make big decisions earlier in the process rather than later.

Some things to consider:

  • What POV are you writing in? First, Second, Third?

  • Is the narrative going to be told from more than one perspective?

  • What structure do you want to apply to your story?

  • What genre are you writing, and what is its average word count for that genre?

Common Writing Advice I Disagree With

Write a short story

Why? You want to write a book, not a short story.

Using writing prompts Ugh, no. I have no issue with fanfiction or writing prompts in general, but if your goal is to write a book, then write a book.

Write about your own life

Unless your long-term plan is to write a biography, I don't see how this is helpful.

Draw up an outline

Okay, to be fair, this might be decent advice for some. So the idea of starting with an outline is horrifying to me. If you are an extreme plotter, go forth and plot, but consider reducing the time you spend plotting, particularly if you are new to writing. Too much plotting can become a distraction. You feel like you are building your book when you haven't even started yet.


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