How to Start Writing a Book Today: Goodbye, Procrastination!
If you’ve never written a book before, starting one can seem like an impossible feat. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of the job, to the point where adding even a single word to that blank screen feels like a Herculean task.
The truth is, there is no “one weird trick” for how to start writing a book. But there are several steps you can take to begin the project organized, energized, and confident about the task ahead.
Step 1: Conquer your fears
Let’s be honest: at the end of the day, the biggest thing that holds most of us back from writing a book is plain-old fear.
We’ve all got insecurities when we start new things, and a book is no different. The most important thing you can do for your writing career is to learn how to deal with the fear of the “blank page,” because the truth is that you’ll have some of this every time you start a book — not just your first one.
That said, it’s not as tough to deal with as it may sound. And luckily, there are a few tried-and-true methods that will help you break through that block in no time.
Accept that some bad writing will happen
It’s genuinely okay if not all of your sentences are good — in fact, you will definitely write some lines (or even whole pages) that make you cringe. This isn’t a sign that you’re a bad writer: every writer will produce more than a few clunkers in their first draft. Yes, even your favorite author!
When you’re just starting out, don’t worry if anything you write sounds awful. It’s entirely possible that some of it isn’t as bad as you think, but even if it is, that’s what editing is for. You can fix a lot of the problems in the second (and third, and fourth) draft, and once you’ve self-edited as well as you’re able, professional editors can help you polish it up to perfection. Right now, the only thing you need to worry about is getting it done! Remember the old saying: You can’t edit a blank page.
Get yourself a support system
No writer is an island. Hopefully your friends and family will be encouraging of your writing endeavors, but even if they’re not, there’s plenty of people who will be happy to have your back. As you begin your writing journey, seek out other writers for support, encouragement, and to bounce around advice and story ideas. Consider finding:
- A writer's group, where you can either chat about the craft or exchange work for critique
- Local classes and workshops, where you can not only further your education but find friends and mentors
- Writer's conferences, for networking opportunities, and to spend a few days soaking in the enthusiasm of other writers.
And don't forget the power of the internet! There are plenty of virtual spaces where writers can connect as well.
Understand that there’s no better time than now
Procrastination is every writer’s bane. And let’s be honest: you could probably be starting your book right now, instead of reading about how to start it.
There’s nothing wrong with doing a little research, of course, but don’t make the mistake of letting it replace actually writing. The next time you find yourself stalling, opening up Google, or launching one of the many distracting apps on your phone, ask yourself: are you going to be happier at the end of the day if you continue doing that, or if you’d opened up a blank page and started writing?
We bet we know the answer. And we bet, deep down, that you do too.
Which contemporary author are you?
Step 2: Create a writing routine
Now that you're taking yourself seriously as a writer, it's time to treat it that way. After all, knowing how to start writing a book isn’t going to do you any good without a plan to keep writing it. Unless you want your writing career to peter out after a few chapters, you’ll need a routine in place that will allow you to put in the time to see your book through to the end.
Goals, deadlines, and schedules… love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re an important part of every successful writer’s life. Learning how to set useful, productive goals will help you invaluably as you set out on your writing journey.
Start by taking the target word count for your project (as determined by your genre), and dividing it by the number of days until your deadline. This will give you a base sense of the pace you’ll need to maintain in order to achieve it. If it’s genuinely too much, you might need to revise your deadline or targets, but otherwise use that as your starting point.
Try to build in some days off, as well. Not only do a few scheduled breaks allow your creativity a chance to recharge, but you’re going to run into days when your productivity is lower than you’d like. Building in a cushion for yourself allows you to have “cheat days” where you write less than your daily goal (or even not at all!), but still maintain your ultimate deadline.
Figure out what time of day you’re most productive
Are you a morning writer? A night novelist? A lunchtime creator?
Typically, everyone has a sweet spot: a time of day where the words flow easier and your muse is feeling generous. If you’ve never written before, it may take a while to figure out yours — the answer may even surprise you.
Before committing to a full book, take a week or so to see what works best for you. Then comb through your schedule and see what you can rearrange to give yourself a consistent slot in that timeframe. You won’t always be able to work at your ideal time, of course, but try to schedule it as often as you can — at the very least, knowing when you work best will help you avoid scheduling your writing for when you work worst.
Carve out a writing space that works for you
It’s important for writers to have a space where they’re both comfortable and uninterrupted (or as uninterrupted as possible — we understand that real life doesn’t always work out so neatly). The benefits of this are two-fold. One, it just makes it easier to concentrate. Writing takes a lot of time and thought, and even a bit of distraction can throw off your entire groove. But also, by having a set location where you work, your mind will come to recognize sitting down there as time to switch to productivity mode.
The biggest things you'll want to consider when setting up your writing space are:
- Is it comfortable? This means taking care of your posture, as well as being a space you'll be happy to spend time in. You'll be putting in a lot of hours here, so it's important to care for your mind as well as your body.
- Is it private? Again, you don't want to be interrupted it you can at all help it. Sometimes this means you'll need to wait until the kids are in bed, or sometimes you have to repurpose a room with a door that locks. Worst case, consider a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to keep distractions at bay.
- Will you have a place to store your things? While all you really need to write is a stack of paper or a computer, it helps to have a little more space to spread out. After all, you do need a home to store your notes, research material, and writing craft books. A hidden corner for snacks is never a bad thing, either.
Feel free to try out a couple of different spots at first, until you settle on your ideal location. And don't be afraid to mix it up once in a while! Writing in coffee shops is always a fresh way to break out a rut.
Step 3: Plan your book
Okay, so you’ve bolstered your confidence and carved out a time and place where you can concentrate on your project. You’re ready to write, but there’s just one problem: you’re still not sure what you’re writing.
Even once you’ve figured out how to start writing a book, you’ll want to spend some time developing it. That way you’ll know where you’re going and will be much less likely to run into a bout of writer’s block.
Explore your idea
The first thing we’ll do, is take your broad idea and develop it into a full concept.
There are a lot of things to consider as you develop your book, and the way you’ll go about planning it will vary depending on whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. For a detailed fiction walkthrough, you can watch the rest of the above video series here. Some things you’ll want to consider at this stage are:
- What kind of themes and questions do you want to explore in your book? The power of friendship, the inevitability of death, an examination of the grief process?
- Potential plot twists, and any tropes you might want to use — if you’re writing fiction.
- Building your world and the characters that live there — if you’re writing fiction.
- What other books have said about the topic already — especially if you’re writing nonfiction.
Outline your book
The amount you outline is going to vary depending on whether you consider yourself a “plotter” (someone who plans everything out in advance) or a “pantser” (someone who writes by the seat of their pants). But regardless of which camp you identify with, we suggest having at least the broad strokes laid out before you start.
Why? Writing a book is a large undertaking, and even if you don’t want a detailed map of everything, you’re much less likely to get lost if you at least have a compass. Pinning down the beginning, a few ideas for the middle, and a clear end point will leave you lots of room to explore, while still keeping you on target.
You can learn more about exactly how to outline your book here, and even download a free template to get you started.
Write down everything
When you’re just learning how to start writing a book, you’ll probably be so excited about your project that it may be all you can think about. In this early honeymoon phase, it’s easy to imagine that you couldn’t possibly forget any of the ideas sparking around in your brain. After all, this book means everything to you. How could you not remember your main character’s birthday, when you know them as well as you know yourself?
Trust us: you will forget details over time. Sometimes even the big, brilliant idea that finally solves the plot hole you’ve been trying to fill may get lost in the shuffle. It’s not a sign that you’re a bad writer or that you don’t know your story — it just means you’re human like everyone else. Consider keeping your notes:
- In a dedicated journal
- In a notes app on your phone or computer
- Filed in a binder
- On a series of sticky notes or notecards
Regardless of how good or bad your memory is, it’s important to capture inspiration when you’ve got it. Just be sure to keep all your ideas in one place, so you don't lose them and need to solve your problems all over again!
Free-write to break the blank page
If you still can’t quite get yourself to sit down at the blank screen, consider taking the pressure off: “mess up” the top of your document a little. This is your first draft — no one has to see it except you. Don’t worry at this point about nailing your opening line or what makes a good first chapter. Instead, just open up a document and free-write the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe it will be a scene of your story, or maybe you’ll write about how nervous you are about the task ahead. Anything is fine, so long as it builds the momentum you need to break through and do what you’ve set yourself to do: start writing that book!
Ready to get started? Grab yourself one of the best writing apps, and begin your writing journey today.
[Updated 11/30/2020 UTC]