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Last updated on Nov 15, 2021

Start Writing a Book Today: 7 Steps to Success

If you’ve never written a book before, starting one can seem like an impossible feat. The scale of the job is sometimes so overwhelming that adding a single word to that blank screen feels like a Herculean task.

Though starting out is perhaps the most common problem faced by writers, the truth is that there is no universally-approved method 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. 

1. Brainstorm for ideas

Some people start writing a book with a very extensive plan in mind, while others are pantsers by nature. But both types of writers share a common need for ideas — in other words, a place to start from. 

Finding inspiration

Here are a few approaches to try if you’re looking for inspiration:

A plot generator

An example of the many story ideas available on our plot generator

Here at Reedsy, we’ve built a free and super fun plot generator that can create 500,000+ different plots for you to try out. You can tell the generator to give you plots in a certain genre, or really throw caution to the wind and randomize everything. It’s just for fun, of course — you don’t need to stick to all of the variables it offers, but if you see something that feels promising, you’ve got your next writing exercise carved out for you!

Writing prompts

Need some broader ideas? Head to our directory of over 1,100 creative writing prompts for more story ideas than you could ever possibly have time for. Remember that prompts are simply meant to spur you on: you should feel no pressure to adhere to a prompt once you get started. The idea is that once you get going, you’re more likely to start seeing potential avenues forward than when you’re simply staring at a blank document. 

A few prompts, as a taster:

More unusual approaches

In our post on finding book ideas, we’ve listed some more unusual ways to source story materials — you can find more concrete examples in the post itself, but here’s the TL;DR version of our suggested ways to start a story:

Are you overthinking things? Commit to just writing something — sit down at your desk, and place an imaginary character in an imaginary situation, then start to play their actions out. If you’re writing nonfiction, start with a paragraph that explains what it is you’re trying to say. You might hate what you’re writing, but at this stage you need to close your mind off to self-criticism and just persevere — you’ve got all the time in the world for editing later. For now, show up for your writing and let it come to you.

2. Turn a good idea into a good plan

There are a lot of things to consider as you develop your initial idea into a full-length book, and the way you’ll go about planning it will vary depending on whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Some things to consider at this stage are:

  • What kind of themes and questions do you want to explore in your book? E.g. the power of friendship, the joy of romantic connection, an examination of grief
  • 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.

To outline or not to outline?

Whether you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser, we suggest having some broad strokes laid out before you start, at the very least. 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 have a compass. 

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Pinning down your book’s 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.

3. Carve out a writing space

Often, what’s stopping writers from writing isn’t necessarily a lack of ideas, but the lack of ideal writing conditions: a comfortable chair, peace and quiet, perhaps a nice window with a lovely view, and a lack of interruptions…

But let’s be honest, whether it’s noisy neighbors, demanding pets, or children who need you, this ideal is mostly unattainable. With that in mind, you need to figure out how to optimize what you’ve got for your writing.

Optimize your writing space

A collage of four stock images showing people writing in various locationsThe biggest things you'll want to consider when setting up your writing space are:

Comfort 🛋

This means taking care of your posture, as well as choosing 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 body as well as your mind.

Privacy 🔕

Again, you don't want to be interrupted if 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 or a “Do Not Disturb” sign. Worst-case scenario, consider a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to keep distractions at bay.

Storage 🧺

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 drawer of reward snacks is never a bad thing, either.)

Atmosphere 🕯

See what you can do to make your space a little more inspiring. If you don’t have a regular writing spot and have to do what you can on the kitchen table, maybe all you can do is light a calming candle. But if you’ve got room for more decision-making, perhaps decorate your writing corner with some motivational quotes or an art print that makes you happy — or adopt a relaxing plant friend for your writing area.

Feel free to try out a couple of different spots at first, until you settle on your ideal location. Don’t be afraid to mix it up once in a while! Writing in coffee shops is always a fresh way to break out of a rut — and if internet stock images are anything to go by, writing on mountain tops seems to also be a popular option.

4. Identify your best working hours

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Are you a morning writer? A night novelist? A lunchtime creator?

Everyone has a sweet spot: a time of day where the words flow easier. Now that you’ve established where you’ll be writing each day, you can try what author James Clear describes as “habit-stacking” — attaching a new habit to an already existing one, to make the likelihood of returning to the new habit greater.

If you’re used to starting your days with a short walk, for example, make it your habit to always come home and sit down straight away to write for half an hour— no in-between tasks. Maybe you always take a shower before bed — you can make it your habit to shower and then head immediately to your desk to write for a while before bed.  

Start by taking a week or so to see what works best for you. Then comb through your schedule and rearrange things as much as necessary to give yourself a consistent slot. 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.

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5. Create small, achievable goals

A writing routine is the first essential step towards amassing a significant amount of words for your project, but what’s going to keep you going is setting specific targets.

Set goals

Start by taking the target word count for your project (as determined by your genre), and dividing it by the number of days until a self-set deadline. This will give you a sense of the pace you’ll need to maintain in order to achieve your goal. If you discover it’s too much, you can always revise your deadline or targets, but otherwise use that as your starting point.

Screenshot of the Reedsy Book Editor interface

We recommend using the Reedsy Book Editor, our free writing and formatting software, which calculates what you should be writing daily in order to meet your goal, tracks your writing progress, and sends you gentle reminder emails when you fall behind.

Try to schedule some days off, as well. Not only do scheduled breaks allow your creativity a chance to recharge, but you’re going to run into days when your productivity is worse 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.

6. Set up a support system

Don’t write alone! Whether the support you need takes the form of the physical presence of friends (who you can get together with to write in silence), or the encouragement of a non-writerly support system, it is always easier to maintain momentum when you’ve got someone rooting for you.

Find the right encouragement

How to Start Writing a Book | Get a support system
Writing is often more fun with a friend. (Image credit: Andraz Lazic on Unsplash)

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. Look for:

  • A writing 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 to connect with other writers, as well.

Tips for creating accountability

  1. Have a go at doing some timed writing sprints, where you set yourself a timer during which you are not allowed to turn your attention to anything except your manuscript. Do these with your friends, or replay one of our YouTube Write-Ins for some virtual company!
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  1. Ask a friend if they would mind being your writing accountability partner — if they’re up for it, you can text them updates of your progress every day (or on the days when you were planning to write). Alternatively, start an anonymous social media account where you document your progress and engage with fellow writer accounts.
  2. Tell others you’re working on a book! Sometimes, all it takes is a sense of external expectations.

7. Don’t sweat the first draft

First drafts are not meant to be perfect. (In fact, if you think your first draft is perfect, you’re probably in for some unpleasant discoveries relating to the quality of your manuscript later on.) Release yourself from the pressure to create something dazzling while you’re still trying to get the words out. Right now is not the time to feel bad about the quality of your writing: it’s the time to feel proud of yourself for taking control of your life and dedicating time to your writerly aspirations. Not everyone can say they’ve done that, can they?

Also, in case you need to hear this: it is genuinely okay if you don’t think your sentences are any 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!

Editing comes later

For now, 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 (including Reedsy’s!) 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 edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.

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– Originally published on May 25, 2020