Just recently I’ve met a few people out and about, and through conversation mentioned that I’m an author, with my first YA novel, 22 Scars, published last October. Most people express an interest, but these folk also mentioned how they’ve been toying with the idea of writing a book themselves. Some have even tried writing a chapter here or there, but the most common factor between all these people I meet is that they haven’t yet sat down to actually write.
I used to be that person. I used to dream—in fact did dream for almost ten years—about holding a book of my own in my hands, but I never really understood how to get there. I didn’t have a concept of what it took to write a full-length novel, or what it meant to put thousands upon thousands of words to paper.
But now, here I am in 2018 with three full-length novels to my name (two under my fantasy alter-ego, Satis), out in the wild and available to anyone and everyone. And every one of these people asked me, how did I get there?
Whilst I can’t tell you what will guarantee you success, I can tell you what worked for me. And hopefully, some of it will ring true to you, as well. Here are some of the key points that helped me write those two, long-sought words: The End.
- Start small. For me, this meant blogging. I started a blog in 2011 at satiswrites.com, and whilst at first I really didn’t know what to write, it eventually became quite popular, and was even featured on the WordPress front page twice. At last count I had nearly 4,000 followers. I’ve let that blog slide recently in favor of this one, only because I’m focusing my efforts on YA at the moment, but it gave me a chance to practice writing on a regular basis without the pressure of creating a finished product set in stone.
- Understand the basics of novel writing. I don’t mean show vs. tell, or rising and falling action; that comes later. Rather, understand simple things like how long your story should be, and how many words you can type without fatigue. These are important things to know: for example, epic fantasy novels are often upward of 80,000 words, and sometimes exceed 100,000 words.* A contemporary Young Adult novel, on the other hand, could be as short as 50,000 words (though generally not much shorter).
- Plan your story. This is the fun part—the part where you get to exercise your raw imagination. There are no rules here but what you make for yourself—but be careful, because you’ll have to follow these rules later on. Decide how you want your story to end, who lives and who dies, and imagine those favorite scenes that you know are going to delight and shock the readers. Have fun with this.
- Structure. Once you have an idea of what’s going to happen, start to break it down into sections and chapters. For my fantasy, that meant five sections per book, with five chapters per section. This allowed me to set an overall theme for each section, and more specific events for each chapter. I thus split the story into essentially twenty-five individual events, each one leading into the other. Title them to remind you what’s meant to happen in each.
- Do some math. If you know that your epic fantasy is going to be 100,000 words long, and you have twenty-five chapters, then you know that each chapter needs to be around 4,000 words long.
- Set an end date. For this, I looked to one of my favorite authors for inspiration. Charles Dickens is famous for his serialized novels, in which a new chapter or part would be published each week. This meant I had twenty-five weeks to write my book.
- Do more math. From here, I was still finding the idea of 4,000 words a week daunting. So I broke it down even further. If I wrote 1,000 words on each of my two days off, that left 2,000 words over five days—400 words a day. And 400 words I can write (this article is already at 679).
- Write. People forget this is the most important step. Without it, all your work so far has been in vain. You absolutely must write 400 words a day without fail. You must write whether you feel like it or not. Whether you are inspired or not. Do not backtrack; do not edit. Just write. No being too busy—make the time. For me, this meant changing my daily routine: I would come home, have dinner, put my son to bed, and spend between 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM writing. My wife saw very little of me during this period, but she understand certain things must be sacrificed to achieve our goals.
And lo and behold, in twenty-five weeks—about six months—I wrote a book whilst working a full-time job and raising a son. And I can tell you, the sense of satisfaction, elation and crowning achievement that came with writing my final sentence was second to none.
This process—and believe me, I wasn’t doing it intentionally at the time—was fundamental to completing my novel. Without it, I would still be stuck on my four-hundredth draft of chapter one. Instead, I spent the time since July 2014 writing and publishing both the sequel to my fantasy work and the story I’m most proud of: 22 Scars.
So if you’re stuck in draft hell, knowing you want to write a story but uncertain how to make it actually happen, try following these steps. You might be surprised where it gets you.
And good luck!
* I use word counts instead of pages deliberately because pages mean next to nothing in a digital era. For comparison, my 100,000-word fantasy novel is around 350 printed pages.