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How to Write a Book: 5 Steps for Getting Started

The best way to stifle creativity is to force something that just isn’t there. So give yourself a leg up by creating the perfect environment in which to write and create. These are just a few of the tips that have been the most helpful to me as I've started to slay the novel-writing dragon.

1. Find your perfect time and place.

Late at night after the kids go to bed.

First thing in the morning before anyone is awake.

A predictably blissful moment of quiet somewhere in between.

It doesn’t matter when, but figure out when the creative juices flow best for you, and stick with that time. Don’t force the process by trying to write something big, scary and exciting at the wrong time. Use that time to read a book by an author who inspires you, or to work on another piece of writing, like a journal or an old-fashioned letter. Pretty stationery, anyone?

Regardless of what time works best for you, settle into a space that feels safe and secure. Writing a novel is sharing an intimate piece of yourself with the world. Find a location that makes you feel safe enough to open your heart on your page.

2. Make it a priority.

Don’t wait until all the other items are checked off the to-do list. Put the novel at the top of the to-do list.

Any form of writing—but especially a labor of love like a novel—is a form of self-care. Writing an extensive work is therapeutic in its ability to bring to the surface all the little demons that are lurking deep inside. There’s a reason Stephen King is such a well-adjusted human being: all his crazy is out on the page.

3. Hold yourself accountable.

Set a deadline with a specific, measurable goals. But also manageable ones.

Don’t tell yourself that you’ll write a novel this year. Instead, tell yourself that you’ll write a rough plot outline by the end of this month. Or that you’ll identify two possible sources of conflict by the end of this week. Or that you’ll brainstorm a few different settings and free-write within them by the end of this day. Few things are more inspiring than seeing actual productivity unfold, no matter how small.

When acclaimed writer Mitch Albom describes his writing process, he notes that he always ends on a high note. If you stop writing when you're frustrated, you'll be less likely to return to your project. But if you end with a beautifully crafted sentence or after you've finally resolved a sticky plot point, you'll be excited to return to the project the next day, as opposed to being filled with dread.

4. Revise. Don’t trash.

Move the text you don’t like to another page or another document—or to another room in your house—but don’t delete it altogether. So many things that don’t work in one section, or even for one character or one conflict, may end up fitting beautifully somewhere else. I’ve tucked away sentences from old columns that have found their way into my early sketches for this book. High-quality words and turns of phrase have a way of working their way in somewhere.

And don’t kick yourself when you don’t love absolutely everything you write. Or if you hate absolutely everything you write. Good writers are always the best (worse?) self-critics. Don’t get so bogged down by all the things that aren’t working that you aren’t able to see all the beautiful things that are.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Not a grammar guru? Totally ok! Many great writers--even successful novelists--definitely aren’t. Thankfully, that’s a super easy thing to fix. Write without censoring yourself, then go back and catch all the little things. Or double-check yourself with one of my grammar or writing guides. They’re a great check for any step of your writing process.


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