What would I have liked to know before writing a book? Well, the truth is that there are many things that I would have liked to know before writing a book. Unfortunately, when I started out, when I was writing Blackwood: Skin and Bones – now in its third edition – there was very little information out there. There were a few long-standing manuals, a couple of American blogs, and little else.
Today there is already a lot of information. In this blog, for example, you can find articles about structures, characters and even how to write your novel with only 9 questions.
But I want to go a little further. I want to make a list of things you should know before writing a book. Useful and condensed information, nothing of 5000 words going around in a circle.
35 things you should know before writing a book
1. First and foremost: finish what you’ve started
The hours that I would have saved myself from knowing this … Or paying attention. Right now, there are about 5 half-drafts on my hard drive. Do you know the bad? That, although I know that I will never write them, they are still there, annoying.
If you are going to start writing something, plan the writing to the end. Finish the happy novel you have started. Because if you leave it halfway, every now and then it will come back and bother you.
Writers finish what they start. The rest are those who talk a lot and do very little.
2. The time is now
Which means that if you stop to review the previous scene or the last chapter you’ve written… Whoosh! You get lost and you screw it up. When you write, write. Forget reviewing, revising and everything that does not have to do with putting a new phrase on paper.
I know it is very difficult not to stop to reread… But believe me, if you lose your momentum and stop, it will cost you a lot to start again.
3. The first draft is a conquest
Imagine that they disembark you on the beach. The gangway of your boat goes down and you, along with hundreds of thousands of other soldiers – let’s go with keyboards like you – go down at full speed. Bullets rain down millions around you. Many of your companions fall to the ground shot, but you continue.
Your only mission is to conquer that happy beach. The only thing that separates you from death is a sticky, mine-filled piece of sand — hello, procrastination. You have to get over that, reach the tip of the beach: write your first draft.
You will have time, when you take the beachhead, to worry about the bunker and the battery of machine guns —aka proofreading and editing—.
4. Paint with your fingers
Do you remember how much fun you used to have when you painted with your fingers? Do you remember that you didn’t mind getting dirty? Well with your first draft you should do just that.
Take out that novel from within, vomit without regard on the blank page. Enjoy yourself, have a good time and don’t stop to think if this will be right, wrong or if it makes sense. Let go of it, as if you were Elsa.
You will think that you are writing a lot of garbage. And it may be true. But when the time comes to rewrite, you will see that there is more than one pearl out there.
5. The first draft is for experimentation
The first drafts should be born in laboratories. The beauty of a first draft is that you can have fun and get it all out there, experiment. Be daring, get out of your comfort zone.
When you check you can load everything that does not work, but take advantage and take out everything that you carry inside.
6. Writing is rewriting
According to Memoir Ghostwriters, Writing is putting the words on the page. Editing is turning those words into something meaningful. The first draft is the birth of your book, but now it has to grow. Editing and rewriting will be his adolescence and maturity, in that time he has to learn many things.
7. There is no rush
If you were a circus knife thrower, you would only have one chance. If you miss the shot, clap… Well, clap whoever is on target. But you understand me.
The great thing about writing a book is that you don’t have to worry about it. Even if you have a heavy editor who sets you up for impossible times, you have every opportunity in the world to improve your novel. Write, edit and rewrite as many times as you want.
Don’t be in a hurry.
8. Know when to finish
Contradicting the previous point, I will tell you that you have to know when to finish. If you leave the rice on the fire too long it will stick to you. You have to know when to stop.
Perfection is your worst enemy. As Gabriella Campbell said, done will always be better than perfect. You can’t get lost in a rewriting loop, if you do, you will never finish writing your book.
Write until your book is good. Do not look for perfection, because you are not perfect, nor do you know what a perfect book is … Because it does not exist.
9. Your team
You’re not alone. You are not a lonely Ronin without a clan. You have readers. You have fellow writers. The purpose of writing a book is for it to be read. Gather your dream team and give them the material to read.
Writers are the worst judges of our stories. You need someone else to see your work, someone who hasn’t spent hours in the trench. Your readers will give you good advice, they will know how to differentiate the good from the bad, the real from the unreal.
10. The carousel of hatred
Writers live on a roller coaster of emotions. About every 10,000 words we reach a peak or a valley. This week we love what we are writing and tomorrow, when we reach the bottom, we will hate it.
This spiral of hatred will kill you if you let it take over. You have to keep writing, even on those days when you think it’s all rubbish.
11. Mental health
No mentally healthy person writes.
Accept that you are part of a segment of the population that lives for weeks with imaginary people, in imaginary places. That is our magic.
12. Don’t abandon your child… And if you do, dismember him
Go back to point one. Don’t make me come looking for you. Finish what you are writing.
If you ever quit — because believe me, you will — don’t just quit. Use the good parts. Stick with worthwhile chapters, scenes, or characters and save them for other projects.
13. You can write very fast
I know this point can be quite tricky. But if you put your mind to it, you can write a book very quickly. I finished the first draft of Family Secrets myself in less than 3 months.
If you do it right, if you have a clear outline, an outline, time to focus, and you know which direction to take in each writing session, you can write 5,000 words per session. I know it’s complicated, but it can be done.
An 80,000-word novel, writing 5,000 a day, would take you about 16 days. I’m not telling you to do it, or that you can, or that you’re going to do it. It’s just so you know.
14. Write something
80,000 words is a lot. A reader who is faced with that will spend a lot of time with you. He will spend many hours reading you, so please say something important.
I have read novels in which the author rambles for the first 40 pages. From there, things don’t improve either, because it gets lost in an episodic narrative in which things happen without a real thread.
Every part of your novel has to be important. Not only the story, but also the narration and, above all, the characters. Write about something.
15. The shape of the letter
A page in a book should be more than just a wall of letters. It also doesn’t have to look like a poem. Remember that the shape of each page matters.
Don’t mess with long, endless paragraphs. But don’t abuse staccato and telegram-like phrases either. Constructions of the type “sentence, point, sentence, point” are boring. But the sequences of compound phrases also.
Find your balance, reading your book should also be a visual experience for your reader.
16. The numbers of your novel
If the novel were a recipe, it would be something like: 48% action, 48% dialogue, and the remaining 4% exposure and description.
You may or may not agree with this recipe. The problem is that I usually go overboard with the descriptions and what I get is to make the reading very slow. The reader does not like to dwell on the details of a molding, what he wants is to see the monster crawling down the hall.
If you are going to write a book, remember that a novel is better when it lives in the present, when action and dialogue go hand in hand to accompany the reader.
17. I just lied to you, sorry
Dialogue is action. Action is doing something and talking is something, right? In fact, dialogues work even better when the protagonists are doing something.
People talk while doing other things; while we drive, when we walk, when we shop. We are always talking and doing things. Your characters are not puppets, or static drawings. Use language and movement in dialogue. Make the dialogue serve to energize a scene, provide a background while you make everything move.
18. The subtlety of the details
Descriptions work best when they are subtle. I like descriptions and when I abuse them, I create a postcard instead of a scene. I turn something dynamic into something static. A novel cannot be static.
When you describe something, choose a detail – three at most – and that’s it. Give the reader a brushstroke, a little detail that puts him in the situation and move on.
19. The reader is your pawn
The reader wants to work. He doesn’t know, so this will be our secret, don’t tell him.
If you want to write a book that engages, don’t tell your readers everything. Don’t chew it all up. The reader wants to work, wants to imagine. You want to create the character in your mind. Don’t describe every freckle, every wrinkle on his face. Let him be the one to imagine what the characters and places are like.
If you write horror this will be especially important. Don’t give too much detail. Leave things in the shadows. Anything your reader can imagine will be 1000 times worse than the worst you can write.
20. Too many people
A novel can have too many characters. It is not that there is a specific number. It almost always has to do with your ability to control all these people.
Novels like Stephen King’s Apocalypse or A Song of Ice and Fire have hundreds of characters. But its authors know how to handle all these people. If you don’t have that much skill, maybe it would be better to cut out, remove characters.
Stick with a group that you can handle without a problem. You cannot let them do their ball, you have to have the reins and control them. If you are not able to give each of them a life of their own, they are not worth having. The characters need a soul.
21. Gender Matters … Until It Stops Mattering
A good novel is a good novel. And it doesn’t matter if it’s fantasy or science fiction. If you have a good idea, gender shouldn’t matter.
And it doesn’t matter that you’ve written 8 fantasy novels and are considered a fantasy writer. If you want to write a historical novel or a crime novel, do it. A good book is a good book.
22. The Swamp of Eternal Stench
Starting to write a book is very easy because it’s like BOOM! A brilliant idea appears, it dazzles you and you make a rundown and you can’t wait to write. You wear it and your blood boils because it is the best thing that has ever occurred to you.
Problems appear when you have 15 or 20 thousand words. More or less, on page 100. Here the terrain, which was flat and asphalted, becomes a succession of slopes and quicksand. If one of these catches you, bye.
The best way to combat this tedious second act is to dismember it. Think that they are several actors together, with a beginning and an end. Break down the overall action and work with smaller pieces. You can also challenge yourself to write X words per session or per scene.
The issue is getting out of that death trap before it catches you.
23. It’s a long journey
As I just told you, writing a book is a long and often tedious journey.
If you don’t want to drown or die of boredom, play with the times. Variations will be your oxygen bag. Play with the variations of scenery, character, scene … Give movement to the text to give your life and not fall asleep.
Don’t let your story turn into an ordinary middle-class guy. If at any time your book buys a house in an urbanization … Burn it to the ground.
24. Go through the maze
Compass, map, rundown, bareback … Each writer is a world. Each one writes at their own pace. Writing a book is something very personal and your novel will have needs that only you will be able to cover. No one will be able to tell you how to do it.
When you write you are alone. We each have our rhythm, our way of moving forward. When you are deep in that forest, listen only to your voice. Let your voice guide you through the process.
25. Writing a book is easy, writing one that can be published is another roll
I have a personal struggle with a novel. It has been written for more than five years. I love the story, I love the protagonist and the antagonist … I even know that it could make a good series of novels … But the sad reality is that it is not a novel that can be published.
Making a chair is easy. I could make one by gluing beer cans and chopsticks … The thing is, no one would want to sit on it … and I wouldn’t be surprised.
Writing a book that can be published requires you to put all the meat on the grill, leaving behind several corpses along the way. The first novel you write may not be good. The second, maybe neither. But as you write, you will gain strength, you will understand that on each page you must leave a little skin, a drop of blood. Write, read, write more, and when you’re done, rewrite everything.
26. We are legion
The Internet is 48% porn and 52% writers. You are not alone, so take advantage of the fact that you are surrounded by writers to feed on them, to let yourself be advised, to read them and to learn.
Create a community, but at the same time, stay away from them. It’s okay to receive feedback, but don’t be swayed. Don’t let them change your style, gender, or let them take an idea out of your head — no matter how much that person who advises you knows.
Listen to all the advice, participate in the conversation with the other writers, but always keep your opinion and your ideas above the others. Follow your instincts, because in the end, no one can know better than yourself what is best for you.
27. It all starts with a character
William Faulkner used to say: “Usually everything starts with the birth of a character. That character stands up and begins to walk. All I can do is jog after him, following him with paper and pencil, trying to write down everything he says and does.
If your character won’t start, ask him:
- What is most important to him?
- What does he want?
- What are you afraid of?
- What do you like to do?
- What do you need?
As he answers these questions, you will see him begin to walk and pick up his pace.
28. Know your space
I’ve already told you that you don’t need to describe every door in detail. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to know every trim in that house. Your job as a writer is to know perfectly the setting of your stories, that will give you enough authority to write real scenes.
The setting is like a character and you should treat it as such. Each place has a personality – a beach is not the same as a cemetery. Treat your scenarios as a character, give them life and details. Then save those details for yourself.
29. The time machine
When you’re going through the quicksand of act two, some of the scenes will be boring. Surely this is where you will be in danger of abandoning the project, new ideas will assail you and they will seem more interesting.
Allow yourself to jump forward in time and space. Leave that boring scene and write another scene that excites you. Then when you’ve recovered from that boredom, go back and write some more.
If you don’t work with an outline, doing this can be tricky.
30. I have written a book, now what?
It would not be bad if, before writing a book, you take into account what you plan to do with it. Do you know what publishing options you have? Do you know what options you have?
As a 4.0 writer you have to do a bit of field work. Nowadays you have it very easy, all the publishers in the world are at a search engine stroke. You don’t have to limit your options—or your home country or country of residence. Publish with foreign publishers if you think you will have better options.
Amazon and self-publishing in general are another great outlet for your texts. If your thing is to fly alone, nothing like self-publishing. You will be the owner and lord of your product and you can do with it whatever you want.
31. The Orchestra Man Strikes Again
Do you think that by having a publisher behind you can relax? Error!
Even with the best publishers, much of the promotion and marketing of your work will fall on your back. I understand that editorial marketing is not for you, that you are just a hard-working writer… But the sad reality is that, without visibility and without a strategy, you are sold.
Many publishers will publish you if, in addition to your manuscript, you show them a marketing plan.
32. The marketing of the miserable
Believe it or not, promoting a book can be done without spending a penny. It is true that a small investment in adds will go a long way, but when it comes down to it, you can create a marketing and promotion plan without spending any money.
From the outset you have many blogs with information on these issues, MOLPE or this blog itself, they have a lot of information on how to promote your book.
I know that in the comments you will tell me that you do not have time. But he who wants something, something costs him. Soak up as much information as possible, learn to sell yourself — not giving much per bag — and spend time on your book. At the end of the day, it is YOUR book and no one is going to treat it better than you.
I also started in all this without knowing anything. I was an unemployed anthropologist who closed a brewery in 2010… I wrote a book… and realized I needed to learn something more… I spent many months of my life understanding how marketing works and now I am here.
33. The largest bookstore in the world
Amazon is the largest bookstore in the world … And it lets you sell your books in it … Do you really need anything else? Millions of eyes pass through its shelves every day and you have the possibility of being on them.
Self-publishing has changed a lot in a very short time. Today you can print on demand — so you don’t have to eat boxes of unsold books. You hardly have to risk anything, as these services are almost free.
34. Become a good partner
Traditional publishers have been trying to get back on track for quite some time. Faced with the change in the publication’s scheme, they are adapting and that poses several problems for them.
What they look for in a writer, more than a name and a good story, is to find a good partner. Someone you can trust, a solvent guy who can sell X books on his own, without depending on marketing or promotion from publishers.
Understand this as an opportunity for you as a writer. If you are able to move around on social media, create a promotional strategy and get the chestnuts out of the fire, publishers will want to work with you.
We have an example of this in self-published authors who, when they reach certain sales numbers, are usually claimed by publishers.
35. They are just business
Nobody hates you. Nobody has anything against you. The universe does not conspire against you. Publishers are businesses. If a publisher does not publish your book, it can be for many reasons, including that it does not have a good commercial profile.
It’s very unromantic, I know. But this is how things work. Don’t hate publishers or publishers. Whether you’re publishing with a publisher or self-publishing, you’re getting into business. Never forget about this.
I could go on and on … And I’d almost hit 100 tips … But I think that’s fine now. However, I would like to know what it is that you would have liked to know before writing a book
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