I’m often asked what advice I would give to a new writer just embarking on this creative path. I’m going to limit this post to my best advice for someone writing their first book. Forging a career as a writer would take another article entirely!
So, you’ve got an idea for a novel. You’ve always wanted to try and write one. How do you begin? What are the most important things to keep in mind as you go? Let’s keep it simple with these top three tips for new writers:
Create regular time in your schedule.
If you seriously want to finish a project, you have to be realistic about how much time it’s going to take and plan accordingly. A new writer may not know what their average daily word count is yet, or what time of day they are most productive. They may be limited by other activities – day job, kids, or other commitments. So, my best advice is to carve out a regular time that works in your schedule, and stick to it for a few weeks. For example, you may be able to get up an hour earlier and use that time while the house is quiet. Or, maybe it’s only Saturday mornings for now, but you can get four hours in at the coffee shop every weekend.
Make a schedule, stick to it, and then adjust accordingly when you have more information about your own habit life. Here’s an article on time management for writers that you may find helpful: 5 Tips for Time Management: A Busy Writer’s Guide.
Even if it’s pretty awful. The lessons learned from sticking with a novel from start to finish are invaluable. You will learn how to hook your readers with a solid beginning, how to craft a scene and then a chapter, how to work through the sticky middle, and how to bring your story to a conclusion. You may not do these things well yet, but you will have completed the process, and that’s more than most aspiring writers ever do.
Also, finish your manuscript so you’ll have something to edit. Maybe the first draft needs to be scrapped entirely, and you’ll use the lessons learned to write the next, better manuscript. Or maybe you have something worthwhile that needs to workshopped and edited. You won’t know unless you finish it! Here are some more thoughts on why it’s important to finish what you start: Just Finish It! You’ll Be Glad You Did.
When I finished the first draft of my first manuscript, I was thrilled. I popped a bottle of champagne and celebrated. You should too. Completing a manuscript is a huge accomplishment worthy of more than just a pat on the back. But, and this is a big but, a first draft is nowhere near the finished product. Be prepared to have your book baby thoroughly critiqued.
Editing is hard. Sometimes, it requires you to tear apart your manuscript and reassemble it. Sometimes, it requires full character edits. Sometimes, the language needs to be finessed chapter by chapter. Sometimes, all of these things need to happen. Editing is not for the faint of heart, but every manuscript needs it, and not just by your mom or best friend. If your intention is to have a manuscript worthy of publication, you have to do the work in edits.
When you’re a new writer, it’s hard to know how to approach editing. I’ve written a couple of articles you might find helpful. Check out: Editing: What’s all the Fuss?, Get the Most From Beta Readers and Critique Partners, and Tackle Developmental Edits: A Five Part Strategy.
Writing your first novel is exciting! It’s satisfying when a story from your imagination takes form on the page. It’s even more satisfying when other people actually read and enjoy it. If you make the time and stick with it, you’ll finish that manuscript. Good luck!