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Writing Your Book: Tips on Getting Started

Writing Your Book: Tips on Getting Started

Over the past month, where due to the unusual world circumstances, many of us have found ourselves having extra time at home on our hands, I have received quite a few e-mails from young aspiring writers asking me for advice.

I have found myself repeating the same steps in my replies to everyone on the ways I approach my own writing. This brought me to the thought that it might prove useful to outline my points in a blog post which I can direct people to. Thank you to the lovely Georgia for being the first one to give me the idea.

Of course, everyone works differently, and the most important thing is to find what works best for you. Below are just some suggestions that I find personally helpful in getting yourself started on that book you keep saying you are going to write, and yet somehow never do. I hope it inspires you to pick up your pen or turn on the computer and make that all important start.

• Book it in!
Schedule yourself a set time every day that is solely your book writing time and stick to it religiously, so that you keep yourself super disciplined to get it done. I usually set myself a timer on my phone and give myself a target of the minimum I have to write in that window. That will differ depending on the type of day you are having. If it’s a weekend and you have the day to yourself, you may write for three or four hours and aim to get several pages done. If it’s the end of a long working day it is more realistic to challenge yourself to just an hour and a single page. Either way, be firm and don’t sway from your self-imposed targets.

• Lovely Location
Where I write has an enormous effect on how I feel about it. I think it’s important to sit in a happy, inspiring place with appropriate mood music playing. I often burn candles or have incense wafting too. My favourite places at home are my library or my garden. Find yourself a quiet comfy spot where you know you won’t be disturbed and will feel in the creative zone.

• Mind Mapping
The first thing I always do when beginning a new story is to create either a mood board or a mind map, giving an overall flavour of what I want the book to be about. This should be a really fun, enjoyable process. It’s where you start bringing your imaginary world to life by laying down what were just ideas in your head onto actual paper. I note down any vivid character and place names, the settings, potential conflicts and adventures – anything to get my mind working. Jot down all that comes into your head. Even adding sketch or photograph images can be useful at this stage.

• Timeline
Next, I start creating a chronological timeline from beginning to end of what I envisage happening when. That then helps me break everything down into numbered chapters. If I have, say 20 chapters for example, I’ll write a short paragraph under each number of what that particular chapter is going to focus on and be about.

• Spinning the Page
The next big stage is taking a chapter at a time and doing what I call ‘Spinning the page’. I set my timer and just write, write, write without stopping for that full hour till my alarm goes off. Make sure you don’t edit yourself as you go, however tempting that may be! What ever comes out, let it. It is far easier to go back afterwards and shape what you have done into something better, rather than just staring at a blank page. Don’t worry at this point if you are feeling that what you have written is not actually any good. Just get writing! I love the quote “The desire to write grows with writing.” I have a copy of that saying on my desk where I write to keep me motivated. The more you immerse yourself in the world of telling your story, the more you will want to keep going. I promise that is how it works.

• Editing Time
Once I have completed a full chapter, then I will set myself some editing time. This is when I read back over what I have done and review honestly how I feel about it. It’s important to read it out loud to yourself, so that you can hear and feel the flow of the language and whether it will sound right to a potential reader. You’ll find at this point that you want to alter certain words and phrases, correct your spellings and punctuation, and also add in more detail to the things you are describing. Keep going this way through all your chapters. Once you have a full book, remember this is still only the first draft. Renowned fantasy author Terry Pratchett says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

• Read, Read, Read!
If you’re working on a book, the only good excuse you have not to be writing in your free time is if you are reading. Author Virginia Woolf said, “Read a thousand books and your words will flow like a river.” Whatever you are writing about, you will want to make sure you have thoroughly done your research on that topic and got all your facts right. For example, when I was working on ‘The Faery Tale of Aqua Marine’ a huge part of the story takes place beneath the ocean and I made my way through piles of books and pages of internet sites about marine life and habitats. But your reading doesn’t just have to be research for your own book. Observing the sounds of other authors who you enjoy, respect and admire can only help you get better at your craft. So never stop reading. Also, watch films. See plays. Listen to the conversations of those around you. Drink in everything you see. The whole world is a story just waiting for you to tell it.

• First, Second, Third Draft …
Here I sit and read through my story at least a dozen times, every new cycle changing and redrafting to get things exactly how I want. I imagine I’m the reader picking this book up for the first time and considering how it will affect me. Now it’s time to pass it on …

• Proof Reading and Copy Editing
I fully recognise that as the writer I am not the expert on the presentation of my book. That is for the professionals. There comes a stage where I must pass my work on to someone far cleverer than me who can scrutinise it for error and mistakes. Every book needs someone removed from its content to review it and offer their kind but constructive feedback. Often after this, it’s back to the drawing board with yet another round of re-drafting again. Remember what Terry Pratchett said!

I hope this offers you some help and also inspiration. Let me know how you get on, and if you want me to have a look at anything you have done, I would love that. I shall leave you with another lovely author motivational quote; “The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Happy writing!

Copyright © 2020 Melanie J Firth