At live author events one of the first questions I get is always about my writing process. Everyone wants to know the secret of how to write a book. I’m going to answer that here, but only after I go on record saying that nobody should write books the way I do.

My standard writing process is this:

1) Come up with an idea and type furiously for about a page and a half.
2) Put that idea aside because I’m supposed to be working on something else.
3) Come back to that idea a year later.
4) Start writing a random scene.
5) Continue to write random scenes in whatever order feels right.
6) Get confused.
7) Open a second document and start copying and pasting sections in the order they’ll actually appear in the book.
8) Figure out I have a massive gap that I forgot to fill in and return to the first document to write that scene.
9) Repeat until the story is finished.

Seriously, I do not recommend this method. So let’s see what other authors have to say on the subject.

Advice on How to Write a Book

More reasonable authors have a whole alphabet soup of advice to offer. I am reprinting them all here without remorse because they’ve all been repeated so many times that they don’t really belong to anyone anymore.

A journal with the words "am I good enough?" written in markerSet aside a specific time and place to write
Write everyday
Write fast, edit later
Create an outline
Write first thing in the morning
Get your writing done in the evening
Write whenever you have free time
Guard your writing time
Avoid distractions
Don’t wait for inspiration
Listen to music while you write
Read something inspiring before you start
Reward yourself for writing
Don’t read while you’re writing
Assign yourself goals
Set deadlines
Set a timer
Use a writing prompt to get started
Kill your darlings
Write longhand
Use special software
Butt in chair. Hands on keyboard.
Start with characters
Plot first
Start with the problem in mind.

The careful reader will notice that some of the pieces of advice above directly contradict each other. This brings me to my last point, my real advice on how to write a book.

Don’t try to perfect your writing process

Try all of the tips mentioned above, or none of them. The goal is not to write in any particular way, but to find a method that works for you. Then give yourself permission to write that way until it stops working. Perhaps the only non-negotiable in the whole list is “Butt in chair. Hands on keyboard.”  But even that one can be modified. Maybe it’s butt in grass, on floor, in hot tub, under tree, or in air (I’m not here to judge). Maybe hands are on pen, on quill, or on the back of your head while you dictate to your speak and type software.

Let’s not get distracted here. The point is: you can’t write a book if you don’t write a word.

There’s no one way to write a book. But there is one way to guarantee you won’t write a book. That involves getting so worried about perfecting a process that you never get to actually putting words on the page. Related ways to prevent yourself from writing include, waiting until you’ve perfected your writing space (see note) and worrying whether you’re good enough (read this!).

Note: For more on this topic see the poem “Making a Chair” in the book Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman.

If this post triggered an idea, made you think in a new way, or just annoyed you, I’d like to hear about it. Email me and tell me what’s on your mind.