Where I work, none of my coworkers are writers but many of them are super fascinated by the fact I have books published. They ask me lots of questions about my books and about the writing and publishing process, which I don’t mind at all–I love to talk about writing! However, one question I’ve heard several times is really hard to answer: how do you write a book?
If you’re a writer, you know there’s no easy, simplified answer to this. The answer is also not the same for every writer. Writing a book is a very complicated, convoluted process that happens as much in your head as on the screen. However, I want to try to figure out a satisfactory answer to this question, even if it turns out a bit long. So I’m going to try to break it down here.
How to write a book:
- The Concept. I use ‘concept’ instead of ‘idea’ here because of that other question writers get: “where do you come up with ideas?” Ideas are hard to explain too, and there’s no one single idea that spawns an entire book. The book isn’t a singular cohesive idea that falls in our lap. A book is a series of ideas: some come from things we see and hear, some from our life experiences, some come from the story itself, and some just show up in our heads. So I say ‘concept’ because that’s the thing that makes up the framework. I have a vague idea of how I want X and Y to come together and make Z happen, I just don’t know all the details yet. The concept is the general idea that I start working with.
- Build some characters. I try to sketch out, if just in my head, what some of the main characters are like before I begin writing–their names (subject to change), what they look like (also malleable), their backgrounds, what they’re fighting for, what they want. I often start with a sketch and slowly fill them in with detail and color as I write.
- Start writing. This is sometimes harder than it sounds. Start where? We always want to start somewhere interesting for the reader. In the middle of some kind of action, where something important to the story is happening. We don’t want to info-dump a character right away. After all, when you meet someone in real life for the first time, you don’t know everything about them, do you? You gradually learn about them over time. We also don’t want to start somewhere boring or irrelevant. It’s hard to pick a place to start. But once you do…
- Write, write, and write some more. Just start writing until you figure the story out and crawl your way to the end. I also get asked how long it takes me to write a book. It’s hard to say. It depends on how lazy I am, if I get stuck somewhere, if it’s really speaking to me, how much time I have in a given week–it varies. Also, that’s just speaking of the first draft. There’s also rewriting and revisions.
- Now you have a book! Of course, when you get to the end, it’s not the end. There’s still much more work to do. And then when that’s done, your editor will give you even more work.
And that’s how you write a book. Sorta. It’s hard to explain the magic that happens between your brain and fingers. It’s hard to explain what a struggle it is at times and a sheer joy at others. I say if you want to write a book, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do, and also the hardest thing you’ll ever accomplish.