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An Author’s Guide to Completing Your First Book

So, you want to write a book, but you have no idea where to start. Maybe you have already started writing a book but haven’t been able to complete it. Well, continue reading to find out how to mark your book ‘complete’!

Okay, so, before we start, let me tell you: it is going to be a long journey, so grab a cup of coffee, your laptop and/or a pen and paper, and saddle up!

One of the most important things to do during this process is to not give up. There will be times when you feel downhearted, are doubting your writing skills, or are just too darn busy. It is always okay to slow your pace, but it is never okay to give up. The process will take at least a year, so a steady pace is key!

To begin the process, you will need an idea. This is a given. However, what is not a given is how well-developed your idea is. The better developed your idea, the easier the process is going to be. Once you have your core idea, start to develop its ‘branches’. These branches can vary in length and magnitude as they help you connect your main points, or ideas, together.

Okay! So, you have completed your first step! Now what? It is time to start writing! But it is not what you think. Before you begin writing your story, you must develop an outline. This outline will be your lifeline when you begin the writing process. It can literally save you. If you feel you are veering away from your core idea, your outline will guide you back on course, and if you are experiencing writer’s block, the outline will tell you your next scene to write and its details which will help you break down that wall. This is probably the most important step in the writing process. Writing an outline not only allows you to develop your ideas but also makes the writing process much smoother and faster!

It is good to break up your outline into ‘parts’ and ‘chapters’. Think of each part as a section of the book where an important event/thing happens. You could even think of it as the good old plot diagram where one part would be the exposition where you introduce your characters and the world you have created and give a peak at the plot. The following part would be where the rising action takes place. This is the part where the plot begins to develop, and things begin to heat up. It is also usually the longest part and holds the most material. This part is the ideal area where you can add new material if you are getting towards the end of your outline and realize you do not have enough material to make a complete novel or reach your word goal. Make sure that this part is extremely well-developed as it is an easy place to create plot-holes.

From here, we get to the climax where the biggest action takes place. Oftentimes, the climax may be more towards the last ¾ of the book or closer to the ending instead of smack-dab in the middle like the plot diagram suggests. The climax does not have to be just one chapter; the climax in my book ended up being roughly 5 chapters. This part will most likely be the shortest ‘part’, so do not get discouraged if you don’t think you are putting enough material in. This is why we have the falling action where your characters come down from the climax, or recover and rebuild, or learn from the climax. This is often the ‘sigh’ in the book where everyone takes a deep breath and regroups, leading to the resolution or conclusion. The resolution part can vary in length greatly. You can have a short resolution of one or two chapters or have a J. R. R. Tolkien sized resolution of 10+ chapters. I am exaggerating, but you get the picture. The most important thing I can tell you when developing the resolution is do not rush. The resolution is an extremely important part of the outline and book. It can either make or break your story. If it is rushed, the reader is going to sense that and will not get the satisfaction the story deserves at the end when they close the book or swipe on to the next story. The resolution is the end of the book where we can see the light, and we are anxious and excited to finish the story and mark it complete, but I cannot tell you enough: give the resolution the tender, loving care it deserves. Savor it. You worked so hard to get there, so enjoy the moment. You will regret it if you don’t.

Okay, so at this point, you are sitting down to write your outline. But how do you do that? Simple: bullet points. Bullet points will be your friend. They are great at organizing your thoughts, and you can make it as cute or cool as you want by changing the usual circle-dot into a cool arrow, shape, or cute symbol. Do not be afraid to utilize the layered bullets. They will help you define the underlying ideas for each element in the chapter. Begin each chapter with your outermost bullet and type/write what you want to happen in the chapter. From there, start filling in the details that must happen to reach the chapter’s goal. The more details you put down, the easier it will be to write the chapter later. Repeat this cycle for each chapter. If you come upon a chapter that you do not have a lot of ideas for, simply state the chapter’s goal. The smaller details may come to you when you are writing the chapter later. Try to have a goal for each chapter. The outline for the first chapter of the book that I am currently working on has around 500-600 words. Some of the other chapters have 400-500 words, and others have more. This will make the finished outline roughly 40-50 thousand words as I am aiming for a 150 thousand word novel with an estimate of 100 chapters. It is up to you how much you want to put into each chapter. I understand that everyone has their own word goal for their book, so your outline may not have as many words, or it may have more. (Note: a thorough outline for a novel will take 2-3 months to complete w/ a couple hours of devotion per day)

Something that helped me get through this process was music! For each book I develop, I create a playlist specifically for the book. The playlist is basically a compilation of songs that fit the mood, vibe, characters, plot, and essence of the book I am working on. This can really help motivate you and get you into your ‘headspace’ when writing. I know music is not for everyone. Some people like to work in a quiet space, so making a playlist may not be for you. But if you love music, try putting together a playlist when you are developing your idea. It can help to motivate you when you are in a slump.

Now that you have your outline completed, it is finally time to write your first draft! We are already 2-3 months into the process, but developing the outline will make writing your first draft so much easier than it would have been if you just sat down and began writing. The key to reaching the end is consistency. Sure, there are going to be days when you are fired up and can whip out multiple chapters, but there are also going to be times when it is a struggle. You can use the extra chapters or words you wrote the days before as a buffer and take the day off. But I would advise you to be as consistent as possible and set goals. For example, when I was writing my first book, my goal was 800-1000 words a day and not necessarily to finish a chapter. On a good day, I was able to quintuple or even sextuple my goal. And on rougher days (these were seldom, but they did happen), it was a struggle to even produce 500-600 words. If I did not have my outline, it would have taken me twice as long to finish.

Now, to tackle the daunting concept of ‘writer’s block’. This is something every writer will experience at some point in his/her/their writing career, even if you are writing as a hobby. The time one will be affected by writer’s block varies with each writer. I have had writer’s block many, many times, some lasting up to a year. But the important thing is that I did not let it stop me from writing. The method I found that handles my writer’s block the best was actually developed during that year where I had my longest writer’s block. Here it is: never only work on one book at a time. Always have at least two ideas going. You do not have to be in the writing stage for both but have at least one idea being developed in your mind while writing the target story you want to complete. This saved me and helped me break down that daunting wall. This is how it worked: I had writer’s block on my target story and, for the life of me, could not write anything. I had no motivation and was burnt out. Then, I began developing a new idea which then created a spark for my target story, and I was back on track. Whenever I felt I was slowing down, I would go back to the second idea and just give it some love and bask in it for a time. Whenever I did this, I would almost always get an idea for my target story. I would be inspired for my target story through the ideas I developed for the younger, fresher story in my head. This is an unusual method, and I understand that it may not work for everyone, but I thought I would share how I battle writer’s block. Using this method allows me to constantly bounce back and forth between ideas and stay fresh. I hope this helps and can inspire you to create your own method. You will definitely need a method to battle writer’s block if you want to stay consistent in your writing.  

Okay! Now that your first draft is complete, it is time to enter the editing stage. This is a long stage as there are multiple layers. First, re-read the entire book yourself from front to back without skipping any chapters. You will be amazed at how many small mistakes you will catch. Once you have re-read the entire story, take break and step back from the book. Let it sit for a while and don’t think about it. This may take some time; it will depend on the person. It may be a week to a month or several months. Once your brain has been reset, go back to the book and read it again from front to back. This time, since your mind has been off the story for a while, it will be able to pick up more things that you may have missed the first time around. It may even be able to catch parts of the story that need a little more development. Do not rush through this part as it is a crucial step. Give yourself time to actually read and digest your book. Once you have finished reading it and tweaked the areas that jumped out at you, re-read the book again and focus on areas you edited. Once you have finished reading the edited version of your book, grab a cup of coffee (maybe add something special) and celebrate because: Congratulations! Your book is now complete!

This article does not cover all the layers of editing you will need to do if you are seeking to be published. It just covers what you will need to complete your first draft of your book. If you are looking to be published, I highly recommend re-reading the entire story at least two more times before going on to the next step which is getting either your peers or someone senior to you (or both) who is well-versed in literature and the genre you are writing to read through your book and give feedback. The feedback you will receive is invaluable and crucial when you sit back down to write your second draft. The more reviewers you can get to read your book, the better! Once this is complete, move on to writing your second draft and repeat the process into your third draft or until you are satisfied. From here, conduct thorough research on where, when, and how you want to be published. There are several articles and books on how to get your book published, and I highly recommend you check them out! These steps are also applicable for online publishing and webnovels!

Whew! There is a lot more in this than you thought, isn’t there? Writing and completing a book is no joke. It takes time, love, and devotion. It is something you must really, really want to do. You need to have that spark that will not get burnt out. Completing a book is not for the faint at heart, but with proper motivation and time management, anyone can do it! I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. If you are a new writer and are aiming to complete your first book and want some more guidance, feel free to reach out to me 😊 My Instagram is @zoechaibrown, and my dms are always open! Thanks for reading!

Passionate about writing, photography, and travel and am currently studying architecture at Texas A&M University.
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