I’m currently taking a writing and blogging sabbatical due to family health issues. For now, I’ll repost selected articles from my Fiction Writing School.
How to Write a Book When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing
by Angela Ackerman
I want to write a book.
You remember when this big idea first hit, right? Maybe you were browsing for books, waiting for an author’s autograph, or sitting in stupefied awe after finishing a great novel. The idea took root and then, bam, you’re rushing to a stationary store to gear up, buying all the notebooks, pens, sticky notes, and highlighters you can carry. You browse online for writerly things—a cute laptop sticker or a mug that says, “Writer at Work.” The moment that mug arrives, you’re filling it with something or other, setting it next to your stack of notebooks, and pulling the keyboard closer, because IT’S TIME.
You open a new document. Your hands flutter to the keyboard. This is it—the magic is about to happen.
Onscreen, the cursor blinks. And blinks.
Boy, the page is so white. How did you not notice before? And that infernal flickering cursor… is it just you, or does it seem kind of judge-y?
And that’s when you realize your big idea has a second part to it:
I want to write a book…but I have no idea where to start.
Thankfully, this truth, while inconvenient, doesn’t have to stop any of us from writing. It may seem daunting at first, and doubts might try to sway us (What was I thinking? I can’t do this!), but I’m here to tell you that, yes, you can write a book.
7 Tips for How to Write a Book When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing
Not knowing where to start is a problem countless writers before us have faced and figured out, so if you are feeling a bit lost when it comes to your big dream, these seven things can help you move forward and better yet, jumpstart your writing career.
Sure, this seems obvious, but starting can be paralyzing. We worry about committing our ideas to the page because what if they resemble some four-year-old’s Cheerios-and-glue “masterpiece”? Well, guess what? They might, and that’s okay. Great storytelling takes time, and if that didn’t put off Stephen King, Susanne Collins, or Nora Roberts, it shouldn’t stop us, either.
To begin, try dreamzoning. Jot down your ideas, or try outlining the story you envision using one of these methods or this outlining software. Or start with something small, like a short story or scene. At the start, our goal should be getting comfortable with putting words on the page and have fun, not pressuring ourselves into penning the next Game of Thrones.
2. Read and Reread
Reading is so enjoyable we tend to forget how each story is a treasure trove of education on what makes a book good, bad, or off-the-charts great. So read widely, thinking about what makes each story compelling. Look for characters that stand out, story worlds that seem so real you feel part of them, and plots that keep you flipping pages long into the night. Ask yourself questions:
- What made certain characters larger than life?
- Did their personalities, complex motives, or a truth they live by pull you to them?
- What scenes and situations seemed the most real to you?
Studying where you fell under the storyteller’s spell can help you see how you can do the same for your readers.
3. Join a Writing Group
One of the best things you can do at the start of this journey is find others on the writer’s path. A community of writers puts you in touch with those who have the same goal, meaning you can learn from and support one another. Plus, having creatives in your circle helps to keep you accountable, meaning your butt stays in the chair and words get written.
4. Collect a War Chest of Knowledge
We all start with some talent and skill, but to write well we need to train up. Visit Amazon to find writing books with high reviews so you can judge which might be most helpful for your development. Make note of the title or ISBN and order them at your favorite bookstore.
Another way to build your knowledge is by subscribing to helpful writing blogs. Bite-sized learning can be perfect for a time-crunched writer. I recommend exploring Katie’s sidebars because Helping Writers Become Authors is full of storyteller gold. Visit this page on outlining, and this one on story structure because understanding how a story works will help you get your first ideas off the ground so much easier. And the Story Structure Database is a great way to see all this plot and structure information in action.
You should also make learning about characters a priority because they drive the story. Getting to know who the people in our stories are and what makes them tick helps us understand what’s motivating them, and that makes writing their actions and behavior easier. Once you have a better handle on plot and character, turn to other storytelling elements and techniques. There’s so much great stuff to learn!
5. Take a Course or Workshop
Investing in guided or self-guided learning can also kickstart your progress. The community is packed with great teachers. Below are some good options, but first, if you belong to a writing organization, check to see if they offer members classes for free or at a discount.
- Reedsy Learning Center
- Bang2Write Courses
- Lawson Writer’s Academy
- Jami Gold Workshops
- Jerry Jenkins
- Writing for Life Workshops
- Michael Hauge (Hero’s Two Journeys)
6. Look For Step-by-Step Help
As any writer will tell you, the road from an idea to a publish-ready novel is a long one, and it’s easy to get lost along the way. It’s no fun when we don’t know what to write next, or we don’t know how to solve a problem in the story. And, if we get too frustrated or our writing stalls for too long, we might end up quitting. Having an expert offer guidance as you write can keep you on track.
Some writers like to partner with a writing coach so they get personal feedback and support as they go. If this is something you might like, here’s a list to start with. A benefit is that you’ll learn a lot about writing as you go, but depending on how long you need coaching for it can get a bit costly. So another option might be the Storyteller’s Roadmap at One Stop for Writers. This roadmap breaks the novel-writing process into three parts: planning, writing, and revising. It has step-by-step instructions on what to do as you go, and points you to tools, resources, and articles that will make the job easier.
The Storyteller’s Roadmap also has built-in solutions for the most common writing problems, so whether you need to overcome Writer’s Block, Impostor’s Syndrome, or stop new ideas from derailing your story, the Code Red section keeps you on track.
7. Above All Else, Be Fearless
Starting a book can seem like a monumental undertaking, and sometimes with big dreams, we have the tendency to try and talk ourselves out of them. We fear failing, because we think that’s worse than never trying at all. If you feel the passion to write, don’t let fear stop you. The world needs great stories!
- Should You Take a Break From Writing? 5 Red Flags
- The Writer’s Inner Critic: 11 Ways to Tell if Yours Is Healthy
- A Writer’s New Year Reflections: The 6 Gifts I Gave Myself in 2021
- Top 10 Writing Posts of 2021
About Angela Ackerman
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Her bestselling writing guides are available in eight languages, and are sourced by U.S. universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold 750,000 copies. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers as well as One Stop for Writers, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Come nerd out about writing with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.