Writing a book is never an easy task. No writer will tell you it is. If they say as much, they are lying. No matter how much you prepare, hindrances arise in story writing like compound interest until date of maturity—when the story reaches fruition after the final draft. Even then, there is always cause for editing and rephrasing. That is why those of you who are never satisfied and never settle will find writing a story both a tedious task and a rewarding one. There is no perfect writing, just as there are no clear-cut answers to philosophical questions. Just as the philosopher never rests in his or her quest for knowledge and answers, so too does the writer never rest in his or her journey to narrative perfection. However, there is no perfect writing. There is only pen, paper, and what the mind deems as worthy for the reader.
This discourse will be a guide to turning idea into finished product, as well as the nitty-gritty along the way. Here are some things to keep in mind, should you ever decide to write a story: you, for the most part, are an accumulation of all the books you have already read; you will start to question every little detail in the stories you continue to read throughout your life; you will question every sentence and eventually every word you write; time is the greatest ally when writing a story; the bane of a writer’s pen is, and always shall be, delay; the stories you write will forever dominate your worldly existence; you may have to sacrifice worldly affairs for writing, if you are dedicated and set on completing your work. That is a lot to take in, but by the end of this discourse, all will be explained. This is to be a guide to writing a story, not an exact, technical how-to. There will be little mention of how to hone your narrative voice or write good dialogue, but rather the big focus will be on the aspects of writing that go into storytelling as a whole. Writing good dialogue and narrative and how to improve both is a whole new discourse for another day. Anyways, for beginners, this discourse will definitely aid your endeavors. For more experienced folk, perhaps some new light will be shed on your knowledge of storytelling that you previously were unaware of. As always, the truth will be told—nothing more, nothing less.
First comes an idea. You cannot tell a story without having an idea of what to tell. Think of writing a book along the lines of telling a story aloud to an audience in the same room as you. You would not be up before the crowds unless you had an idea of what you were going to say. Without an idea, there are no words, no chapters, and no book. Without an idea, there is no writer. And so, the first task which is appointed to you is to ideate. You—yes you—already have ideas roaming in mind, just as you all already know what your passions are. You just have to brainstorm. Drawing back to what was earlier stated, you are an accumulation of every story you have ever read or been told or, if you already are a writer, have written. Do not forget that you tell stories all the time; when you go back home at night or visit your friends, you tell stories, hopefully about big ideas, but more likely of people. That is good, for people are central to a good story. Without characters, there is just void. If you think your setting is enough to tell a story, think again—your setting is a character of its own. If you cannot think of a story to tell, think again. Keep on thinking. No one can tell you what to write about. In a sense, they obviously can, but you will not want to write about anything unless you love the idea. If you grew up with the fantasy genre, then you would do well to write fantasy. If you grew up with the historical fiction genre, then you would do well to write historical fiction. The same goes with all the other genres out there—science fiction, mystery, nonfiction, romance, dystopian and utopian fictions, horror, apocalyptic, futuristic, and so on and so forth. Even so, if you write in one genre, reading other genres as well as your preferred genre goes a long way. There is much and more to learn from all the various genres of literature. Keep an open mind, follow your heart, and get to work. Before this goes any further, let it be known that writers must always read. You will come to understand that you always need more books to read like you always need water to survive. A writer needs books.
Once you have your idea, you must make a decision. There are three options: one, plan; two, improvise; three, improvise and plan. What is meant by this? There are three types of writers. There are those who plan everything and make layouts ahead of time that describes, in detail, what is going to be written, chapter by chapter. There are those who write one sentence, then the second, third, fourth, and so on until the book is finished, all without planning a single chapter ahead of time. And there are those who outline—plan—chapter by chapter but only that; they write chapters without outlines but only know that they have to reach a certain endpoint by the end of each chapter. Regardless of which you are, know that at the very least, a general plot diagram must be made before page one. You must know the story’s exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution or conclusion. Not all stories end resolutely, and so a ‘conclusion’ is the more fitting word. If there are to be multiple books in a series, then the end of book one will be, in a sense, be a transition, rather than a conclusion. The end book’s last sentence is the ‘resolution’ of the entire story. Even then, though, sometimes stories are finished in a gray or unresolved manner. If you choose to be a planner, good for you. But know that all plans—especially for writing—never play out the way you wish them to. Nevertheless, planning the entire plot ahead of time makes for an easier time writing scenes, for some people. Just keep in mind that being a planner often requires extreme amounts of time aside from story writing to prepare, outline, and perfect a sort of “pre-draft” before getting started. Also, planning stories from start to finish, with all the minute details is tedious work; you will likely fall for the trap of lingering on minor details for much longer than necessary. If you are okay with that, then, by all means, be a planner. If you choose to be an improviser, good for you. But know that without a plan, you will run into a lot more trouble along the journey, which is why a mix between planner and improviser is, more often than not, a great route to take. That is not to say that one route is better than another, but planning chapters as you go is much easier and takes less time than planning a whole story, detail by detail, whilst still accounting for what needs to occur by point X.
With choosing a style of writing to take, you must also consider just how long the story you are aiming to tell is going to take. A lot of beginner writers tend to fall into the pathway of making their story into a series of books. This is totally awesome and cool, but there is no need for this unless it is necessary. Bad writers extend the story beyond its necessary length. They tend to ramble on and on and tell the reader a lot. Decent writers take the time to cut out unnecessary details and give the reader what he or she wants. Great writers take their readers on journeys and really show the reader what good storytelling is. If a story can be told in one book, then write one book and move on to the next book idea. A lot of fantasy and fiction tends to be written in series, and that is because there is a lot of fantastical world building going on that require thousands of pages in total. If you plan to write business or some autobiography, there is unlikely to be a reason for any more than one book. With all that in mind, make sure you know ahead of time how many books it is going to take to bring your story’s plot to completion.
There is a lot that goes into writing a book, on the prose level. What is meant by prose? Prose is your narration style and how you actually tell the story, word by word. A lot of research should first be conducted if you are to hone your prose. Grammar is a huge issue many novice writers struggle with. Even more important than researching dynamics and structuring is practice. No writer who ever lived wrote a book from start to finish without practicing. Practicing, on an individual level, is downright the golden rule of writing, if there is one. A writer never stops improving his or her storytelling abilities. Even when they die, writers are said to still be running through ideas and moving their fingers in the grave. That is because writers are constantly in need of practice. Without practice, there is no writer. Without practice, there is nothing. What is meant by practice, in storytelling sense? Practice character development. Interview your characters on paper, aside from your story, and give them situations in which they are faced with struggles. How do they react? What are their ambitions? Where do they want to be by the end of the story versus where they actually conclude? Practice your prose. No one can teach you how to be a better writer. No one can tell you how to be a better writer. That is the truth; that is not just the Variety Editor of the Archway telling you his thoughts. That is the way of a writer’s journey. Even if it were not true, who is better to teach you the ways of anything but your own self? There is no greater teacher than yourself. You have to figure out how to learn on your own and for your own sake as a writer. So really get into developing your voice. Do not write in J.R.R. Tolkien’s voice. Do not write in J.K. Rowling’s voice. Do not write in James Patterson’s voice. Own your own voice. Establish your voice in the writing community, and readers and publishers will come to respect your words and language for what it is and who you are.
If you have difficulties as you write your story, do not fret. In fact, if you do not, you would defy all the laws of writing. You are going to fail, repeatedly, in your writing. You are going to reach dead end after dead end in which you do not feel you can overcome and continue. You are going to want to give up and start anew on some other work. Look, if you have not realized by now in your life that failure is a part of success, then something is wrong. Failure is being talked about and written about everywhere today, ranging from all kinds of media. Everyone says the same thing about failure, and that is that it is “failure is a path to success.” Well, there is no kidding, there. This is the twenty-first century, folks. Failure should be welcomed and smiled upon when you face it, for you will only learn by failing. You will learn how to continue writing, despite failure impeding the path. You will learn how to continue writing because of failure. You will learn why failure is necessary. To see your book in stores one day, assuming that is your goal, then you will fail to the point where the bookshelf is no more than a dream. It is so likely that publishers will reject your work when you send it to them on the first few attempts. It is so likely that those who critique your work will rip it apart and tell you nugatory things that might discourage your writing journey. Here is some good advice: listen to what people have to say, but do not listen to what people tell you to do. Use them—yes, use them—as resources for your advantage. Your readers are your audience, and if they do not like what they read, then so be it. Others will. At the end of the day, your decisions are your own and your word is true. No book out for sale since the beginning of all time has ever been liked by every single person on Earth. The same holds true with the law, the way of life, and every idea that has ever been presented to anyone. So, if you fail in writing, smile. If you call a failure “writer’s block” then you need to take a step back and change your mindset. There is no such thing as “writer’s block”. This is just another, more attractive phrase for “I am lazy and discouraged.” The only way to get over such discouragement is by practicing and practicing some more.
As mentioned previously, characters make up stories. Along with characters is conflict. The two are really intertwined together, and so characters and conflict are paired as one unit. Why? Because where two characters exist, there will always be conflict. If you think otherwise, think again. Even if two characters have the same ambitions, no two characters think alike. Characters should mirror human beings if they are human characters. If they are these implausible people, very few readers will be convinced their actions, thoughts, and decisions are possible to happen. Without characters, there is no story. There is also setting, plot, theme, point of view, and symbolism. Setting is where and when the story takes place, whether it in this universe, planet, world, age of life, past, present, or future. Plot is what the story is about and how it gets from point A to point B. Theme is all about leaving a lasting message for the reader to take away and reflect on. Skilled writers will include themes that govern a reader’s way of life for the rest of his or her days. Point of view is divided into first person limited, first-person omniscient, second person, third person limited, third person omniscient, and third person limited omniscient. These six could be a discourse of their own, and so I will not get into detail with each. Perhaps another day. Symbolism is basically what certain objects or people symbolize. For example, does a character’s motivations symbolize a real-life king’s motivations? Does your setting symbolize a part of the world that we live in? Does your theme symbolize a theme portrayed throughout the course of life, such as life and death, light and darkness, good and evil? Every story includes all of these elements. If they do not, well, that is rather unfortunate to the reader.
Time is so valuable to a writer. Writing books is only a daytime job for a select few people on this planet. For them, they have a lot more time than say a W2 worker or a full-time student. That said, you cannot ever gain or acquire additional time in life. Eventually, you will write no more. When that day comes, whether you have had your stories published or not will have been up to whether you took the time, now, today, to finish what you started. Furthermore, there is no “finding” time. Novice writers just starting out or wanting to start will say “I can’t find time to write.” Experienced writers will answer, “You must find time to write.” Experts will enlighten you with this advice: “You must make time to write.” If you think that tomorrow will come, you are mistaken. You can never know that. Imagine today was the last day you had to write. What are you going to do to advance your story to where it needs to be? Make time. Stop saying you cannot find it. Time is always there for you. It does not discriminate. Wake up an hour earlier. Go to bed an hour later. Set aside an hour or two of your day to purely write your story, otherwise you will get nowhere. Some writers pump out 2000 or 3000 words per day. That is rather much for beginners. Start with 300 to 500, or even once scene each day. No one is asking or telling you to keep on writing at a rapid pace. At least not yet. Look at big-name authors like Martin or Rowling or King. Their readers not only ask but demand they finish their next book. That is the sign of a successful, celebrated writer. This is where there is no improvising able to be done. You must plan ahead of time. You must know, each day, when you are going to write, not a day in advance, but months in advance. Again, plans go sideways often, but if you practice good habits, you will be amazed at what you can do and accomplish. Understand that a book, in almost every case, cannot be completed overnight. It requires patience, persistence, and a yearning to see to its end.
Along with making time for writing comes the question of where to write. Some writers need one particular spot to write at optimal levels; some enjoy nature, some enjoy quiet, secluded areas like a desk, bedroom, or even an attic. Others find they are capable of writing wherever they are at whatever time of day. Know that by getting into the habit of writing in the same place and at the same time of the day, you will have a much easier time staying consistent with your work and producing at optimal levels. The journey is all about consistency, habit, and will to succeed. Make it happen. Explore where and when work best for you. Some find they are able to write prose much better at nighttime than during the day, and so they will take to staying up into the wee hours of the night to get their daily writing goals in. Others swear by mornings and believe the brain is rested and refreshed upon waking up, so, they will always write before sunrise. It does not matter to anyone but you what time you choose to write and where you choose to write. What matters is that you know, and that you practice good habits.
Commonly, you may come up with ideas—sentences, a paragraph, even a monologue—that you eagerly wish to include in your book. However, if such ideas do not fit the context of your story, do not force them into your story. Save those ideas on another page for later use where they are of better use. When an idea comes to mind, always write it down. That is perhaps the greatest advice you will hear in life. Whether it be for stories, businesses, or life itself, always keep a journal of some sort and a pen on your person at all times, so that, should the occurrence come to pass in which you have an idea that will change the world or add to the context of your stories, you will be able to document such ideas for later use. Ideas pop into mind more often than you think—especially as a writer. They are like dreams. Unless you repeatedly tell yourself, over and over again, the idea until you are able to write it down, they are likely to escape your consciousness and be lost for all eternity. Be smart. Be prepared. You never know when the next idea will come.
Beginnings. Page one is, as bad as this seems, the make or break of the story. Publishers will read through the first page, sometimes even just the first sentence or two, and if they see something they do not like, it is likely they will reject your work. As a quick aside, your objective of writing books does not have to be to get published. You might find it liberating to simply write for your own purposes to get away from the life you live and escape the squabbles of everyday life. If you do choose to publish your work, know that anyone in any part of the world can get access to your work and judge it for what is written and what is not. Anyways, even just for everyday readers, when someone picks a book off the shelf and opens to page one, if they are not entranced early on, it is unlikely he or she will want to read on. Hook your readers. Hook your audiences, or you will lose them.
Know your intended audience. This is obvious. Do not include childish language in your prose, if you are writing for adults. Do not include adult language in children books. Write for who you wish to and adhere to the age classification of your readers.
Editing, editing, editing. There are two options when it comes to editing. You can either edit as you go or wait till you finish the first draft and then edit the story as a whole. If you take to the first, you will take much longer to finish your book. If you take to the latter, you will free yourself of almighty stress as you journey from alpha to omega—page one to the last. Unless you have some plot holes—plot disruptions—in which you simply cannot go on unless you fix something that happened earlier that does not add up, it is best to leave the editing for the end. This way, you can focus on getting the words on paper and the plot from beginning to end. If any of this is confusing to you, when you become more experienced and capable with writing, you will come to learn of what is said, here, in this discourse.
Anyone who tells you to get a pen name is no good for you. Own your work. Be proud of your work. Put your own name on your work and take your own credit for it.
Choosing the pen is a wondrous, lifelong journey, but know that it may eventually lead to you losing out on time you might see as valuable with loved ones. This happens even to the best writers out there. It may not be right away, but once you are established in the writing community and have earned your spot on the bookshelf in Barnes and Noble or Amazon Books or online, people will have expectations of you that you will continue to produce excellent work. If you begin to miss family events and friendly gatherings, though, you really ought to refocus and realign your approach. Yes, it is necessary to always get in your word count for the day, but no it is not good to obstruct your regular life with your writing life. Prioritize. This life is still worth living. Writers sometimes forget that.
That is all for now. Writing is not to be some virus that negatively affects your worldly life, but rather a thing of splendor that beautifies every aspect of your worldly life, one hundred-fold. In the end, writing is a journey and a process, and it is one you must be willing to commit to. The moment you start, it will forever dominate your existence. Your life will change completely, for the better, if you take up your pen and set to work. More to come in the coming weeks.