If you want to write a book with no experience in writing fiction, this post shows you where to start. If you already have some experience in writing stories, you can jump straight to part 2: Writing a book for the first time.
Although I’ve been writing stories for as long as I’ve been able to write (and I was dictating them even before that) I firmly believe that it’s never too late to start writing. But where to start writing a book if you have no experience in writing fiction and pretty much the only thing you’ve written is “book how to write” in the Google search bar?
This post will show you where to start when you want to write a novel you can proudly share with the world. I hope you’re ready for that!
Before reading this post, please bear in mind there isn’t just one way to become a writer. If you know a successful author who has done none of the things I suggest in this post, it doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. I think “you get better at writing by writing” is the only thing all authors can agree on.
Don’t make this mistake if you’re a beginner writer
If you’ve never written anything but shopping lists and restaurant reviews, it’s probably for the best that you don’t start with the goal of writing a book straight away. I’m not saying this to be a gatekeeper, far from it, but because Id encourage any writer to only start writing a full novel when they’re fairly sure they’re going to finish writing it.
If you’ve never written anything so extensive before, you have no idea what you like to write and what kind of a writing routine works for you, just to name a couple of things. Your entire writing voice might change completely during the course of a full manuscript simply because you’d learn so many things so fast.
The steps to writing a book are also a lot more complex than just writing a story once and then checking for typos. There’s no getting around that. And if you didn’t know that, I’m glad to be the one to tell you that you still have so much to learn about writing – how exciting!
If you’d like an easy introduction to writing your first novel, read all the way to the end to find out how you could be writing your first draft withing a week.
Should you write a series if you have no writing experience?
Something that I’ve seen a lot on Instagram is newbie writers wanting to write a series right off the bat, and although everyone is welcome to write what they want, writing a cohesive series is a skill that needs to be learned. Even experienced professional writers can struggle with this, and I’m sure most of you can think of an example straight away.
When you’re a beginner writer, you’re most likely better off focusing on a single story arc first, and you probably don’t want the third book in your series to be ten times better than the first one just because you didn’t give yourself a chance to grow as a writer first.
Writing exercise: write about your everyday life in a creative way before you start writing a novel
So where, exactly, should you start if writing an entire book is not recommended? Writing about your everyday life is a fun exercise and it can teach you to use effective descriptions, write lively characters and look at normal, everyday things in a new way. These are all things that we enjoy seeing in the books we read.
Try these exercises:
- Write about yesterday like it was a sitcom episode
- Write a letter to someone (no need to post it!) detailing how you’re certain there are little gnomes living in your kitchen
- You’re an alien pretending to be human. Write about your life as someone who’s trying to adjust to life on earth.
- All your friends are celebrities in disguise – write about how their regular life differs from their celebrity life
You can find more in my post about beginner writer exercises. These types of exercises are useful for you whether you want to write a memoir about your childhood or a fantasy epic about elf wars – it’s all about training the way you see the world.
Try writing prompts and write shorter stories
Maybe your life doesn’t spark any writing inspiration in you, and that’s totally fine. There are numerous writing prompts in the world that you can use for writing shorter stories and learn more writing skills this way. You don’t necessarily have to learn how to write an actual short story, because that’s a whole other skill, but writing flash fiction or drabbles will challenge you and they give you a chance to practise specific writing skills without the pressure of having to write an entire story.
I’ve got loads of writing prompt books in my Etsy shop, but here are some free writing prompts if you’re still wondering what to write about:
- Write what happened in an alternate universe the day you were born
- Write what’s going on in the mind of the last whale on earth
- Using only dialogue, write a story where one person is lying and the other one knows this but isn’t saying it
- Write a story where you have to use all these words: appendix, sapphire, maple syrup, Cyprus
- “If we don’t even try, we might never see clouds again.”
Should you write fan fiction if writing a book is your goal?
Fan fiction isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ever felt compelled to write it, you should totally give it a try. It doesn’t matter if you’re 45 and you want to write Friends fan fiction or something else that you don’t think you’re supposed to do. Learning to craft stories is much more important than trying to act like a serious writer.
But what is fan fiction good for? Since you’re working with existing characters and an existing world, (unless you decide to do some kind of a cross-over or alternative universe fic) you’ll be free to focus on things like dialogue and storytelling.
Maybe you really like the chemistry between two characters and you want to practice writing a steamy sex scene without having to come up with your own characters and backstory until you’re ready. Maybe you want to write compelling and exciting fight scenes and your favourite MCU characters are the exact thing you want to practice with.
Just go for it and have fun, and no one needs to know about your writings unless you want them to!
How reading can help you become a better writer
Reading other people’s books is another invaluable tool in a writer’s box and you simply can’t become a good writer if you don’t read.
You could have a FANTASTIC story idea in your head, but getting it out on paper in a way that will make others love it just as much as you do requires you to have some sort of writing and storytelling skills. Those skills you can learn by reading other people’s stories and you most likely don’t even realise you’ve been doing it all along. You might not learn all the steps on how to write a book, but you will find the sights you need to see on your journey.
Having a more intentional look into stories that you love will increase your writing skills. What is it that you like about your favourite books? Is it relatable characters? Incredible plot twists? Just grab your favourite novel from the shelf and start taking notes.
Taking a look at books that you didn’t like will also help you, even if you don’t like the idea! Choose a book that you really didn’t like and find all the things that you felt made it unreadable. If that sounds too unpleasant, you can do the same with a movie you didn’t like – you will find many of the same storytelling elements in movies that you can find in books.
Learn about great storytelling if you want to write a great novel
Many people don’t like to hear this, but even the most exquisitely crafted sentences can’t replace a great story. If you want to write a novel that people will love, you need to focus on writing a great story. I can already see what kinds of comments I’ll be getting about this on Pinterest, perhaps saying I’m encouraging people to produce poorly-written novels, but I’m approaching this purely from a reader’s perspective right now.
Listen, good writing is a fantastic thing. I love it when I read a sentence that I want to carry with me for the rest of my life like a cherished friend. But the reality is, readers will forgive a lot as long as you write an interesting, engaging story. The market for beautifully written books with lackluster storytelling is very small.
Look at your favourite stories, whether it’s books or films or TV shows, and figure out what makes them great. Why do you love the characters? What kinds of twists and turns in the plot leave you breathless? What has you wondering how the characters are ever gonna live happily ever after? Those are the clues to what your readers will love as well.
When you’ve written your book, “bad writing” can be fixed with outside help, even if it might take a lot of time and effort, but you can’t polish a boring story into something exceptional.
Learn about story structure
Structuring a story might sound mechanical to someone who knows nothing about story structure, but it’s just a way to keep your story moving. Basically, story structure outlines the journey that your protagonist needs to go through and you’ve already been exposed to this structure your entire life.
If you’ve ever worried about not knowing where your story should go, story structure will help you. If you’ve ever struggled figuring out how to plot the parts between your cool beginning and shocking ending, story structure shows how to do that. It’s your best tool for effective storytelling and for writing stories that keep your readers engaged, and I wholeheartedly recommend you read my post on structuring your story.
Do writing exercises and start applying writing tips to your work
I have nothing against writing tips, but at some point you have to stop reading them and start applying them to your writing. They’re no use to you if you just say “sweet, good to know” and then go about your day.
If you want to write a novel, there are many skills you need to practise. You need to learn about writing dialogue and descriptions, you need to learn to choose words that say exactly what you mean them to say and you need to make your readers feel something, just to name a few things.
Try writing different kinds of scenes in different genres. Write action scenes and quiet scenes. Have your characters talk a lot and then say nothing, write about good people and awful people. These kinds of exercises don’t neen to be connected to any bigger story, just set a goal to practise a specific thing and then go with it.
I always want to give you more than tips, so many of my posts have exercises in them as well, and if you’d like to try them out, you can start from my best beginner writing exercises.
How do you know what to write a book about?
Essentially, all stories are about solving and overcoming a problem. This is in the heart of story structure and it should help you weed out story ideas that don’t have enought material in them. Change is also an important, ever present part of storytelling, so don’t start off writing a book where nothing changes.
Your initial idea can absolutely be something like “an alien and a cowboy are best friends” or “what if I wrote about a Victorian orphanage”, but you need so much more before you can actually start writing a book. You need a plot.
What plot means here is “a series of events that are connected by cause and effect and that carry your protagonist through personal transformation that helps them solve their big problem”. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a story and you’re not ready to start writing.
You also need to choose something that you’re personally capable of writing. If you’ve never read science fiction, then you probably don’t have what it takes to write in the genre. And if you’re not the type of person who understands emotions and likes to people-watch, you probably don’t want to be writing about relationships or families.
The reason why you’re writing something should be personal and it should come from you, it shouldn’t be some kind of an external reason like “this book might sell well”.
Don’t get discouraged by others before you even start writing a book
There will always be someone who writes better than you, faster than you, more than you. None of these things matter. Your writing journey is yours alone.
Besides, you have no idea what else goes on behind the scenes. Finished, (traditionally) published books are always the result of multiple people working on the story and the writing, so there’s no point in comparing yourself to any of them. People in the Instagram writing community might be churning out entire manuscripts in a few weeks, but you don’t know if they’re any good, and speed or word count says absolutely nothing about the writing.
The real answer to the question how to start writing a book
We talk about this subject more in depth in part 2: How to write a book for the first time, but here’s a very quick answer for you:
- Know exactly what your book is about and what your protagonist’s transformation is even if you don’t know all the plot events.
- Know where your story takes place and what the tone and genre of the book are.
- Have some kind of an outline that keeps you on the right track. I woud start with a more comprehensive outline and then pare down when you learn more about yourself as a writer.
- Decide where and when you’re going to write and commit to your writing practice.
- Continue writing your first draft without looking back – editing is for later
The reality of writing is that beginner writers put too much effort into their first drafts and not enough on editing. When you’re just starting, your only job is to write something. Don’t spend time and effort wondering if you’re doing it right, because it doesn’t need to be right. That’s what editing is for. Let me just reiterate that:
Accept the fact that your first drafts will suck
Nobody’s first draft is a masterpiece. It’s not pretentiously humble or self-deprecating to say that, it’s just the truth. Sure, the underlying story can be great, especially if you’ve planned it well, and there absolutely can be some gems in there, but in general, the first draft is just you telling yourself the story. It’s not really readable for anyone else, and it doesn’t need to be. Being “good” is not the purpose of the first draft.
The longer your story is, the more there’s going to be rubbish in the first draft. If you’ve only written really short things this far, it can very well be that everything you’ve written has been fairly good, but bigger undertakings require more understanding on your part.
Give yourself some grace when you realise that your writing is not at all what you want it to be, because the things that I just called “rubbish” are actually valuable building material for an amazing story. But it’s only going to happen if you don’t give up and if you learn how to revise and edit your writing.
When you do the writing exercises suggested in this post, those might not turn up great either. And that’s good!! That’s how learning happens. You can read all the writing tips in the world, but they won’t become more than fancy tips and tricks until you practise them and actually learn them. Again, learning requires failing, except it isn’t really failing as long as you don’t give up.
And speaking of learning…
Accept that you have a lot of learning to do as a beginner writer (and it’s okay)
Writing well is a lot harder than it looks, y’all. It takes time and it takes a lot of learning, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Saying that you still have a lot to learn, or that something you’ve written could be improved, is not a personal insult. It’s having faith in your writing skills and knowing that everyone is capable of writing well. Can anyone be an author? Absolutely, as long as they don’t stop trying and growing.
If you’d like to improve your writing skills in just one month, I’ve got just the thing for you. My 30-day Writing Challenge gives you daily writing exercises and tells you which skills you’re learning and why. It’s probably the fastest and the most fun way to become a better writer and it has the exact kind of exercises I teach in my creative writing classes.
How long does it take to write a book?
I know this is the question that most beginning authors want to know the answer to but unfortunately I have to tell you that a) I can’t give you an exact answer, and b) you probably don’t like the answer that I can give you.
Writing your first draft can take anything from a few days to a few years, and that’s just the work you do before you start editing (which is the real work). If you want to write a bad book, you can absolutely write and edit one in just a couple of short months. Easy! But if you’re looking for easy answers and you don’t care for writing a GREAT book, there’s nothing for you in this blog.
Without the help of a professional editor, writing a great novel is going to take closer to two years than just a few months. If it takes longer than that, it’s totally normal as well. Trust me on this, I’ve read books that have been written with the “as fast as possible” mentality and it definitely shows. I would not want my name to be associated with any of them.
How to get published after you’ve written your book
If you’re only just learning how to write your first book, you don’t need to be thinking about the publishing process yet. You only need to focus on the first and the most important step of the process: writing an amazing book.
Traditional publishing is an incredibly competetive field and unless you’re a celebrity or you have some stellar contacts, you don’t stand a chance if your book isn’t top notch. If you’re serious about becoming a professional author, I would start from practising your writing skills AND creating a social media presence. Like it or not, publishers these days do put a lot of stock in your followers.
Anyway, the publishing process works a little differently in different countries so you might have to do your own research, but here’s roughly how it goes:
- Write an amazing book
- Get feedback on your book and make sure it’s edited to perfection
- Write a synopsis for the book and a query letter for yourself – you’ll need these soon enough
- Figure out which other books your book resembles – there are called comp titles and you’ll be needing them as well
- Do your research and find which literary agents would be a good fit for you and then follow their instructions to a tee when you approach them
- In some countries and with some publishers you can also approach publishers directly. (We don’t do agents in my country but they’re a big thing in the US!)
- If an agent agrees to represent you, they’ll be approaching publishers on your behalf
- Wait patiently and improve your manuscript. Whenever you get feedback from an agent or publisher, make improvements accordingly.
- If your hard work pays off and you get a publishing deal, you still have loads of work ahead. Working with a professional editor, you’ll be making more changes to you novel and it will take several months and the work of multiple people until your manuscript becomes an actual book you can hold in your hands.
Getting published once doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve now “made it”. Publishers spend less money on marketing these days so you’ll have to be proactive getting yourself out there, and more importantly, you have to keep writing. Not every debut novel becomes a bestseller, so don’t expect yourself to be an overnight success. In my opinion, that’s not what wanting to become an author should be about.
Can you REALLY write a book without a degree? Or should you enroll in a writing a novel course online?
I know you’ve been daydreaming about becoming an author and maybe you’ve even started a story or two, stashing them in your desk drawer, unsure if you could ever share your writing with anyone. I can’t blame you – schools teach us so much about how to read and analyse other people’s work and I bet there are a few authors you admire, but who would tell you how to write your own novel from start to finish?
It’s me. I’m the one who’ll tell you. Because why keep it all for myself when I know your future readers are waiting for the story that only you can tell? That would just be mean. And I want everyone to know how to write.
My full novel-writing course Writing Your First Novel will definitely solve all your beginner writer problems, but if you’d like to get started today FOR FREE, you should join my 5-day email course Start Your Novel that gets you writing your book in less than a week. If you’d like to enroll in the full course after that, you can get a whopping 20% discount after your free course is finished.
You can keep dreaming about becoming a writer and reading blog posts like this, or you can start writing your dream novel today. It’s your choice.