This past weekend, I was at the Texas Book Festival. It was my third year attending with my mom. After the first year I went, in 2011 when I saw Sarah Dessen speak, I was so excited and inspired that I started writing what later became my novel Into The Ocean (which you can check out here!). This year, I attended a panel about the story behind the story. It was so interesting.
One of the women said that you could ask ten different writers how to write a book…and you would get ten different answers.
This really got me thinking. How would I define my writing process? I have heard other teen fiction writers say that they will not outline at all, and if they outline their book, it no longer interests them. Whereas for me, I can’t keep going without an extremely detailed outline guiding me all the way to the end.
I thought it would be cool to write my own 5 rules to someone who wants to write a book, intended for fiction writers since that’s what I write. If you’re a writer, let me know your 5 rules! And the funny thing about the personal craft of writing is that my 5 rules could be the exact OPPOSITE of the way you do it.
1. Read a lot.
Reading and writing go hand in hand. Reading helps me think of the story I want to tell, and I often get ideas while reading a great book. Read a lot, and branch out. But once you actually start writing, try to stick to your normal reading genre. What I read subtly influences my writing, and sometimes for the worse- just take the time I started reading Chuck Palahniuk novels while writing about a girl’s first love. Suddenly her crush was a secret anarchist running a crazy night time club in his sleepy beach town. Not a good direction for my characters.
2. Don’t read books on writing, but read On Writing.
I get SO FREAKED OUT if I start reading books or articles about writing while I’m working, at any stage in the process. Reading tips from other writers can be helpful, and I have a carefully curated file of quotes from writers I like that motivate me. But if I head over to Reddit’s r/writing? Or decide to pick up a guide on great sentences or The Elements Of Style? Cue me overthinking everything and writing stilted opening lines. Guess what? Your opening line isn’t what you should be working on, at least not in the first draft.
That being said, I read Stephen King’s On Writing before beginning Into The Ocean, and it really helped me.
3. Find out what time you like to write.
I once read an interview with a writer I quite like who wakes up at 5, works out, brews coffee, and settles into her desk around 7 and writes until noon. When I was younger, I assumed that waking up early is the only way to do it, and the respectable, adult thing to do. Except I have always been a night owl, and when it came to really banging out the hard parts of my book, it would happen from 10 PM to 2 or 3 AM. It’s still this way for me, and when my boyfriend goes to sleep at 10:30 for work, I stay up and write until 2. It’s just my best time, and there’s no shame in that. Just write at different times consistently until you find the time that works best for you and your life.
4. Picture your audience.
I know everyone says you should write for yourself, but it really helps me to picture the people who I would like to read my novels one day. As a teen fiction writer, during the hard parts of my book, I’d picture mailing the finished copy to my boyfriend’s middle sister, who is an avid reader, and would picture quiet girls with braces buying my book at Barnes and Nobles. Know your audience, and imagine who they are. After all, we don’t write to just keep our work under the bed. We write to be read.
5. Have a dedicated writing playlist!
This is one of those polarizing preferences that writers everywhere disagree over. Plenty of writers say that they’ll be massively distracted if they listen to music, and others like to write with the TV on (*shudder*). My biggest trick is to have a writing playlist. Sometimes, I won’t even want to write, but know that I should, and I’ll slip on my headphones and put on my writing music, and I’ll hear a character or remember a scene I’ve been thinking about. My playlist is about 3 hours long, so I don’t have to think about it, and I’ll post some of the songs if anyone’s interested. Writing is just like anything else- you need discipline, and listening to music is an easy way to make writing a habit.
Well! There are my 5 rules. I narrowed it down from about 20 tips to my favorites, and I hope these help. Create an itunes playlist and order On Writing, and let me know how it all goes! What helps you write? Share, please!