Isn’t it a question we all ask ourselves? Well, those of us who might end up clicking the post titled ‘How to Be a Writer’, at least.
We’ve spoken before about Writing, and no doubt will do again… but if you want to become a writer, but you’re not sure where to begin, you’re certainly not alone. I get questions on this all the time.
So, I’ve put together a few tips and guidelines about writing a book. (Freelance writing for magazines and such is a little different, but if you’re interested in how to freelance, I still love Carol Tice and her ‘Make a Living Writing’ website.)
If you want to be an author though, to see your name on the front of a lovely fresh non-fiction book, or stunning debut novel, then it’s time to start writing the book.
I know, sounds obvious right? You’d be shocked at just how many budding writers and authors don’t actually get round to this part though, even though they seem to have plenty of time to set up Facebook profiles and send long-winded query letters to publishers!
The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. ― Mary Heaton Vorse
So, how to be a writer is – you need to start writing, or finish writing, if you’ve already started.
There are two quick questions for you to ask yourself so.
Q.1 Do you have a rough plan, plot, or proposal mapped out, a basic framework or structure for your fiction or non-fiction book?
Q.2 What’s your total word count at now, and what does it need to get to?
For Question 1, if the answer is no, then that’s what you need to be doing right now. Stop the research, quit telling your friends how awesome your book will be, and get a plan in place. Start with these resources, and follow the steps:
Do it today!
[Note: the post-it planning method detailed here can also be used for book project]
For Question 2, most new writers are a bit clueless. What’s the right word count for your type of book?
It varies of course, but there’s an accepted general guide. Bear in mind, that it can wobble around by as much as 10,000 either side, depending on how well put together and tightly edited your final manuscript is.
The only things that are really frowned on are an author picking the shortest word count because they’re afraid of how to write that many words, or an author not paying attention to proper storyline or editing and leaving the story ramble on for thousands and thousands of words of unnecessary, confusing, babble spew.
Yes, that’s a highly technical term, I’ll have you know.
Generally speaking then, when you’re writing a book:
Taking a look at your book plan from Question 1 (you did that right?!), you’ll have a rough idea of what chapters and sections you want to include, and probably even topic and titles mapped out.
For non-fiction, 10 to 15 chapters is normal, while fiction is a choose-your-own-adventure type of fairground ride, with whatever chapter type and structure suits your work.
Romance might run to the lower end of the word count for fiction, while sci-fi or fantasy fiction often runs higher. There’s no real hard and fast rule for that though.
Now, you have a structure, you have a target, you know what you have achieved, and what you have yet to do.
If you have a deadline to work to, then figure on how many days per week you can write, how many writing days til your deadline, and how many words you still have to write – leaving time for editing and word count for cutting of course.
Good rule of thumb is a month (or two, ideally) for editing, and about 25% more than your targeted word-count, for fiction. Non-fiction has a narrower cut margin generally, but still leave 5-10%.
If you don’t have a deadline, then you need to set one.
You’ll need to figure out two key things:
Yes, sometimes it flows faster, and sometimes you’re dragging the words like pulling teeth, but give it an estimate at least.
Aim for 500-1000 words per day, minimum, and how many days per week to reach your target word-count, plus extra editing percentage.
Now, you have a date. Add 1 or 2 months for editing.
Et Voila! There’s a delivery to publisher date (the publisher will have their own schedule and time frames after that, but you need to write the damn thing before you’re going to be looked at), or a time frame for you to start looking at self publishing.
Whatever your daily or weekly writing schedule looks like now, set it by word-count, not time spent at desk. And don’t move your bum from that chair til your word-count is done.
Do you want to talk about being a writer, dream about how to be a writer… or do you want to BE a writer?
Writing books is hard.
I mean, for me it’s hard. I do have a friend who cranks out 5000 words a day as well as a consistent stream of blog posts, articles and translations from Old Irish (I’m looking at you Daimler). I don’t even hate them. Most days.
My writing goes a little differently, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t used to be this tough. Like, for my second book, I wrote it in 3 months – Lúnasa (start of August) to Samhain (end of October). While working a full time job at the heritage centre and raising three kids.
I don’t even know how I did that. How does anyone do that?
Evenings, weekends, early mornings before work, lunchtimes at work. It’s not easy, but I feel like I was more focused back then (all the way back in 2013). So, I know it can be done. I know I can do that.
Have I been doing it though? Have I fuck.
When I got the contract for this next book (Pagan Priesthood, Llewellyn 2019), I thought I’d LOADS of time. I sort of lost myself in research for a while, and fooled myself into thinking I was doing ok.
And I ended up in a situation where I had to get my shit together and do the remaining 60,000 words in 3 months of solid writing. Sigh.
How do you do that?
Well, firstly you give yourself some time off each week. With the best will in the world, it is not ideal to think you can write 7 days a week in those circumstances. That’s a great writing habit to be in, long term. I know there’s a lot of famous writers who do it – write words every day, no matter what.
But under pressure and under my own anxiety around not delivering a book – or worse, delivering a shit book – I decided not to add to my writing pressure.
So for the last 3 months, I had set writing targets of 1000 words per day, five days per week – which is 5000 words per week, four weeks of each month (or split out accordingly, in a five week month like this one).
I have Scrivenor, which is an excellent writing programme, but because I’ve been working across different machines I’ve just put it all in a Google Drive folder so I can access it anywhere. It means I have to manually compile it after wards, as I’ve split it into a doc per chapter, but that’s ok.
And I track my targets and word count in an excel/google sheet that I manually update each day (pic above), and a little word tracker chart in my bullet journal. The last is a just to trigger my reward hit though, as I love manually writing it in and seeing the little line rise up steadily. It seems so much more satisfying than just numbers on a screen.
I’m not doing as well this month so far as I’d like to be, but I’m not technically behind as yet. The writing has just been a little patchier than I would have liked. Trying not to ‘blame’ myself for taking time off, but I do feel like I’m not on top of things this week after coming back, and I’m playing fierce catch up.
While still trying to be kind to myself and take evenings off.
Speaking of which, it’s 6.30pm now and I should be done for the day. There’s a stew on the boil downstairs, and the smell is making my stomach a little growly.
The bad news is that I have one more thing to do – record a guided journey for my Patreon – before I can finish up. And I might have to work the weekend, as I’ve got Ogham classes to sort out and teach.
Again with the sigh.
I’m doing my best though. Sure what else can ya do?
If you have a project you’re trying to keep track of, and want a little inspiration or accountability, share it in the Facebook group!