How to Be a Writer
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
Get Writing. No, really.
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:
- Planning a Novel in Ten Steps by The Writer’s Bureau
- How To Write A Non-Fiction Book: A Step By Step Guide by Joanna Penn
Do it today!
[Note: the post-it planning method detailed here can also be used for book project]
How to be a writer in the day to day – Word Count
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:
- Young Adult runs to about 45,000 words
- Short Stories or Anthologies run to about 50,000 words
- Non-fiction runs to about 70,000 words, maybe 80,000
- Regular Fiction runs to about 80,000 to 100,000 words (traditional publication costs rise when you go above this word count!)
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.
Next Steps to Be a Writer
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:
- What writing time do you have available per week?
- How long, roughly, does it take you to write say, 500 words?
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?