Creative Writing Writing 101 20 min2024-01-23 00:00

How to Write a Book: Writing a Book 101

how to write a book

Writing a book from start to finish can be a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. There’s so much that goes into a novel that it’s hard to know where to even start.

Luckily, there are some successful writers who have written books on how to achieve the goal of seeing a novel through to fruition. Following guides is a great way to keep yourself on track and take each step of the process one at a time.

Writing a book is an achievement. Once it’s complete, you can look into publishing options to share your story with readers. It’s fun to imagine your name on the cover of a book others will read and enjoy.

In this article, we’ll explore how to write a book using process steps and writing tips. We’ve also provided some advice on how to improve your creative writing so it’s ready to send off to an editor, agent, or publisher.

How Do You Write a Book?

Writing a book is sitting down and writing a section every day over and over until you’ve written the entire book. However, it’s rarely as simple as that, and there’s a lot more that actually goes into it.

Before you write a book, you need to be aware of the basic elements that go into a novel. All novels feature characters, settings, and a plot, so it’s best to have these in mind when you write a novel.

Character: a character is a person in your novel. They’re the people who experience the conflict and events of the story. Most novels feature a whole range of characters. Your main character is usually the person who changes and develops the most throughout your story. However, there are examples of stories where the story events don’t change the character.

Setting: your setting is where the story takes place. This could include a geographical location, a time, and a specific space, such as a coffee shop or office. Novels can feature several settings where scenes take place.

Plot: the plot of a novel is the main storyline your main characters follow. Your plot should feature several events that challenge your characters. Your plot can be the driving force of your story, where the characters are along for the ride, or the plot can be character driven, where the events happen because of a character’s decisions.

elements of a book

If you’re writing a book that isn’t a novel, such as a creative nonfiction book, you can substitute these elements for subject, context, and the theory or point you will maintain throughout your book.

What Do You Need to Write a Book?

Before you dive into the planning and drafting, there are three things you need to write a book:

  • A writing space

  • Something to write on

  • Acceptance

Your dedicated writing space is the place where you feel the most comfortable when writing. Every writer’s ideal creative area is different because it’s unique to that person. Most people think you need a quiet room, a tidy desk, and a comfortable chair, but that doesn’t suit everyone.

The best writing space for you might change depending on the book you’re writing. For example, if you’re writing a police procedural crime novel, you might need to be surrounded by books and notes for reference. Trying out different setups is the best way to find out what works for you.

When considering what you’re going to write on, you have several options. You can opt for typing your book into a piece of software or handwriting it on a physical notebook. You could also go old-school and use a typewriter, in which case, kudos to you.

There are several software programs you can use when typing up your manuscript, such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and Apple Pages, which are simple word processing programs. There are also book writing software programs that will store all of your plans for your novels too, such as Scrivener, Campfire, and LivingWriter.

Acceptance is the ability to let go of predetermined standards and create a realistic idea of what your book will be. It’s important to accept yourself and what you can realistically achieve before you plan your book, because it’s so easy for writers to set their expectations too high. 

Several things can prevent you from feeling like you can finish writing your book, including a fear of failing to hit self-imposed standards.

While acceptance of yourself and any failures is important, you also need to accept the changes that need to be made to your story. The initial book idea isn’t always the same as the finished book.

writing software

Do You Need a Writing Habit?

Many writers believe that motivation and determination will get them through the tough times of writing a book, like when writer’s block strikes, but an actual writing habit is more important.

Motivation is your reason for wanting to write a book. You can remind yourself of the reason every time you sit down to write, but you might find your motivation changes.

Determination is the willpower you have to achieve the goal of writing a book. Unfortunately, your emotions can directly affect your willpower, and if you’re not feeling like writing, that book won’t write itself.

If you develop a writing habit, it won’t matter if you’re lacking motivation or your determination has temporarily disappeared; you’ll still be able to write something.

You can build your writing habit by regularly sitting down for a writing session. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing; you just need to build some mental writing muscles. It’s like if you’re training for a marathon, you might not run every day, but you need to do some exercise to keep your body ready for those days when you run.

While we may all dream of the perfect writing habit, where we’re able to sit down every day and write at least 500 words, it isn’t a realistic expectation for everyone. What if you cannot fit writing in on certain days?

For those days when you can’t fit in a writing session, make sure you have a notebook with you in case you find five minutes in your day to jot down any ideas related to your project.

Alternatively, try listening to audiobooks while you’re doing other tasks or chores. Reading and listening to audiobooks are still ways to support your writing habit.

Your habit should work for you, not someone else. Researchers say it can take around 66 days to make a new habit stick, so check your schedule, find those ideal writing times, and aim to stick to it for the next ten weeks or so. Develop your own writing schedule, and you’ll probably find more success in your writing sessions.

writing tip

Processes for Writing a Book

Any novel writer would tell you the fundamental process of writing a book is actually sitting and writing it. However, there are also process steps you can follow before you start writing, and some steps for after you finish writing the first draft.

You can find many methods for writing a book online and in reference books. However, if you’re itching to get started, and you don’t have time to go looking for those methods, we’ve condensed as much information as we can into the following five steps:

Finding Inspiration and Ideas for Your Book

If you want to write a book but you don’t have a book idea, there are several things you can do to inspire your creative mind. The first thing you should aim to establish is what your book is about because everything else will revolve around that.

One of the first places to look for inspiration is in your own life experiences. Many people believe their life is too ordinary to write about, but that’s not always true. Even the smallest detail about your life can be rich in inspiration fuel.

If you don’t fancy self-reflection as a source of inspiration, try people watching, and make up things about the strangers you see. Coffee shops in city centers are great places to do this. It’s better if they have a second story with windows looking out over the streets so you can look out of the windows and watch people without them noticing you.

writing inspiration

Are You a Plotter, a Pantser, or a Plantser?

There are three types of writers: the plotter, the pantser, and the plantser. These writer types are determined by the level of planning the person does before writing a book.

A plotter is someone who likes to plan everything they can before they start the first draft of their novel. If you like to know exactly where the story is going, and you want to develop your characters before you put them into a narrative, this might be the best option for you.

A pantser is someone who plans very little before writing. The point of pantsing is to write “from the seat of your pants.” If you have a powerful urge to write and love getting the words down when you’re in flow, you might be a pantser.

You might guess what a plantser is. They’re writers who are part plotters and part pantsers. Plantser writers like to plan, but they don’t go into as much detail as a plotter. If you like planning, but you also just want to write, you could be a plantser.

How much time you spend planning is likely to be unique to you and the book you’re writing. Some books need planning regardless of what type of writer you are. For example, unless you’re an expert in 19th century history, you will need to do some planning before you write a novel set in 1820.

Breaking Your Book Down to Manageable Pieces

Before you begin writing your book, think about how you’ll be able to write 50,000 words or more. Whether you’ve planned all the details or you simply know what the book is about, actually writing the book can be daunting.

Desmond Tutu once said, "There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” You can use this advice for your book writing process.

Try breaking your book down into sections you can complete in each of your writing sessions. If you’re writing a novel, you can break it into chapters or you could go smaller and focus on scenes. For a reference or nonfiction book, you can break it down into sections and chapters.

Including Fundamental Novel Elements in Your First Draft

As you’re working through your first draft and developing your writing habit, there are several things you can do to ensure you’re writing a solid foundation draft before you move on to the editing stage.

  • Remember to add lots of conflict

  • For genre novels, use genre-specific vocabulary and tropes

  • Let your characters speak naturally and authentically

  • Avoid unnecessary sections or scenes

Conflict is a disagreement, a struggle, or a clash, and it’s one of the most important parts of a novel because it helps drive the narrative forward. You can usually find conflict in the relationships between your characters. Alternatively, any obstacles you put in your main character’s way can create internal conflict as well as external conflict.

If you’re writing a genre novel, remember to use the common vocabulary and tropes used by other novels within the genre you’re writing. Tropes are common themes and narrative devices, which are usually used to create familiarity for readers within a genre. For example, haunted houses, cursed antiques, and summoning demons are all tropes of horror writing.

Writing great dialogue is an art form, but it’s not impossible to write good dialogue in your first draft. Authentic dialogue is natural sounding, which means it’s informal and reveals more about the character. If you’re writing a contemporary romance and your lead couple speaks like they’ve just stepped out of a Jane Austen classic, your dialogue might be too formal.

In a first draft, you might want to include every single scene in order to reach the word count you’re aiming for. However, you’re better off leaving out any scenes that aren’t directly relevant to your story. You can always add them at the end if you realize they’re needed, but you’re better off focusing on finishing the novel.

Remember, you’re the only one who will read the first version of your novel. If you don’t follow these tips, don’t worry, as you can always fix things in the editing stage.

Editing Your Book

You can try editing your first draft as you write, but most writers find it takes longer to complete the draft and doesn’t save much time in the overall process. It can be better to avoid editing as you focus on getting the story out of your mind and onto the page.

Once the first draft is complete, some writers like to let the book rest for a while before jumping into the editing process. Leaving the first draft alone allows you time to get some distance from your writing so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. In the meantime, you could work on a smaller project to keep up your writing habit.

When you’re ready to edit, you need to decide which type of editing you want to do first.

There are four main types of editing you can do:

  • Developmental editing

  • Structural editing

  • Copyediting

  • Proofreading

types of editing

Most writers start with the developmental editing stage, which focuses on the biggest details of your novel. You’ll need to review the book as a whole, paying attention to the key elements like characterization, plot, pacing, and settings. You might realize the setting for a key plot point doesn’t work, so you’ll change it at this stage before moving on to the next editing stage. 

Once you’re happy with the bigger pieces, you can move on to a structural edit, which is sometimes called line editing. A structural edit focuses on features of language such as tone, style, and the overall flow of the book. You might identify a scene where the tone of your writing doesn’t match the actions of the scene, so you would edit your language to ensure the tone and actions match. 

When you get to copyediting, you’ll be working at a sentence level, checking each one for grammar, spelling, consistency, and language. It’s best to leave this edit until you’re completely satisfied with your developmental and structural edits, otherwise you might end up having to repeat this stage several times.

If you get to the copyediting stage and feel you could use some help, try using an editing software, such as ProWritingAid. The ProWritingAid Realtime checker will analyze your writing for grammatical, spelling, and stylistic errors so you can get to work on making improvements straight away.

Proofreading is the last type of edit writers complete. It involves going through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb to ensure there are no errors that have somehow slipped through all the other editing stages.

If you are writing a historical novel, or you simply want to check the facts of your novel, you could include another editing stage for fact-checking. You could include fact-checking after either the developmental or structural editing stages.

There’s so much more to editing than this overview, and if you’re not sure where to start with each stage, you can check out the ProWritingAid blog for more articles about editing novels.

9 Tips for How to Successfully Write a Book

There are many points during the writing process where you might find yourself stuck and needing more advice. We’ve compiled a list of nine tips to help you overcome any issues you encounter while writing a book. If you follow these tips, your goal should be more achievable.

Read a Lot of Books

If you’ve ever asked a writer how to write a book, they will probably start by telling you to read a lot of books. It’s easy to forget to read more when you’re excited about getting your own novel written, but there are several things reading can help you with.

Here are some reasons you should read more books:

  • Reading helps with inspiration

  • Reading improves your vocabulary

  • Reading gives you insight into your reader’s expectations

  • Reading helps you identify genre-specific tropes

Identify Your Writing Motivation

Before you write your book, it’s important to know why you’re writing it—also known as your writing motivation. You can remind yourself of your motivation each time you sit down to write as you’re developing your writing habits.

Your reason for writing books could be a personal goal or something you do for enjoyment as a hobby. Writing for yourself can be liberating, as you might not feel as pressured to achieve a publishing standard, so you can focus more on the fun of writing anything you want.

Alternatively, your writing motivation could be commercial if you want to develop a professional writing career as a published author. If you’re writing with traditional or self-publishing in mind, read some bestsellers and look for information on what readers want to see in novels. Learn what publishers and readers love, so you can work on ensuring your novel is of the same caliber.

Your motivation might also be to share your thoughts and feelings about a specific subject or theme. Many writers write their own book because they want to add their voice to the discussion on issues that affect the world.

Your motivation to write fiction can change as you work through each stage of the process, so it’s important to allow yourself to be flexible and accept any new motivations.

Familiarize Yourself With Plot Outlines and Templates

Whether you’re just thinking about writing a book, or you’ve already finished the initial draft, you can take advantage of the many outlines and templates available to structure your novel. You don’t have to follow an outline, but most templates are based on bestsellers and narrative structures that readers are familiar with.

There are three classic narrative templates:

  • The hero’s journey

  • The three-act structure

  • The seven-point story structure

The hero’s journey is a story involving the protagonist being called to an adventure where they face challenges and go through a transformation. You’ll see the hero’s journey used in a variety of genres because it’s one of the most famous and commonly used structures. Novels featuring the hero’s journey include The Lord of the Rings and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The three-act structure involves the story being told over three phases, including the beginning (act 1), the middle (act 2), and the end (act 3). Act 1 and act 3 are usually smaller sections because the emphasis is on act 2 where the protagonist goes through most of their development arc. The Wizard of Oz and The Hunger Games both feature the three-act structure.

The seven-point story structure includes seven moments in the narrative where your key events should happen. The seven points include the hook, plot point one, pinch point one, midpoint, pinch point two, plot point two, and the resolution. Pinch points are key moments when the antagonist is increasing pressure on the protagonist. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone features the seven-point story structure.

The classic narrative structures are similar and overlap with each other, but ultimately they are the main basic outlines for writers to follow, so you’ll see them a lot in classic novels. However, contemporary narrative templates give writers more specific guidance on how to structure novels and where certain beats should occur in your stories to suit modern readers’ tastes.

Here are three contemporary narrative templates:

  • Save the Cat by Jessica Brody

  • The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

  • Inside Outline by Jennie Nash

The Save the Cat outline includes 15 narrative beats that fit into a three-act structure. Save the Cat has become increasingly popular in modern novels because it appears to apply to almost all published novels. It’s easy to follow, so it’s great for new novel writers.

The snowflake method is likely to be more beneficial if you are in the planning stage, as you’ll start with the core point of your novel. Then you build out until you have a fully fleshed-out outline for your book. You could still use this template after you’ve finished your first draft to check the structure of your novel and make sure it’s organized around the core message.

The inside outline focuses on making sure every plot moment and scene has a point and develops the story further. At each plot point, you’ll need to combine “what happens” and “how the characters feel about what happened.” The resulting actions should move the story on to the next point, where you do the same equation over again.

Try Fast Drafting

If you’re worried about how long it might take to write your first draft, you can try using a fast drafting technique. Fast drafting includes planning details of your novel and then writing as much as you can over the course of 6 to 12 weeks, depending on what you’re aiming for.

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge is a great way to practice fast drafting, as you have a writing goal of 50,000 words in one month. The main NaNoWriMo competition happens in November each year, but you can also take part in their summer versions called Camp NaNoWriMo, where you can edit the word count goal in your project settings to create your own personal challenge.

Jessica Brody designed one of the best fast drafting methods, and you can access a course on fast drafting on the Writing Mastery website. Using the steps outlined in the course, you’ll be able to plan all the resources you’ll need to reference when you get into the writing stage.

Fast drafting is intense and involves writing a minimum number of words each day if you want to hit your writing targets. If you don’t fancy writing under that kind of pressure, fast drafting might not be for you, and that’s fine. All writers make progress at their own pace.

Remember to Use Literary Devices

Literary devices are great for improving your writing and keeping your reader engaged with the story you’re telling. There are so many literary devices you could use in your writing.

Here are five literary devices to get you started:

  • Metaphor

  • Plot twist

  • Cliff-hanger

  • Juxtaposition

  • Irony

literary devices

A metaphor is figurative language used to describe something as though it’s something else. For example, if you wanted to write about someone who never felt love and treated people horribly, you could say they have a heart of stone. They don’t literally have a heart of stone, but it’s a metaphor for an unloving, mean person.

A plot twist is a narrative event that changes the course of the plot unexpectedly. For example, if your main character is a detective solving a case, and the suspect they’ve been following is murdered, it twists the story as they have to investigate who the actual killer is.

A cliff-hanger is a dramatic event that leaves your reader wanting to find out what happens next. Cliff-hangers appear at the end of a chapter.

Juxtaposition is the technique of putting two items together that contrast each other to emphasize their differences. You can juxtapose two distinct characters, which can create a lot of conflict. You can also juxtapose the genres you use. For example, John Dies at the End by Jason Pargin is a horror comedy, and the opposing genres pair well.

Irony is when something happens that isn’t expected based on the reality of a situation. For example, it’s ironic if a fire station burns down. While the main types of irony used in writing are verbal, situational, and dramatic, there are many types of irony you can use. If you want to include irony in your story, be sure to read up on how to use each type in your writing.

Show, Don’t Tell

One of the most famous rules in writing is “show, don’t tell,” and it means your writing should include concrete, sensory details to tell your story instead of relying on exposition or “telling.”

If you include more sensory descriptions in your first draft, you will reduce the amount of detail you’ll need to add in your editing stage. You can use the ProWritingAid Sensory report to identify places where you’ve used sensory descriptions in your writing, so you can decide if you’ve added enough detail.

You can include some exposition and background details so your readers can connect with your characters, but avoid overwhelming them with too much information. Aim to use exposition sparingly, and reveal background details a little at a time or at specific moments to increase tension and conflict.

Celebrate Your First Draft

Completing a first draft of a novel is a massive achievement for a writer, so be proud when you hit that goal. Reward yourself for successfully overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to finishing your book.

Don’t underestimate the importance of celebrating your achievement, as it can build your confidence in completing big writing projects. If you mentally associate finishing your novel with happiness and rewards, it can help you feel motivated to complete the next steps.

You can celebrate on your own, or you can share the news with your friends and family. Writing can be a lonely activity, but there are probably many people around you who would be interested in your progress. Building a support network can help you through any tough times, like when you’re experiencing writer’s block.

Learn to Love Editing

Editing your novel can take a long time, possibly even longer than writing the first draft. Having a love for editing can make the writing journey a lot easier.

Going through the editing process will bring up a variety of issues, which can be a blow to your self-esteem and assurance. Have faith in yourself because everyone needs to edit their work.

Many writers mistake editing for a process of trying to make your novel perfect, but that’s not what it’s about. There’s no such thing as the perfect novel because writing is a subjective art. Your writing could be ideal in the eyes of one person, but another might spot mistakes you haven’t thought of.

If you want to enjoy editing, use it as a learning process for how to improve your writing. The next time you write a first draft, your writing will be better, so you’ll need to do less editing.

Join a Writing Group

Writing is something you do alone because it makes it easier to focus, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a lonely writer. Joining a writing group is a great way to connect with other writers who are all going through the same process as you.

benefit off writing groups

The amazing thing about writing groups is being able to befriend other people who share a passion for writing and to talk about the wonderful world of writing fiction. If you’re struggling to find writing friends in your day-to-day life, try joining a writing group and building some supportive relationships in an environment dedicated to forming writing friendships.

You can bounce ideas off other writers and get advice for overcoming writer’s block or other writing problems.

If you’re worried about sharing ideas with writers who might take them from you, don’t share everything about your stories. Only share what you feel comfortable sharing, but you’ll find most writers care a lot about this, so you won’t be the only one being considerate about what you reveal about your work in progress.

Some writing groups run workshops, such as writing sprints (for writing first drafts) and critiques (for the editing stage). Sprints are a great way to make progress, as it can feel motivational knowing there are other writers also being creative with you. Critiques are perfect for getting some feedback on sections of your writing.

How ProWritingAid Can Help You Write a Book

ProWritingAid is an editing software that can help you edit as you write your book.

You can use the ProWritingAid Realtime checker as a second pair of eyes on your writing because it’ll pick up spelling and grammatical errors you can fix quickly. The checker also highlights any passive writing and suggests stylistic improvements to enhance the readability of your writing.

The Realtime checker is in all of ProWritingAid’s integrations, which means you can use it in most of the places you write your novel, such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Notion, Atticus, and Scrivener.

Write like a bestselling author

Love writing? ProWritingAid will help you improve the style, strength, and clarity of your stories.

If you don’t want to edit as you write, you can use any of the 20+ ProWritingAid reports to analyze your writing after you’ve finished your first draft. The most popular reports for novelists are Grammar, Style, Cliché, Sensory, and Thesaurus.

The Grammar report is a perfect starting point for some quick wins because you can quickly fix any key errors. You can then use the Style report to see suggested improvements that are optional but will probably improve things like readability and use of adverbs.

The Cliché, Sensory, and Thesaurus reports are great to use together if you want to check that your writing contains enough concrete detail. You can use the Thesaurus report to highlight the types of words you’ve used. The Cliché report will show you any vague or abstract words you’ve used. The Sensory report will underline all examples of sensory details.

Editing your writing isn’t the only thing you can do with ProWritingAid. You can also join the ProWritingAid Community, which is a great place to meet other writers and make some new friends. If you’re not sure about how to write or edit a part of your novel, you can always ask the members of the ProWritingAid Community.

You can also attend one of the ProWritingAid Writers’ Weeks to learn more about writing and gain some inspiration for your work in progress. Whether you write fantasy, romance, crime, science fiction, or any other genre, there’s plenty of information you can take away from the events.

Conclusion on How to Write a Book

Writing a book is a process of many parts, but if you take them at a pace that suits you, you can achieve your goal. Take the time to learn about what goes into a novel and what your readers will expect so you don’t need to spend a long time figuring it out during the editing stage.

Remember, the best part of writing an entire book is the fun you can have as you weave intricate stories and develop memorable characters. You can live vicariously through your characters, so writing a book can be cathartic if you’re struggling through a problem your characters have to deal with as well.

Now you know the basics of writing a book and how ProWritingAid can help you. Why don’t you get started on that idea you’ve been thinking about writing? You might have a bestseller in you. All you have to do is write the book.

Write like a bestselling author

Love writing? ProWritingAid will help you improve the style, strength, and clarity of your stories.