Please note that the following is written and intended as a comedic piece and should not under any circumstances be taken as a definitive guide to writing a book.
Also, please note that this is the comedic guide to writing A book. For the guide on writing bestsellers, please refer to the literary magazine that you consider your personal bible and/or the diety of your choice.
Right, the first thing you need is an IDEA.
You can get those by drinking unicorn tears by the full moon. Alternatively, read as many books as you can and then write as many practice stories as you can by copying the plot and changing the names of the characters, while also writing tons and tons of fanfiction.
Bonus points if you play with genders of characters in fanfiction.
Extra bonus points if you write crack pairings.
Once you have developed your idea muscle by rote-learning ALL OF THE PLOTS (or you drank your magical unicorn tears, which by the way taste like boiled broccoli) it’s time to diversify. Read ALL of the books you can get your hands on in your chosen genre (what, you thought you were done reading? Dream on, sucker!) and then find out what is missing from it.
Bonus points if you write snarky reviews for these books online. Points deducted if you send the author a link to the negative reviews because really? Not cool.
Having identified what is missing from the genre of your choice, you have the building blocks to write your book. For the actual writing, there are several schools of thought that fall into the broad categories of plotter or pantser. In Internet update terms, the plotters are the ones who always have a new chapter of their fanfic up on Tuesday. Pantsers are those who give you radio silence for a month and then come back with ten million chapters, thus clogging up your inbox with automatic notifications. Don’t sweat too much about which camp you fall into though. Everyone deals with huge amounts of guilt and unreasonable expectations of their writing.
If someone tells you they don’t use coffee to get through the day, they’re either lying or they are a zen master and it is your duty to learn their ways because caffeine shakes and long periods of writing do not mix.
Sufficient experience in writing fanfiction might have preppe d you to write your book, but you will quickly discover that it’s quite different to go through a plot without the sweet, sweet carrot that are chapterly reviews. You might find it helpful to sign up for NaNoWriMo, if only to meet other hopeful novelists who will be your betas. (You will find that good beta reading is a lot more different from leaving a comment to someone’s lemony slashfic, but the principle of giving what you hope of receiving holds.)
The process of your first draft has been detailed by the good people of the Office of Letters and Light (aka the NaNoWriMo team) so I won’t get into it here. You may find it worthwhile to come back for a repeat experience. Just bear in mind that if your NaNo project gets published, everyone will want to be your friend.
Editing also falls into a number of camps, although the differences in that case boil down to how much time will you leave between drafts, and what colour pen you will use to make edits. The answer to both questions is generally found through trial and error and reading a lot of published people’s blogs. (It’s not procrastination. It’s apprenticeship.
The point between your first and second draft is usually spent in daydreaming about literary fame, fortune, and researching agents. Such planning is expected and encouraged, but it is adviseable that you put off actually contacting agents and editors until you have at least read through your book. December is a particularly undesirable time to submit, since this is when NaNo usually finishes.
As you edit your book (and editing really is about reading and thinking critically about what you’ve done) you might experience a condition referred to as are-we-there-yet syndrome. Commonly found in toddlers and authors at various stages of a new project, this is a condition symptomised by:
- teeth grinding
- obsessive reading of authors’ blogs (this really is procrastination)
- reading mean online reviews
- practicing your Carnegie Medal acceptance speech
- counting down the days until you’re done
- depressive episodes when you fall short of schedule
- binge-watching your boxset of choice and then working in a reference to the show within the manuscript
To calculate your actual finishing time, you will need to take however long it took you to write the first draft, multiply by 2 to take into account the possible redrafts that you will make unprompted, multiply that by the number of beta readers you have, add six-months when you query every agent under the sun, another six months where you make another vital edit, and then apply a Lying Weasel Factor of 2 which will account for depressive episodes, having to take time off writing because you have to work or study, and waiting for the cast to come off your hand because you gave yourself Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Then query again.
If you think about what an imposter you are… well, you might be getting there.