Getting Started —

2 Jun

“I know I want to write a book. The story is all right there in my head. But I don’t know where—or how—to start!” I once said the very same things. So, what do you do first?

I’ve heard these remarks (or others very similar to them) from so many people in the last twenty years. It really isn’t all that difficult, and there’s no right or wrong way. No matter what you do, it’s okay, as long as you DO something! If you don’t, no one else will do it for you. You’re the one to make the decisions and get it all started.

If this seems an almost insurmountable hurdle to you, then here are a few suggestions.

Let’s presume you’re using Word as your word processing program. In Windows Explorer, make a new folder titled BOOK if you don’t know what else to call it. (You can easily re-name it later.) Then, in Word, open a new document. Save it in the Book folder as Ideas. Open another new document and call it Characters. A third document would be Count, and a fourth could be Blurbs. Five would be Synopsis, and sixth is One. Seventh might be Research or Resources. (Even if your story is contemporary, you’ll undoubtedly still have to do some research.) If you think you want a prologue for your story, then make a document called Prologue.

There’s your basic setup. Granted, you’ll have a batch of empty documents staring at you, but it’s very easy to put some little thing in each one to get you going.

Under Ideas, start with such basics as a sentence or two about the plot or the setting or the characters, and what is going to happen to them. For instance: just after high school graduation, a young couple, in love with each othe, are separated for years and years. What happens if—or when they meet again fifty years later?

In Characters, describe these two people—as teens, and again, as senior citizens. Are they the same? Different? What has happened to them in the intervening years? Is the attraction still there? Where does all this take place? Are there other characters involved? (I certainly hope so!) Describe them, and the parts they’ll play in this story. If you have difficulty imagining your characters, try writing a resume for them, as if they were looking for a job – or, create a persona for an on-line dating service. (Without actually doing that, of course!) Characters need a horoscope sign, for instance, as well as an ethnic background. The more you know about them, the less likely you’ll be to have them do something you’d not previously imagined.

Blurbs will hold the descriptionof your book. Start with a sentence or two (as I did above.) Then a paragraph, next a page, until you’ll have several pages (maybe) which can then be transferred to the Synopsis file. (How to write a synopsis comes later.) If you start researching agents or publishers on-line, you’ll quickly see how useful this information will be to you later on, when you will get seriously involved in this quest. Don’t do it until your book is done, however. That’s just wasted time and effort.

Research and/or Resources are pretty self-explanator. If you get a book (or video/DVD, whatever) from the library, use the documentation for it, to keep a record of what you found where. An editor may well question you on your source material, and will be very impressed when this information is at your fingertips.

Count is for when you actually start writing the story. Keep track of how many words you produce each day! This is very important, because the growing total will serve as excellent motivation for you to keep adding to that total. As you write, you’ll find it gets easier and easier, and you’ll feel a tremendous sense of pride as the numbers increase! (The computer will automatically count them for you.) Furthermore, you’ll know how far you are from your goal.

Before you start writing, you should know approximately the length of the book you expect to produce. You will not want to write 150,000 words if the publisher says 75,000. Or the other way around. Books range from about 40,000 to over 400,000 for some fantasy novels. But I digress.

Here’s how I set up my count file: (you should feel free to do it differently, if you wish. The most important thing is to keep track of your word count, at least on a weekly basis.)

For example:
date     words today      total to date      total pages
9/24         1059                  2360                 8

You can also keep track of chapter length in this way.
chapter  words today  total to date    page #s today  pgs today     total pgs
One          2870            4412                4 –  9           = 5                9

Here is how you can indeed write a 75,000 word book in three months, or actually 13 weeks! Or less, if the process really grabs you! Divide 75,000 words by thirteen, and you’ll find you should do roughly 5770 words each week. This is perhaps one or two chapters worth. If you think you can write every day of the week, then you need to do 825 words a day. For six days a week you’d be wanting to do 965 words a day. That really isn’t so very many! If you do single-spaced typing, that’s approximately two pages! If you double-space, it’s four.

Look at it from another angle. One thousand words a day for six days a week is 6000 words. In thirteen weeks, you’d have 78,000! That’s plenty for a genre novel. So – what are you waiting for?

Open the file called One and start typing. It makes little difference what you actually write in here, the most important thing is TO WRITE!!! Eventually, the pieces will fall into place, and you’ll actually begin your narrative. That’s a day to remember, believe me! You may end up discarding some of those early words in favor of more appropriate later ones, but that’s okay. It’s allowed. But an even better day will be the day you type those two magic words – The End. I can still recall the day I typed those words at the end of my first completed book. It was Super Bowl Sunday, January 31, 1988. It was during that game that my two wonky friends put my first computer together for me so I could retire my typewriter. Which I did, very happily, the next day.

One last word of advice for this week. Once you’ve started writing, do NOT print or re-read immediately. Do this once a week, max, until you get on your feet with the process. You’ll only delay and confuse yourself. We’ll talk about this more in the future, too.

Your only task now is to – WRITE!!! Have at it. Good speed to you!

If you have questions or comments, please send me an e-mail:


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