Getting started on any writing project is always the toughest. For years I talked about turning an idea I had from college into a novel so amazing that Oprah would beg to have me on—probably twice! I had notes for the novel in my head and, once in a blue moon, I’d actually sit down to try to write the damn thing. But what did I know about how to write a manuscript? The most I could ever hammer out was about 2,000 words. Considering most first-time novels fall between 80,000-100,000 words, I think it was safe to say that I was more likely to publish a sneeze than this book.
It wasn’t until I got serious about it that I started to make real progress (not on that manuscript, mind you, but on a nonfiction project). I don’t think I would have had any luck writing a manuscript if I hadn’t learned these five tips. I recommend them to anyone who is serious about writing a manuscript or has even toyed with the idea of writing novels. Here they are.
1. Don’t worry about format until you are finished.
Details like this only stand in your way from writing a great story. Worry about cooking the meal first before concerning yourself with presentation. You can wait until much, much later to adjust your manuscript and adhere to formatting guidelines. And, when you are ready, read this piece on how to format a manuscript.
2. Set aside 45-60 minutes a day to write your novel.
Who are we kidding, we all have super busy lives of driving kids to soccer, caring for sick parents, paying bills, posting witty Facebook status updates (after all, we are writers so our updates are the best), and who knows what else. But the dirty truth is if you can’t carve at least 45 minutes out of your day to dedicate to writing, then you aren’t serious about writing a manuscript. It’s time to take it seriously. If you need extra help, check out 90 Days to Your Novel —it’s a great resource.
3. Outline your novel.
Some people are able to freewheel it and write from beginning to end with just a general idea. I find that those people are few and far between. By creating an outline, you not only give your novel or nonfiction book structure, you also give yourself a much needed map. It’s much easier to stick with your goal of writing a manuscript when you have a structure in place. If you’re not sure which is the best outline method for you, check out this piece on how to write an outline. Also, here’s additional advice on how to turn your outline into a first draft.
4. Write the beginning sentence and last sentence to each chapter.
Much like a road trip, your goal of each chapter is to get from point A to point B. Write up and plug a first sentence and a last sentence into your Chapter Writing GPS, then watch as it guides you throughout each section of your manuscript. Like any fun trip, the coordinates may change a bit, but by having them you’ll be able to get to where you need to go
5. Have some freaking fun.
No one is forcing you to write. You’re doing it because you love creating, informing and inspiring. You love the twists and turns you create out of thin air. You love the challenge of making interesting characters grow and change. (You also secretly love being able to bump people off without the threat of serious jail time). Remember that—even during the most difficult times (like when facing writer’s block or when you realize a scene isn’t working and you need to rewrite it). Just by reading these tips you’ve shown your hand: Writing is in your blood. Enjoy it.
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Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.