Writing a book is one of the most common goals on a person’s bucket list. When we hear someone say they want to write a book, we assume they want to create something totally unique which others can read and experience, the author sharing the fruits of their imagination to tell a story in the hope that their readers enjoy the ride. But I think there’s another underlying reason why writing a book is such a common, and unfulfilled, dream. Most people can start writing a book.
But not many can finish it.
As someone who’s currently working on the 8th novel of a successful thriller series, every now and then I’m asked how I go about writing a story, or how I even get started. People often assume I have the whole thing mapped out in my head before I write a single word. I don’t. In response, I always emphasise that creativity begins one of my books but hard work finishes it.
Someone much more intelligent than me once summed up poetry as the clear expression of mixed feelings. It’s a wonderful way of describing it, but I think it also applies to writing in general. The mixed feelings part is pretty straightforward. We all have certain views about the world and life in general. But the clear expression part is where it gets harder. Expressing something to the best of your ability takes time, preparation and effort. In writing, it’s not only putting something on the page but honing and editing it, shaping it, working until your story so clear that a reader sees it just as you do in your head.
Eric Maisel, who's written some fantastic books on the subject, says that creativity isn’t a talent or ability but the fruit of a person’s decision to matter. Personally, I see it as finding fun, not fear, in the unexpected. Although it can be tough and tedious at times, I always try to look for the thrill in creating something. As I said above, when I sit down to write a story I never have the entire thing mapped out in my head.
But rather than worry about this, my number one goal is to take the excitement I feel at discovering whatever trouble (and there is plenty) Sam Archer gets himself into and pass it on to a reader. When an author has no idea what is going to happen next in forming the story, there’s an unpredictability to the work that's impossible to fake. But it takes time and effort to give your audience that same feeling with the work, whic entails things like adjusting the plot, vocabulary, spelling and grammar. My last book Green Light took 12 drafts and 9 months to get right. Clearly expressing mixed feelings. Hard work and creativity. Ideas and emotions eventually becoming something that might just resemble a badass piece of work down the line.
Even when I finished it, at times my last book made me want to put a gun to my head.
My advice for anyone wanting to not only start to write a book but also finish it is to think of something that stirs an emotional response in you then start writing. Just get some words down; then you have something on the page to work with.
But then get up and do the same tomorrow. And the day after that. Build on what you start. Before you know it, you’ll have a 1st draft. Take a break, then go back to the beginning and go through what you’ve written. Tweak it; develop it. With some editing and hard work, when you get to the end you’ll have a 2nd draft. If you keep doing this, one day you might just end up with a finished piece of work.
Then you can strike writing a book off that pesky list of yours.
'He never understood that it was just writing as well as you can and finishing what you start.’
Fair to say, he knew his shit.
Having only been a fiction author for the last 3 years, I’m by no means a complete authority on the technical aspects of this. However, having started and completed 8 books, writing one is no longer on my bucket list and it feels good. To everyone reading this who secretly dreams of writing a book themselves, I implore you to get started and at least try. You and I are no different.
But at some point tomorrow I can guarantee I’ll be back in front of the laptop again, working to put words on a page and hopefully make them matter.