According to a study this year, 30% of Brits have an idea for a book, but struggle getting past 700 words. We know a blank page is the hardest stage in the whole process, which is why we’ve put together our top tips on how to begin writing your book – make 2022 the year!
Gather some inspiration
Even if you’ve had a book idea for years, it can be hard to know how to actually start writing it. A good place to start might be gathering some inspiration for yourself before your pen hits paper.
If you’re writing fiction, why not create a mood board for yourself? This could include what clothes you think your characters would wear, what food they’d like to eat, or something more conceptual about the tone of the book – if it had a colour palette, what would it look like? This can be useful for non-fiction too: what do you want your audience to visualise while reading? Similarly, a lot of authors like to create playlists to assist their writing experience. It can transport you into the world of your book, whether it's the time period, mood, country or setting.
Dialogue can be particularly tricky to write in a way that sounds natural. To gather some inspiration, try listening to how people talk in real life – notice the rhythm and how people ask questions. Why not sit in a coffee shop and create characters from conversations you’ve overheard? Think about the tone of their voice, the way they might walk and their mannerisms. What are their relationships like, what are their hobbies? Even if they don’t make it into your novel, it’s great practice for creating believable characters.
Do your research
In addition to setting aside time to inspire yourself, it’s a good idea to know the book market well, and where your book sits within it.
Do your research by visiting bookshops and libraries to see what’s new, what’s popular, and what have been bestsellers for years – as they’re evidently capturing an audience well. It’s useful as well to identify your genre, and make sure there’s space within it for your original idea.
As well as seeing what titles are on the shelves, pick up and read them too! Find out what you like (or don’t like), about someone’s writing style; what stands out and what’s missing the mark. This isn’t a copying exercise, but noting how the books made you feel, and pinpointing exactly what you liked – structure, characters, dialogue, etc. – will be useful to revisit in your own writing journey.
Nail your structure
A blank page can be an overwhelming place to start for any author, but getting stuff down in a rough draft is a brilliant place to start. Self-edit and become aware of where your book has peaks and troughs. Children's author Abie Longstaff had some great advice on mapping out your structure at a WriteNow workshop:
“I get a huge piece of paper and draw between 0-100%. Then I mark out the timeline of the book – when characters are introduced, where the peaks are in the storyline, what happens when. When you look at it all mapped out, it gives you great perspective for where the book slows down. Often the original draft sags in the middle – you don’t want everything to be happening right at the end.”
This can be a useful exercise throughout the entirety of writing your novel. Why not start your writing process by mapping out the initial idea to see what the pace of the book is like? This can work for both fiction and non-fiction, as the exercise will quickly identify where you can move sections, as well as give you easier milestones to work towards.
Discover how you work best
Writing a book can be an intense, solitary task, and it’s easy to put too much pressure on yourself and the dreaded word count. Give yourself some generous time to research, and then create healthy milestones that fit around your calendar outside of being an aspiring author. Remember to take breaks and don’t be tempted to overwork – giving yourself some space from your book can actually generate some fresher ideas and help you read your draft from a new perspective.
Remember that you’re not alone in your writing journey. There are many others dealing with writing block, rejection, or fitting it in around work or childcare. Connecting with other aspiring authors can help with advice and feedback, and also give you the chance to meet a new group of people with the same aspirations as you! There are writing groups that take place in person, on discord servers or in conversations happening daily on social media – just take a look at the #amwriting hashtag as a place to start.
Have faith in your voice
Committing to writing a book is an amazing feat – congratulations! We’re always looking for new voices at Penguin, so make sure your own, distinctive voice comes through in your writing. Penguin General Publisher Katy Loftus has previously touched on this:
“We often talk about ‘voice’ in publishing, and by that we mean the way in which an author’s own style of writing evokes a particular character or feeling. This is at the heart of the personality of the book, and it’s what takes it from being a load of words strung together to something that's enjoyable to read. For some of the best writers, it’s the reason people read them time and time again.”
Now you’re equipped with how to begin your book, we can’t wait to see what you write. Who knows, we may be featuring it on Penguin.co.uk in the future…
What did you think of this article? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
Image: Alexandra Francis for Penguin