There are only 6 things you need to write a book

It’s tempting to think that to write a book you need a shiny new laptop, or to indulge your love of stationery by buying a brand new notebook or pen, or a book about the craft of writing that will reveal all of the secrets of being a writer. But there are many writers who have the new laptop, the writing software, the writing book, a notebook and pen and still struggle to write.

Of course, we know in our hearts that those things don’t make us writers. But what does? I believe there are only 6 simple things you need to write a book.

1. Motivation

You can be passionate about writing but still never write. Passion isn’t enough. You have to be motivated.

Writing is like exercise. Those who want to write can see the benefits of sitting down to write, but the reality of making time and actually doing it are two different things. Exercise or writing becomes this thing we put on our list of New Years’ resolutions and perhaps did in a burst of enthusiasm in January and then relinquished, never to be picked up again.

So how do you motivate yourself to write? I think you have to train yourself in the most boring, unglamorous way imaginable. Like training a dog to sit, repetition is what it’s all about so that, eventually, it becomes a habit.

Start small. Aim to write for just 15 minutes, on three CONSECUTIVE days a week. Everyone can find 15 minutes. You could get up 15 minutes earlier. Watch 15 minutes less television. I bet everyone, over the course of the day, spends at least 15 minutes surfing the internet. Are you going to die wishing that you’d spent more time surfing the internet? Probably not. But you might regret never having written the book you’ve always wanted to write.

Training yourself to write means that you can write anywhere and at any time. Nobody needs a muse. I have ideas at odd times during the day, when I’m washing the dishes, or driving, or having a shower, or before I go to sleep. Ideas usually come at quiet times. It’s what you do with those ideas that makes you a writer.

Take one of the ideas and use your 15 minutes of writing time to turn it into a paragraph or a scene. That’s how books get written, paragraph by paragraph, scene by scene, in whatever piece of time you make available for writing.

You’ll soon find that you look forward to writing. You’ll be more productive in those 15 minutes. It will become easier to focus and easier to write. Which brings me to the next step. Word count.

2. Word count

Once you’ve achieved 15 minutes a day for 3 consecutive days, and stuck at this for a few weeks, it’s not that much of a stretch to go to 30 minutes a day. In 30 minutes I bet most people could write 500 words. That’s two double spaced pages. Do that for 200 days (that’s less than a year!) and you have a book.

You have to give yourself a word count target when you sit down to write. Otherwise, you’re just playing. If you set a target, you will, with practice, rise to achieve it.

And as you begin to write more often, I bet you start beating your word target.

Sharing your target can help too. Personally, I use the Project Target Function in Scrivener to keep me accountable. You could use social media to keep you accountable. Or a writing group. Which brings me to my next step. Encouragement.

six things

3. Encouragement

When you’re just starting out, it can feel embarrassing to tell other people you’re writing a book. I remember I used to squirm every time people asked how my book was going. I was writing. I had no other news. It went on like this for a few years until finally I was able to say my book would be published. But, in the meantime, it felt a bit like a foolish dream.

But the right people can and will encourage you. My husband always believed my first book would be published. I wish I’d had his unshakeable belief.

Even now, every time I feel that things are going wrong, my husband still tells me I’m wrong. That it will all work out the way I want. And having someone else say that is a very powerful thing.

Find the people who are your cheer squad. A writing group can be so helpful for encouragement too. I am lucky enough to meet regularly with a few other writers and their encouragement is invaluable.

4. Guidance

We all need a helping hand at times during our writing career. My writing group is just one source of guidance for me. We talk about the publishing industry, about how we write, about our ups and downs, we share our experiences of working with agents and publishers and this advice is always useful.

I wrote my first book as part of a Masters degree. This meant I was working with a supervisor who kept me on track with writing my book. Every time I wondered what I was doing, every time I needed to ask somebody: ‘I have no idea what my story is about. Is this normal?’ she would be there to tell me that yes, it was normal. I just had to keep writing, and the act of writing would reveal my story.

Of course, most of you aren’t writing your book as part of a Masters degree. But you could join a writing group. Join a writers’ centre. Go to author talks and writers’ festivals. Surround yourself with as many experts as you possibly can, in whatever way you can get access to them. Join Twitter and eavesdrop on conversations between writers, or better still, join the conversation.

5. Knowledge

I firmly believe that aspects of the craft of writing can be taught. I also believe that some people are born with an innate ability to put words and sentences together in surprising and wonderful ways. This can’t be taught. But how to write dialogue can, what elements the beginning of a book should and should not include can be taught, how to write description that doesn’t bore the reader senseless can too.

You would never decide to be a concert pianist without having piano lessons. It’s the same for writing. As well as teaching you elements of craft, going to a writing course lets you meet other writes who are in the same stage of their journey as you are. Knowing other writers is a truly valuable thing and can be instrumental in getting guidance and encouragement as per two of the steps above.

But, above all, writing classes of some kind give you a firm grounding in your craft.

I believe you never stop learning as a writer. Every book you write teaches you new things. Working with editors gives you so much knowledge about how to look at your book from a structural point of view. Learning to write is an ongoing process, and one I value.

6. Reading

Never stop reading. I always worry when I hear writers say they don’t read when they’re writing a book because they’re worried they will be influenced by other writers’ voices.

Let yourself be influenced, I say! If you’re reading good books, books that you enjoy, then how is it bad to be influenced by them? Also, I spend most of my life writing. If I stopped reading when I was writing, then when would I ever read?

It goes without saying that it’s our job as writers to write books. But it’s also our job to know the market. We can only do that by reading books. It’s also our job to support the industry that we hope will one day support us. So we need to buy books otherwise there may not be a publishing industry around to publish our books later.

Writers become writers first and foremost by being readers, by loving words and stories, and you can only cultivate that love by reading books.

So, I believe these are the only 6 things you need to write a book. Everything else is procrastination masquerading as window-dressing. Do you agree? Have I left anything out? And which of the 6 things are you going to put into practice first?

Natasha LesterNatasha Lester is the award-winning author of two novels If I Should Lose You (2012) and What is Left Over, After (2010). She is currently working on her third novel.

Natasha is also a presenter for the Australian Writers’ Centre. She teaches Creative Writing Stage 1 in Perth and 2 Hours to Scrivener Power as an online, on-demand course.

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