So you want to write a book? Stupendous. Lucky for you, writing is a really easy hobby to pick up. You can practically do it without thinking.
Oh, I'm sorry. I meant procrastinating. Procrastinating is super simple.
Writing is an impossibly hard thing to do. Crafting an entire book--with chapters and character arcs and everything--that's downright maddening. Lucky for you, I've written a few, and I have a failsafe system that will end with a complete tome. Ready?
1) Don't Call Yourself a Writer. Write
This one should be common sense, but you'd be amazed how many people don't understand.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I called myself a writer. A lot. I mean, it was how I led off in conversations. As you might imagine, I was a hit at parties.
Worst still, everyone in LA (or New York, or Chicago, or Miami) also wants to call themselves a writer. There's just one problem:
They're not writing.
When I finally landed myself a real-live meeting with a real-live producer, I was convinced it would end with me being handed the keys to Hollywood. He would take one look at me and see the next Bard. I sat down, smiled, and waited for the accolades to shower down.
"So. What are you working on right now?"
"Well," I said, flashing my trademarked Bald Guy Grin, "I haven't really written anything new since college."
End of meeting, right? Luckily, this was a friend of my brother's and he steered me straight. Don't call yourself a writer. Write. Every single day. You need to look at this as a job, not just some hobby you're hoping will net you money and sweet lovin'.
Let me say it again, and slower, because this is a super important note: WRITE. EVERY. DAY.
But writing is no good unless you...
2) Finish What You Start
My good friend Scott Tipton (New York Times bestselling author, name drop!) gave me some of the best advice/reprimands I have ever received: Writer's finish.
I have a shelf filled with notebooks, all packed with ideas that never saw the light of day. I've started a dozen scripts only to have them languish in the "In Progress" folder on my desktop. I've pitched ideas that never even made it to a blank Final Draft save file.
That's not being a writer. You have to finish what you start.
So where are you now? Well, if you've followed step one, you're writing up a storm. Heck, your getting down with the diction on the daily. But what of it?
Remember that stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. That last one is super important. Finish that story.
And don't J.J. Abrams it, either. Finish each story (or spec, or feature script, or play) with a final and satisfying ending. Try to think back to 8th grade English class. You want that denouement, not just a climax and a half-assed resolution.
But none of that matters if you don't...
3) Have Interesting Characters
This may seem like a no brainer, but it is actually one of the hardest tricks to master. Allow me to give an example.
I'm currently watching a fairly well-received television series about magicians who do magic and are called magicians and fight a super bad ass magician. I think it's called Harry Potter and the Copyright Lawsuit Waiting to Happen.
I found myself halfway through the first season when my wife came into the room. She asked me who was that character on the screen, and I blanked. I could not name a single character, save the main dude and his love interest. Everyone else was just filler. Background noise. Cardboard cutouts needed to fill space on the set.
When you write your characters, it is your job to breathe life into their frail bodies. Give them wants and needs, hopes and dreams, fantasies and nightmares. Most of all, give them flaws. As my editor loves to say, an accent is not a character trait. If he always makes the wrong decision under pressure, that's a character trait.
Avoid hitting up the bargain bin when casting your story. In fact--a trick that works for me--try placing famous celebrities into the roles. It can help find the character's voice and motivations, and allow you to visualize them easier.
So now you've come up with a story (and made it worth telling). You've found strong characters, and you've written until your fingers bled and the story was truly finished. Now what?
4) Edit. Edit. Edit.
You done writing yet? Then edit.
Think that latest draft is top notch? Better edit more.
You're on round number six and it's practically a different story altogether? Why not give it one more go?
You should be editing constantly, up until the last possible moment. Every time you read through your story, cut something. Then, on the next pass, cut more. Trim the fat until there is none, and then shave down the muscle. Break some bones. Kill off your favorite character and drag their corpse through the streets as a warning to other characters to BE MORE ENGAGING!
Don't ever accept that it is "good enough." Make it sharper, better, faster, clearer, and more fun.
And then, just when you think you can't take anything else out...
5) Let it Go
At some point, the essay is due. The deadline is up. You've got to turn over the torch to the next person in the publishing process.
At some point, you have to say "this is done."
And you will not be ready.
I have turned in two books and countless short stories. I have walked away from drafts that I was confident were garbage incarnate. The point is, though, you have to walk away. You have to understand that "perfect" is a dream no one achieves.
Let the story out into the world.
Be ready for criticism. In this age of instant commentary, you will see some harsh rebukes. Don't worry. Learn from your mistakes and press on. You're only getting better. And you know what? People who take the time to curse you out in the comments section rarely finish their stories. That's why they're so angry!
Finally, in a few weeks, go back to that story and read it again. You'll be amazed at the prose, astounded by the structure, and there will be passages so good you won't remember writing them.
And then you'll find that one typo you missed and it will all be for naught. Back to step 4.