How (Not?) to Write Your First Book 💻📕🖋
By Marcelo Tejada
Until 2021 I had barely done any creative writing – in school we mostly did essays and research papers (which proved relatively useful for FWS now, except for the fact we learned APA in school for years while my FWS used MLA). But I still enjoyed creating stories, as I would spend hours talking with my brother about a universe we were creating.
I got my first taste of writing with the start of the pandemic and lockdown, where I remember the first week we made masks with paper and rubber bands (since they had run out in all stores) to allow us to go buy canned food and such. My school back in Guatemala switched to online learning via Teams ,so we were sent home for an unknown amount of time. At first, I thought the online stuff would last 2-3 weeks, but that ended up being very wrong and I had my last 2 years of school online.
One day I was chatting with a friend about the stories she was writing when we got the idea to make one together. We were going to write about a Minecraft world we made that had underwater glass domes. She made a Google Docs file (which I had not used before much, but I ended up liking it a lot more than Word) and soon we started with the characters. She showed me an ingenious way of coming up with names: online name generators. These websites churn out really wonky names so most of them ended up discarded (like Draumeme and Swet), but since the story was set in a world with fictitious creatures, we found a bunch of good ones. (If you consider Skeleisefe and Nysuskend good names.)
The next step was outlining and developing the characters: in the docs we made a list divided into the “good guys” and the “bad guys” of the story (despite many characters ending up changing sides during the story) and wrote a short personality description below each one. Months later I also added a pronunciation guide due to the wonky nature of some of the names. Then we could go to the next step. I opened Excel, wrote each chapter number on a cell and then added one sentence of what would happen to each one. It was pretty rough but it helped the story take shape (despite the actual story turning out completely different from this first outline). At this point it had turned more into a personal project as my friend kinda lost interest in the project, but she still checked on it once in a while. (I loved sci-fi, while she was more into fantasy.)
So now it was time for the actual book writing, a quite long but rewarding process. Some days I would write only a page or so, but when I felt inspired I could type five or six in a couple hours. As the weeks went on, the book started to take shape after I had finished the first few chapters. In this book a chapter is 5-7 pages that tells the story from one character’s point of view, as the story is told from the perspective of a lot of characters. I feel this is the point where a lot of people that attempt to make a story fail, they have the outline and the idea clear but then they get bored of it as they start the actual writing or get stuck remaking the first chapter over and over again. What I chose to do was not to do any major corrections to the chapters until I had the whole story done. I’m about to enter the final editing process so I guess I’ll know soon if that ended up being a good idea or not but hey, at least I finished the story!
Some tips I could give for anyone thinking about doing creative writing. First is perseverance, writing a novel is all about perseverance and dedication; you can't really finish a novel in a week or two, it normally takes months of constant dedication. I like to compare it to a marathon, but there’s no reason why this has to be something dreadful, there is a huge satisfaction in seeing how you make progress and that can form a positive feedback effect that urges you to continue. Another tip is to choose something that truly interests you as the topic of the story, write about something you can talk about for months and not some momentary fixation that you will have gotten bored of by the time you finish the outline. Another tip is that if you are starting to get a little bored of the story or feel stuck, allow yourself to include a fun twist, don't be tied down by the first outline (which is only a first step to help you start and not an unquestionable rulebook). Don’t fall prey to obsessively editing and rewriting every paragraph of the first chapter every few weeks, what I would do is to set my “progress bar” based on how many new pages I added rather than how much time I spent on the Docs file. I understand that rereading old chapters is “cringy” and makes you want to remake them but leave that for later, first add more chapters so that way you don't get stuck in the endless remaking of chapter 1, then editing the first chapter will also be more meaningful and satisfying as you can edit it to better foreshadow something that you added in chapter 5 or make it flow better with your evolving new writing style.
Writing your first book is an exciting event, don't give up on it, do not restart it, do not abandon it, let it flow freely and take shape. 📖