The Gustavian Weekly

A writer’s guide to writing

By Cory Witt Opinion Columnist | December 6, 2013 | Opinion

Humans have always been interested in story telling. Everyone has a story to tell. Sure, not all stories are page turners or epics that burst with excitement (Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, for example), but they are still stories that need to be told. I find all stories to be worthwhile, even if I can’t finish them. It is still a story. Whether you know it or not, you too have a story to tell. My love for stories has grown from readership to authorship. Two books later, here I am at Gustavus, ready to further enrich my craft.

When it comes to writing a book, anyone can do it. It takes discipline, commitment, a lot of creativity, and ingenuity. If you want to write a book, you need to make sure you have those things. If you think you have what it takes, here’s a start-up manual.

First, I’m going to clear up one of the biggest myths of the whole book writing process: you need to have inspiration to write a book. False. In the words of the best-selling author Malinda Lo, “If you wait for inspiration to strike before you sit down to write, you’ll probably never finish a damn thing … The only thing that determines that is your own sense of discipline.”

Inspiration helps a lot, but a good writer can produce their own inspiration if they have what it takes. What a writer really needs, however, is dedication that they can really use to drive themselves forward. To be successful, develop the discipline you need to move forward and potentially finish your book. Come up with an idea first, and make sure that you are willing to spend countless hours working with and molding it into a concrete story.

The next step: make a plan. It doesn’t need to be bulletproof because it is going to change. Don’t focus too hard on coming up with complex ideas or planning out every little detail. Slowly fill in that outline with more and more ideas, add content to it, explain your characters and their actions to your audience in a way that they can understand, and add minor details that will enhance your story. Slowly, your book will fill out and grow until it comes alive.

When you first start out, lay down a set of questions that you will address at another point. Writers need an audience. To bait readers, lead with an applicable poem or share a quote. That first line has a huge purpose, but it doesn’t need to be perfect.

To make a masterpiece, the devil’s in the details. It’s the difference between the men and the boys, girls and women, and a book from a story. No writer is perfect. Think of it as the meat on your body: you have flexible muscles and rigid muscles. You need both to live. As you slowly fill in these smaller details, you are going to run into a lot of problems. These are distractions because it will keep you from reaching the end of your book.

You are going to get distracted whether you like it or not. That is fine. If you need a break, take it. But during that break, think about your story and devise a way to get through the distractions and the chewy parts of your story. Never deviate too far from that story or dare to come up with something new. If you do, you hinder your progress on your project.

Whatever you do, don’t stop writing. Try not to take day long breaks and always have your story in your head. If you are bored, think through your plot or devise stratagems to get through your story. As best-selling author James Patterson suggests, the best thing you can do is turn your writing from an act to a habit.

As you’ll soon find out, finishing a book is one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever do.

1 Comment

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  1. Caitlin Skvorc says:

    “the best thing you can do is turn your writing from an act to a habit.”

    Excellent advice.