How To Write a Book in a Year



  1. Make a list in your notebook of people you are nervous to share the book with, people you think will hate it, and people who may make fun of you on social media.  Get anxiety over just looking at written down names and resist the urge to throw up over memories of unkind words and negativity.
  2. Flip the page.  Make another list of all the people you are excited to share the book with.  Highlight, circle, and star names that you need to tell about your secret dreams.  Realize this list is larger than the list of people you think will hate it.  Call this list The Real List or My Team or Ninjas of Good Tidings.
  3.  Spend time in front of a large chalkboard or dry erase board or wall you intend on painting.  Draw a large arc and fill in tiny words along the horizon.  Define, in big strokes, the beginning, the middle, and the end.  Chances are, you may only know two out of the three parts.  Talk out loud to yourself and tell your writer self, “This is normal.”  Draw question marks and lines connecting ideas, and underline the parts you’re excited about.
  4. Go on walks carrying the questions that are still unresolved in your story.  This may seem unproductive, but there’s something about the simple task of walking and taking in scenery you didn’t create in your head that allows your brain to open a window or a trap door to new ideas.  Realize the unresolved parts are the most interesting parts of your story because it requires the most of you to bring them forward.  Anything that requires the most of us becomes our best work.
  5. Name your characters like you’re naming children.  Have a ceremony or at least a separate file that contains all their names, because you will forget what the secretary’s name is every time.  Every time.  And you will lose ideas while trying to find her in past drafts.
  6. Write your story.  Join millions of writers who have sat down, looked up in thought, chewed on their pen caps, and waited for their computers to load.  Don’t romanticize this; this is work.  And the part that you have to do over and over and over again is show up.  Think about the worst job you’ve ever had and how you wanted it to be easy or different or over. Don’t feel like a failure when you feel those same feelings about writing because it requires the best of you.  Say, “Hello feelings of inadequacy,” then discard them and move on.
  7. Host an Imaginary Dinner Party for your characters.  Invite them to a table in the middle of the woods  or a rooftop in Chicago or the deck of a pirate ship.  Agonize over place settings and food options.  Write down how they arrive and greet you, what they say to the other characters, how they eat their food, if they bring you a gift.  Sit characters next to the people they shouldn’t be sitting next to.  Most importantly, create some kind of conflict that interrupts or completely ruins the dinner party.  The bigger the better.  Metaphorically, or maybe not so metaphorically, light the table on fire.  Realize you don’t create conflict like this in real life, but you are always creating conflict in book life.  Conflict is the story.  Conflict is how your characters change.  Write on your forehead that you always have to be writing conflict.  Light the table on fire in your story one hundred times.
  8. If you don’t know the end, you don’t know the beginning.  Write a first draft, figure out the end, and then write a second draft in which you reveal the end to the story throughout the entire work.  Remember when you were little, reading with your flashlight underneath your bed covers at camp or in your tree house, and reaching the end of the book, mind blown, amazed at the journey the author just took you on.  Realize you are responsible for that journey for your readers and that the best feeling in the world is an ending that they were both lead to believe and surprised by at the same time.  They’re going to love your beginning, but they’re going to remember your ending.  Always be revealing the end.
  9. Give someone your manuscript to read.  Make sure she’s been reading all your life and is not related to you. Don’t make excuses for your story.  Allow it to stand on its own.  Tell her to point out your biggest weaknesses, like if you’re too descriptive or if time doesn’t move quick enough.  Most importantly, have her tell you which parts she wasn’t fascinated with.  Just because you’re fascinated with a concept or a character doesn’t mean your audience will be.  Have a frank conversation about what worked and what didn’t and what she wanted more of. Don’t try to do this step alone. Your brain is not capable of editing your brain.
  10. Put the book away for a season, for three months.  Print it all out and put it in a desk drawer.  Take the file off your desktop.  Live whatever season is happening for the next three months.  Walk to buy ice cream in the summer. Jump in leaves in the fall.  Wrap presents in winter.  Plant tulips in the spring.  Resist the urge to wake your book while it’s sleeping.  Recognize the pleasure of having the desire to write. Live that season, reminding yourself that you’re a human first, writer second.  Take out your book.  Marvel at how easy all the plot and character mistakes stand out to you because it’s been a while and you’ve been dreaming about it.  Circle chunks of paragraphs and rewrite late into the night, not even realizing the hours are passing.  Write your Ninjas of Good Tidings an email at 2 am, containing mostly exclamation marks, telling them you’ve finished.  Hug your paper or your laptop to your chest.  Go to sleep.

One response to “How To Write a Book in a Year”

  1. Tim Burge-Lape says:

    I love this. Thank you for writing and sharing this. It’s so helpful to hear the same things over and over about writing, about it being hard work to sit down and just show up each day. Reminders help me realize hardly anyone sits down and cranks out a great first draft. And the most important thing, just do it.

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