Jessica Brody

Many people believe that learning how to write a book requires a lot of schooling and raw talent. But that’s not true. Plenty of famous, successful writers don’t have master’s degrees in creative writing. Many new fiction writers have no prior experience in writing or publishing a book. There are only two things you need to write a book successfully: inspiration and determination. 

Inspiration will be the thing that gets you started. It’s the story idea or character that won’t leave you alone. Or perhaps it’s a love of writing that you want to take to the next level. But it’s determination – persistence, willpower, and the refusal to quit no matter what – that will get you to “the end.” 

It also helps to have a handy step-by-step list of everything you need to know about writing a book. So, here you go! 

Write a Bestselling Novel in 15 Steps (Writing Mastery)

Last Updated October 2022

  • 54 lectures
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4.7 (4,042)

Discover the secret storytelling code behind all successful novels and use it to outline, write, or revise your own | By Jessica Brody, Writing Mastery

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1. Start with a “seed” of a book idea

Believe it or not, you don’t have to have the entire story figured out before you can start writing a book or short story. All great novels started as a spark or a “seed” of an idea. This could be an intriguing character, an ominous or magical setting, or a romantic or funny scene. It could even be as small as a witty piece of dialogue. All these are seeds that you can water and harvest into ideas for good books. 

When you first sit down to think about the type of fiction book you’re going to write, don’t worry about the details. You don’t need to know what genre it is, every character’s name, or what every moment of the plot will look like. Find a spark or a seed that you can grow. 

Need help coming up with an idea for your book? This short course will walk you through the four ingredients that make up all great book ideas. It will help you brainstorm your own!

2. Develop the main character

Once you have your idea “seed,” the easiest part to start growing it is with your main character. Decide who will be the primary person the reader will follow through the story. Who will introduce your reader to your world? Whose perspective will the reader see your story through? Once you decide who this is you can ask yourself more questions about this person. Here are some brainstorming questions to get you started: 

Answering questions like these will make your character take shape. It will give you a good idea of who your book will be about. Every good novel is essentially about a character who changes or transforms in some way. This is called a character arc. To establish a good character arc, you first must understand who your character is at the start of the story. This will help you figure out where they go and how they change. 

Looking for guidance on how to write characters who leap off the page? This comprehensive character master class will teach you how to write dynamic characters. It will walk you through the steps of developing your own.

3. Create a simple plot outline

Not every writer chooses to start writing a book with an outline. Some writers prefer to brainstorm a few details and start writing, figuring out the story as they go. Other writers prefer to map out an extensive outline before they write a single word. Some figure out every chapter in advance. It’s up to you. 

Starting with a basic outline of your story will help you succeed when you write the first draft — even if you don’t end up sticking to it.

The basic three-act structure

You can base your outline on the three-act structure. Most successful stories ever told have a three-act structure. You’ll find it in books and movies alike. If you sketch out a few ideas for each of your story’s three acts, you’ll have a basic plot outline. This will help guide you when it’s time to write your book. 

Here is an overview of the basic three-act structure: 

Need help outlining the story of your novel? Take this plotting master class. It will walk you through all the steps of outlining and writing a successful plot. 

4. Start the first draft

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” — William Faulkner

Person sitting in front of laptop

You’ve got your main character developed and your outline ready to go. It’s time to hit that coffee shop, library, or your favorite writing space, and start writing.

The most important thing to remember about the first draft is that it’s a discovery process. It’s not supposed to be good. It’s only supposed to be finished. This is where you are letting the story unfold. You are discovering things about your character, plot, and world. 

For that reason, the first draft is often messy and imperfect. As you write, you’ll find characters and plots growing in directions you’d never thought possible. You will often discard your outline as you experiment with characters, plots, styles, and forms. This is a place for you to break the mold and push yourself. Don’t bother being perfect. The faster you can jot down ideas on paper, the better. This rough collection of thoughts, ideas, and plotlines will eventually come together into a book. That will be after due editing and countless revisions, of course. For now, focus on writing anything.

It helps to set goals for yourself, like a daily word count goal. Try estimating how long your book will be. Typically fiction books are between 50,000 and 100,000 words. Divide by the number of days you want to spend writing the first draft. This will give you an estimate of how many words per day you’ll need to finish.

For instance, you could think your first draft should be 75,000 words. If you want to finish it in three months, you will have to write about 825 words a day to finish in that time frame. 

Setting word count goals for yourself can help keep you on task and motivated to write every day. This is important when the writing gets tough, which it’s bound to do. Every successful writer has struggled during the first draft, and you probably will too. Setting a daily word count goal and sticking to it can ensure you don’t quit halfway through. 

You don’t have to be a full-time writer to write a book. You just have to set aside time to write each day. For instance, every day before work, after dinner, or during your lunch break. It doesn’t matter when you write as long as you’re consistent. The more consistent you are, the more writing will become a habit. As it becomes a habit, the easier it is to sit down to write each day. 

Learn how to develop consistent and effective writing routines. This course is all about hacking your productivity. 

5. Take a break

Once you’ve finished your first draft, it’s time for a much-needed break! Writing the first draft is not easy, so congratulate yourself and get some rest and relaxation. 

Taking a break is necessary for recuperating and refueling your creative tank. It’s also necessary for giving your brain some distance from the story. After you’ve taken a few weeks away from your novel, you’ll have a fresh perspective on it. Then, you’ll be able to revise it with more objectivity and more clarity. 

6. Read through your first draft without editing

Once you’ve given yourself some distance away from the novel, it’s time to read back through your first draft. During this initial read-through, try your hardest not to edit anything you’ve written. Read what you have, absorb, think about the story as objectively and critically as you can. Take lots of notes about what you would like to change and get to the end. 

This will help you understand the full picture of what needs revision. Revising without having the full picture in front of you will feel daunting. It might even lead to time wasted. You don’t want to spend two hours perfecting a chapter that you might have to cut later. 

7. Revise  

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story… When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” – Stephen King

Now that you have a full picture of the story and the work that you need to do, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. On the first revision, focus on bigger fixes that affect the entire plot or character arc. Wait on smaller fixes like word choice or sentence structure. This will keep the process from feeling too overwhelming. It will also help you focus on where you spend your revising time. 

Some questions to ask yourself as you work on the second draft are: 

Answering these questions will help you figure out what you can improve in the second draft. 

Feel free to repeat steps five, six, and seven as many times as you want. Keep going until you feel happy with the plot and the characters. Many writers complete several drafts before moving on in the process. 

8. Edit and polish 

The final step is to polish it up and make it shiny. With the previous steps, you’ve revised the story. You feel like the plot is working, the characters are interesting and dynamic, and the pacing is tight. Now is the time to focus on the smaller details. 

This is where, as Stephen King puts it, you must “kill your darlings”.

To make this murder easier, follow these tips:

Lastly, celebrate!

Congratulations – you’ve written your very first book. It’s time to shout from the rooftops. You’ve just accomplished what many people never accomplish. Well done! 
Ready to publish your novel? Take this course for a comprehensive step-by-step guide to traditional publishing.

Page Last Updated: September 2021

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