Well, you know how this goes. Last week I finished the rewrite of my new novel, which will be called Secretos de Familia . Also, I recently published La Mano del Muerto. And if that wasn’t enough, I’ve already started writing my next novel. With all this in mind, I started to think … What would I have liked to know before writing a book?
Well, the truth is that there are many things that I would have liked to know before writing a book. Unfortunately, when I started out, when I was writing Blackwood: Skin and Bones – now in its third edition – there was very little information out there. There were a few lifelong manuals, a couple of American blogs, and little else.
Today there is already a lot of information. In this blog, for example, you can find articles about structures , characters and even how to write your novel with only 9 questions . There is also a very good article that Ana Bolox wrote about the snowflake method .
But I want to go a little further. I want to make a list of things you should know before writing a book. Useful and condensed information, no 5000 words circling.
1. First and foremost: finish what you’ve started
The number of hours that I would have saved myself from knowing this … Or paying attention. Right now, there are about 5 half-drafts on my hard drive. Do you know the bad? That, although I know that I will never write them, they are still there, annoying.
If you are going to start writing something, plan the writing to the end. Finish the happy novel you have started . Because if you leave it halfway, every now and then it will come back and bother you.
Writers finish what they start. The rest are those who talk a lot and do very little.
2. The time is now
Which means that if you stop to review the previous scene or the last chapter you’ve written… Wow! You get lost and you screw it up. When you write, write. Forget reviewing , revising and everything that has nothing to do with putting a new phrase on paper.
I know it is very difficult not to stop to reread… But believe me, if you lose your momentum and stop, it will be very difficult to start again.
3. The first draft is a conquest
Imagine that they disembark you on the beach of Novelandía. The gangway of your boat goes down and you, along with hundreds of thousands of other soldiers – let’s go with keyboards like you – go down at full speed. Bullets are raining millions around you. Many of your companions fall to the ground shot, but you continue.
Your only mission is to conquer that happy beach. The only thing that separates you from death is a sticky piece of sand full of mines — hello, procrastination. You have to get over that, reach the tip of the beach: write your first draft .
You will have time, when you take the beachhead, to worry about the bunker and the battery of machine guns —aka correction and editing.
4. Paint with your fingers
Do you remember how much fun you used to have when you painted with your fingers? Do you remember that you didn’t mind getting dirty? Well with your first draft you should do just that.
Take out that novel from within, vomit without regard on the blank page . Enjoy, have a good time and don’t stop to think if this will be right, wrong or if it makes sense. Let go of it , as if you were Elsa.
You will think that you are writing a lot of garbage. And it may be true. But when it comes time to rewrite, you will see that there is more than one pearl out there.
5. The first draft is for experimentation
The first drafts should be born in laboratories. The nice thing about a first draft is that you can have fun and get it all out there, experiment. Be daring, get out of your comfort zone.
When you check you can load everything that does not work, but take advantage and take out everything that you carry inside.
6. Writing is rewriting
Writing is putting words on the page. Editing is turning those words into something meaningful. The first draft is the birth of your book, but now it has to grow. Editing and rewriting will be his adolescence and maturity, in that time he has to learn many things.
7. There is no rush
If you were a circus knife thrower you would only have one chance. If you miss the shot, clap… Well, clap whoever is on target. But you understand me.
The great thing about writing a book is that you don’t have to worry about it. Even if you have a heavy editor who sets impossible times for you, you have every opportunity in the world to improve your novel. Write, edit and rewrite as many times as you want .
Don’t be in a hurry.
8. Know when to finish
Contradicting the previous point, I will tell you that you have to know when to finish. If you leave the rice on the fire too long it will stick to you. You have to know when to stop.
Perfection is your worst enemy. As Gabriella Campbell said, done will always be better than perfect. You can’t get lost in a rewriting loop, if you do, you will never finish writing your book.
Write until your book is good . Do not look for perfection, because you are not perfect, nor do you know what a perfect book is … Because it does not exist.
9. Your team
You’re not alone. You are not a lonely ronin without a clan. You have readers. You have professional ghost writers. The purpose of writing a book is for it to be read. Gather your dream team and give them the material to read.
We writers are the worst judges of our stories. You need someone else to see your work, someone who hasn’t spent hours in the trench. Your readers will give you good advice, they will know how to differentiate the good from the bad, the real from the unreal.
10. The carousel of hate
Writers live on a roller coaster of emotions. About every 10,000 words we reach a peak or a valley. This week we love what we are writing and tomorrow, when we reach the bottom, we will hate it.
This spiral of hatred will kill you if you let it take over. You have to keep writing, even on those days when you think everything is rubbish.
11. Mental health
No mentally healthy person writes.
Accept that you are part of a segment of the population that lives for weeks with imaginary people, in imaginary places. That is our magic.
12. Do not abandon your child … And if you do, dismember him
Go back to point one. Don’t make me come looking for you. Finish what you are writing.
If you ever quit — because believe me you will — don’t just quit. Use the good parts. Stick with worthwhile chapters, scenes or characters and save them for other projects .
13. You can write very fast
I know this point can be quite tricky. But if you put your mind to it, you can write a book very quickly . I finished the first draft of Family Secrets myself in less than 3 months.
If you do it right, if you have a clear outline, an outline, time to focus, and you know which direction to take in each writing session, you can write 5,000 words per session. I know it’s complicated, but it can be done.
A novel of 80,000 words, writing 5,000 a day, would take you about 16 days. I’m not telling you to do it, or that you can, or that you’re going to do it. It’s just so you know.
14. Write something
80,000 words is a lot. A reader who is faced with that will spend a lot of time with you. He will spend many hours reading you, so please say something important.
I have read novels in which the author rambles for the first 40 pages. From there, things don’t improve either, because it gets lost in an episodic narrative in which things happen without a real thread.
Every part of your novel has to be important. Not only the story, but also the narration and, above all, the characters. Write about something .
15. The shape of the letter
A page in a book should be more than just a wall of letters. It doesn’t have to look like a poem either. Remember that the shape of each page matters.
Don’t mess with long, endless paragraphs. But don’t abuse stacatto and telegram-like phrases either. Constructions of the type “sentence, point, sentence, point” are boring. But the sequences of compound phrases also.
Find your balance, reading your book should also be a visual experience for your reader.
16. The numbers of your novel
If the novel were a recipe, it would be something like: 48% action, 48% dialogue, and the remaining 4% exposure and description.
You may or may not agree with this recipe. The problem is that I usually go overboard with the descriptions and what I get is to make the reading very slow. The reader does not like to dwell on the details of a molding, what he wants is to see the monster crawling down the hall.
If you are going to write a book, remember that a novel is better when it lives in the present, when action and dialogue go hand in hand to accompany the reader .
17. I just lied to you, sorry
Dialogue is action. Action is doing something and talking is something, right? In fact dialogues work even better when the protagonists are doing something.
People talk while doing other things; while we drive, when we walk, when we shop. We are always talking and doing things. Your characters are not puppets or static drawings. Use language and movement in dialogue. Make the dialogue serve to energize a scene, provide background while you make everything move .
18. The subtlety of the details
Descriptions work best when they are subtle. I like descriptions and when I abuse them, I create a postcard instead of a scene. I turn something dynamic into something static . A novel cannot be static.
When you describe something, choose a detail – three at most – and that’s it. Give the reader a brushstroke, a little detail that puts him in the situation and move on.
19. The reader is your pawn
The reader wants to work. He doesn’t know, so this will be our secret, don’t tell him.
If you want to write a book that engages, don’t tell your readers everything. Don’t chew it all up. The reader wants to work, wants to imagine. You want to create the character in your mind. Don’t describe every freckle, every wrinkle on his face. Let him imagine what the characters and places are like.
If you write horror this will be especially important. Don’t give too much detail. Leave things in the shadows. Anything your reader can imagine will be 1000 times worse than the worst you can write .
20. Too many people
A novel can have too many characters. Not that there is a specific number. It almost always has to do with your ability to control all these people.
Novels like Stephen King’s Apocalypse or A Song of Ice and Fire have hundreds of characters. But its authors know how to handle all these people. If you don’t have that much skill, maybe it would be better to cut out, remove characters.
Stick with a group that you can handle without problems. You cannot let them do their ball, you have to have the reins and control them. If you are not able to give each of them a life of their own, they are not worth having. The characters need a soul.