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How to Get Started as a Fiction (or Memoir) Writer

Writing Plan Checklist

You’ve wanted to write a book forever! Maybe it’s an adventure story, a romance, or even a page-turning thriller. Or maybe it’s a memoir, a slice of life you want to pass on to your kids or grandkids, or an experience that could help another person who’s going through a similar situation. 

The problem is you sit down to write and you just don’t know where to begin. 

  • Maybe you get a few words down but you have no idea if they’re any good. 

  • Maybe you just can’t seem to find the time. 

  • Maybe you just feel overwhelmed at the scope of the project. 

I get it. I know exactly how you feel because I felt the same way. For over 10 years I struggled to write and publish my first book, and when I did manage to get words on the page, the plot had holes, the dialogue was stilted, and I didn’t like the work I was producing. 

And I was frustrated. 

Because writing was the one thing I wanted to do. During those 10 years I struggled, but I never gave up. I persevered and I learned. I figured out how to get out of my own way and get words on the page, words that worked. 

And I learned that writing is more than simply sitting down and spitting out a story. Sure, some people can manage this, and if this is what you’ve done AND you’re producing work you love, work your readers are devouring, then this works for you, it’s your process. But for the majority of us, it doesn’t work that way.

For the rest of us, there is so much to learn! 

-We need to learn how to plot, how to develop realistic characters, write descriptive settings. 

-We need to learn when in the process to send our books to the beta readers, editor, proofreader, formatter. When to have the cover designed and when to start marketing. 

-We need to learn why we need an editor, why we can’t edit our own work, why a stunning and professional book cover is necessary. 

-We need to learn what to study. For instance, story arc, grammar, character development, pacing, genre, word count expectations... 

And the truth of the matter is, most people take years to learn and master these things. 


But don’t let that discourage you! Instead, look at it as the beginning of an exciting adventure, an adventure that will take you to places you only imagined you’d go. 

Now you might be wondering, with so much to learn, where you should begin. Below are my top 3 tips to get started. 

1 |  Read craft books. Pick one or two and read them, study them, take notes. Years ago when I first started taking piano lessons, before I met my first teacher, I’d run downstairs every Sunday to try to sound out that day’s hymns on the piano. I was finally able to peck out the melody with one hand, but that’s as far as I could take it on my own. I needed a teacher, lesson books, workbooks, exercises to be able to learn to play at a professional level. It’s the same with writing. Study, learn, work with a coach, but don’t try to go it alone, or else you’ll just end up plucking out a melody with one hand instead of writing a fully fleshed out book with a solid plot and interesting characters. 

Learning in this way may sound intimidating, but trust me, it will save you so much time and frustration in the long run. Imagine if I was still trying to sound out songs on my own. I’d never have learned about scales and chord progressions. I’d never have learned how to add in the accompanying bass notes or play a song anyone would actually want to listen to. 

If you want to be the next Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, then you’re going to have to learn the process. 

2 |  Practice. Write short stories or put your characters into scenes. Practice skills such as writing dialogue, description, settings. Focus on one element at a time, analyze and note where and how you can improve. But beware that you don’t fall into the trap of mechanical repetition. That is, don’t do the same thing over and over again on a consistent basis without adjusting your technique to increase your limits and ability. 

If you just mechanically repeat the same motions, the same techniques, day in and day out, you will find yourself at a plateau. Instead, continually tweak, and then evaluate and tweak some more. Do this until you’ve pushed yourself past your limits, each day getting one percent better than the day before.

3 |  Time. You need to commit to a schedule, touch your story in some way every writing day. I remember when I was on the swim/dive team in high school. We had practice for 2 hours a day 6 days a week. I was sore, it took up a lot of time, but in the end, the time I committed to it was worth it. If I had missed a day here and there, if I had slacked off, I would’ve fallen behind the rest of the team, I would’ve lost momentum in my own progress and in my finish times. 

Take some time to look at your days and determine which days you can commit a half hour or an hour to writing, then mark it on the calendar. Determine what time of day works best for you, too (this may take some experimentation to see when you’re most productive and creative). Finally, let your family and friends know when you’ll be writing so you can focus without interruption. 

I’ve created a writing plan checklist here that you can use to help you meet your writing goals. 

If you study, practice, and remain consistent, you will reach your writing goals. You will write a book you can be proud of, a book your readers will be anxiously waiting to read! 

Until next week…

Press on! 

Writing Coach
 

PS You may not know this, but I’m a coach who specializes in helping aspiring writers like you realize their dream of becoming a published author.That means I’m available for one-on-one client work if that happens to be something you could use now or in the near future. You can take a look at my coaching services here.


Writing Coach

“Honest writing, words that come from the depth of your being, can change your perspective, clarify your thoughts, heal your soul. Good writing, in its finest form, allows you to share those gifts with your reader. Learn to write well and you will possess the ability to change the world.” - Jennifer L. Harris, Writing Coach