Ask the Author

So you’ve always wanted to write a book. Now what?

Everybody wants to be an author. Okay, perhaps that is an overstatement. So, let me try again: A LOT of people want to be an author. I know this because I have had A LOT of people tell me this since I first announced my book deal. I understand this sentiment well. After all, it does refer to my chosen career path. When someone says they have a book idea, but then asks now what? I’m afraid that sometimes I can be a bit of a buzzkill.

Here’s why: there is a lot of romanticism built around the idea of what an author is and does. It’s easy to have an idea that simply because a muse strikes, the words will flow, the sentences will write themselves, the characters will become three-dimensional and fully developed, and the plot will be so riveting that everyone everywhere will want to read this magnificent piece of word art.

But the truth of the matter is that writing a book is hard work. Oftentimes lonely work. A lot of times uncertain work.

There is no magic wand to wave. And that muse? I hate to spoil this for you, but she is known to do incomplete work. Sure, she shows up with a rush of excitement and euphoria, but then she high tales it out of your inspiration zone once you start putting words to page. By the time you begin meandering through the messy middle of your work in progress, she will have flitted on to new ideas. And other authors.

So, what am I trying to say here? In short: ideas are great. But hard work is required.

Part of that hard work means learning a thing or two about story structure. Since every one of us had to write essays and stories in school, it’s easy to believe we all have the ability to then whip up an 80,000-word novel. While we are all capable of communicating in words, the ability to maintain a story, characters, setting, and plot over that length (or more) is an entirely different matter.

Think of it this way: everyone is capable of exhaling. But does that mean you can pickup a woodwind instrument without having taken a single lesson and expect to compose a masterpiece? No. Does it mean that you have the ability to at some point play a beautiful piece of music? Sure! But it will take time, patience, perseverance, and intentionality to get you there.

Back to writing, so you have an idea for a book. Now how do you write it? Here are three things to do over time:


This means read for pleasure. Read what’s out there. Read what is comparable to the story you want to tell. Read what is different from what you want to say. And pay attention while you’re reading. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What worked and didn’t work in this story?
  • When did I find myself absorbed by the story?
  • When did I find my mind wandering?
  • What characters seemed three-dimensional?
  • What characters seemed flat?
  • How would I change the ending?
  • Would I recommend this book to someone? Why or why not?

Doing close, careful reading of a variety of books can help you develop a feel for story.


While a “feel” is helpful, an understanding of story structure is necessary. While the above tip focuses on reading stories similar to what you want to write, it is also essential to learn the craft of writing. You can do this through classes, books, and resources that are out there.

Here are a few books that I consistently recommend to authors I work with:

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron

In this writing guide, Cron reveals how to use cognitive storytelling strategies to build a blueprint for a novel. Cron provides a real-life example of a book being developed so the reader can see her advice being applied in “real time.” She ends each chapter with prompts for you to practice what you’ve just learned, so by the end, you have a blueprint to guide your first draft.

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron

This book looks at how the brain experiences story and taps into the basics of storytelling. Each chapter ends with checkpoints or questions to ask about your novel to apply the content of each chapter to your work in progress.

Save the Cat Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody

This book takes a formulaic approach to writing a compelling novel that meets readers’ expectations. While I’m not a big adherent to formulas, it is a helpful tool for a first-time novelist to understand the flow of a book to make sure you’re hitting the beats of the story to keep the reader moving forward.


A lot of people who tell me they want to write a book haven’t done the thing that’s most essential: sit down and write. The story will never get told if you don’t put one word after another and keep building. Don’t wait for perfection (or that elusive muse) or you will never tell the story.

Here’s an inside tip: the book you pick-up at a bookstore has been through countless revisions and rounds of editing. It is not the first draft the author wrote. Don’t expect to write a full, complete, and perfect manuscript on your first attempt. It’s impossible. Even for Margaret Atwood and Stephen King. But you have to start somewhere.

Start by sitting down and writing. And keep going. 

Here’s another fun fact: most authors have junk novels hidden away on their hard drives or in their desk drawers that will never ever be published. Why? Because they were practice. I have two of my own. Am I upset about the lost time I spent creating them? Maybe a little, but what I know is that while they will never be published, they were part of the practice (remember the example of the instrument above?) needed to learn the craft which got me to the book deal.

So, you’ve always wanted to write a book. Now what? Get to work. Muse nor magic is going to save you here. Sit down in your chair. Put your fingers on the keyboard. Type one word and then another. And keep going.

This is part one of the Ask the Author Series. Now read part two: So you’ve written a book. Now what?

Are you a writer who is stuck and doesn’t know how to move forward? I can help! I offer story coaching to help stuck writers get unstuck. Click the button below to check out my Reedsy profile for more information.