Every person has a book in their head that needs writing, but getting the words out can be daunting for a first time author.
Sure, you have a great idea, you've committed to getting started, and you're excited to share your voice with the world. But how do you actually put pen to paper and turn a blank page into a work of art?
It can definitely be overwhelming — after all, you're not writing a term paper — this is an actual book!
Still, becoming a writer is an exciting and rewarding experience, so read on to learn our best writing tips for new authors!
What should first time writers do?
If you’re entirely unfamiliar with the book-writing process, the traditional route to print is as follows:
Write your manuscript
You'll complete your manuscript, which is another word for a draft of your book. This is the creative part where you finally write down all the ideas that have been swirling around in your head for such a long time.
Let the words flow, then edit until you're happy with the finished work. But at the same time, know that part and parcel of being a creative genius is you may never be 100% satisfied with what you've delivered! There's always room for tweaking!
Find a literary agent
A literary agent will be there to represent you and your book. Start by researching similar books in your genre and find the relevant agent for each. You can also attend writers' conferences, as they often have literary agents in attendance.
Pitch to the agent
You’ll pitch your book idea to the agent in a short, straight-to-the-point book proposal. Make the premise clear, explain your USP (Unique Selling Proposition), and why the marketplace needs your book right now.
If they like your book idea, they’ll offer to represent you. The agent will work with you to revise and polish the manuscript until it’s ready to go out to publishers.
Find a publisher
Agents will approach publishers with your manuscript and try to get the best deal possible. If a publisher is interested, they'll make an offer to you via your agent.
Some negotiations will follow in regards to advances, royalties(how you get paid), rights, and even recording your audiobook or having an audiobook narrator. But once you're both happy, you'll sign the book deal and officially become a published author!
Keep in mind that you can bypass finding and pitching to an agent and work with a publisher directly. This approach may work for you if you have the time to dedicate to it.
To be successful with this approach, it's important that you understand how to pitch your outline and negotiate with publishers.
You may also choose to publish with a self-publishing platform and, completely bypass using an agent or traditional publisher. This could mean more control and high royalties but also high upfront costs and small exposure.
What problems do first time authors face during the writing process?
So, as we've discovered, there are a few hoops to jump through before our books are published. But what about the process of writing the book itself? Many first time authors face similar problems, including:
Writer's block is probably the most common issue faced by all writers, regardless of experience. It can be truly soul-destroying when you're up against a deadline, and the words and ideas seem to be trapped inside you.
Imposter syndrome, low confidence, and self-doubt are all common when writing a book, especially as a first time author. You might think, "Who am I to write a book?" or "What if people think it's terrible?"
It's normal to feel like this, but try not to let it stop you from completing your masterpiece.
First time authors can find it challenging to juggle finances while facing the mammoth task of completing a book. It's not a small project, after all.
You might find yourself working another job to support yourself, or perhaps relying on savings. Some first time writers even take out loans which can start a spiral of debt.
Not having enough time
Not having enough time also ties into struggling with funds. If you're working another job or caring for your family, it can be hard to find the time and space to write. And if you're tired, this can be a natural creativity killer.
Writing a book is incredibly exciting, so it's tempting to rush in headfirst without a plan of action. But we've all heard the saying "fail to prepare, prepare to fail," which is undoubtedly true regarding authorship.
If you don't plan your book, it's likely to end up all over the place, making your project chaotic rather than fun.
Struggling with creativity
First time writers may not have the personal experience to know when they're most creative. If you struggle to get the words down, maybe you're writing at the wrong time of day. Do you love mornings or are you a night owl?
12 writing tips for new writers
Now we’ve looked at common roadblocks for first time authors; let’s look at how we can overcome them to produce our masterpiece.
1. Find time to write every day
If one of your goals is to become an author, it’s important to make time for your writing whenever you can. Even if it’s just an hour a day. Try to pinpoint your most creative window and use it to your advantage, even adjusting your schedule as needed.
Practice makes perfect with writing, but you don’t always need to focus on book writing to improve your craft. Journaling is an equally creative way to hone your skills by letting the words flow. Another option is to try writing morning pages to improve your mental clarity.
The idea is simple: you brain dump your mind into three pages first thing in the morning to set you up for the day. Tim Ferriss, author of the extremely popular book, “The Four Hour Work Week” – swears by using morning pages to “write about whatever disturbs the peace of mind.” Why not give it a go?
2. Read regularly
Along with regular writing, one of the next-best tips for new authors who want to improve their writing is to consume! Read as many books as possible to understand the beauty of words and how to structure your work to be engaging.
Read books specifically about the art of writing, those on your topic matter, but also read for pleasure! Consume as much as you can, written by authors you admire, and little by little, you'll become a better writer too.
3. Keep an author swipe file
Build an author swipe file to organize your writing research. So you bookmark any pages and paragraphs that strike a chord – you’ll then revisit and study them later.
You’re not looking to cheat or plagiarize, but rather to be inspired by the psychology of other people’s writing – learn more about what attracted you to that book title, opening chapter, personal anecdote, etc.
Of course, you could use an actual bookmark for this or a highlighter pen and a series of post-it notes. But if you're reading digitally, another option is to use a note-taking app like Evernote to build your swipe file.
Make notes of varying sentence structures and paragraph openers you feel drawn to, and add tags to each entry so you can search for them later.
4. Outline your book
A common mistake that first time authors make is to go from that lightbulb moment straight to writing without mapping out the book first.
It's tempting to rush in, but outlining your book chapter by chapter allows you to dig deeper and it's also comforting to know there's a plan ahead.
Take some time to plot out your book. Identify your hook and work out how you'll move seamlessly from one chapter to the next. And the killer question: how will you end your book?
Get your outline down, and your writing will flow smoothly. Better yet, you'll avoid getting stuck partway through.
5. Sign up for a first time author workshop
Attend a writing workshop to meet other writers eager to improve their craft. All are there to be taught by established authors who've been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.
You’ll learn the important tools of the trade from these creative geniuses by signing up for a workshop, either in your local area or online.
Some also take the form of a writers' retreat, where you visit a tranquil, inspiring place to tap into your creativity. A dedicated writing coach could also be extremely helpful if you find you need that one-on-one support.
It might be an investment, but it can also focus your mind on your book-writing journey and stop procrastination.
6. Network with other first time writers
Connections are vital in any industry, and networking is equally crucial when writing a book.
If you're serious about completing your book, attend a writers group to brainstorm ideas with people in the industry. Your group is a safe space to test new ideas to see if they'll land with your audience.
Another great networking location is at a writers' conference, where you'll have the chance to mingle with top literary professionals. You'll also learn inside tricks, attend Q&A panels, and get a heads-up on which agents are open for pitches right now.
If you've done freelance writing in the past, tap into your network to see who has transitioned into becoming an author!
7. Find your first time author voice
Your author voice is like your fingerprint – it's unique to you. But it can be challenging to develop yours when writing a book.
This is especially true if you've ever done any ghostwriting where you effortlessly slip into someone else's voice instead.
But finding your voice is essential to building your identity as a first time author, and that's what will make your readers come back to read your second, third, or tenth book!
So much goes into developing your voice – including your vocabulary, tone, syntax, and of course, point of view.
Are you known for being witty, sarcastic, sympathetic, descriptive, or argumentative? Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Write in different voices until you identify the one that feels natural to you. And once you find yours, flaunt it!
8. Use a development editor as a first time author
If you want to take your writing to the next level, consider working with a development editor. By doing so, you’ll take a step back and see the bigger picture, working on the structure of your book, character development, and plot points.
A good development editor will also provide feedback on your author's voice and style. And most importantly, they'll ensure your writing remains consistent with industry standards. Find a development editor online or contact your local writers' association.
9. Leap over that writer’s block
Famous authors like Harper Lee, Ernest Hemingway, and JK Rowling have all spoken about their experience with writer's block at some time in their careers.
There may be comfort in knowing you're in the company of literary greats, but how do you overcome this common obstacle and get your writing mojo back on track?
Start by taking a break from your work. Go for a walk, watch a movie or chat with a friend – you may find that inspiration floods in from elsewhere. Once you've cleared your head, try these block-clearing tips for new writers:
Break the rules
If you usually write in the third person, why not try a first-person point of view? Or vice versa. You can always edit later once the words are flowing.
Write something else
If you’re feeling blocked on your current project, try writing a different scene, character sketch, or piece of dialogue.
Set a timer
Allow yourself a certain amount of time to write, say 15 minutes, and then write without stopping. This can break through the barrier of a blank page.
Read your work out loud
Ask a friend or family member to read your work aloud if you feel comfortable. Or, if you aren't ready to share your work, read it out loud to yourself.
Hearing the words can help you identify what you like or don't like about your writing. This also allows you to identify clunky sentences or words that don't quite fit.
10. Keep a notebook with you
Knockout sentences and ideas always pop into your head at the most inconvenient times.
It’s so frustrating that these gems appear when waiting in line at the store, when you’re driving, when your kids are in the bath, or when you’re trying to fall asleep at night. And of course, the challenge is making sure you remember them later!
Keep a notebook and pen handy, so you can jot down your fleeting thoughts before they disappear. Use a note-taking app like Google Keep on your phone if that works better.
11. First time writers need breaks
Regular writing is important. However, you may need to take a break from writing your book, and that's ok!
Maybe you're suffering from burnout, or you're not feeling inspired. Perhaps life is just very busy. Don't force it – take a break and come back refreshed in a few days with fresh eyes and make changes if necessary.
Ernest Hemingway shared his experience of why taking a break was vital to his process:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day… you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it, you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
12. Editing is your best friend as a first time author
No one writes a bestseller in one sitting. Editing is where you can make your mark and ensure your book is the best it can be. Writing, editing, and rewriting will cut the drivel and create the best possible version of your manuscript.
Hiring an editor is a wise investment before pitching to an agent. But if that's not possible, editing software programs like Grammarly and Hemingway app can help you clean up your work grammatically, at least.
If an editor is out of budget for you, try sharing your work with friends and family to get their insights. But this can be truly terrifying and may even put you on the defensive.
Another option is to share sections of your work in a writing workshop to glean some valuable feedback. Discovering how other people receive your writing will tighten up your work and make it shine.
Related articles for first-time authors
Were these tips helpful? For more advice, check out these related articles.
- 10 Key Tips For Formatting A Book
- 15 Best Books About How To Write For New Authors
- 10 Key Tips For Writers' Block
- 12 Ideas For The Best Places To Write
Which of these tips for new authors will you try?
Writing a book takes creativity and determination in equal measure. One of the best tips for new writers is to understand that you have all the tools you need at your disposal – it's up to you to make it work!
If being a first time author is your dream, it’s absolutely possible. So grasp your idea with both hands, start outlining your book and put your words out into the world!