Writing a book is more than just… writing

Obviously you can’t publish anything if you haven’t written the words down. But writing a book, especially a fantasy novel, is not only writing words on a blank piece of paper.

  1. Thinking

There is a lot of thinking involved. You need to spend time with your characters and get to know them. Some may do this also through writing; by writing scenes they know will not be in the book, but they simply serve as getting to know the characters and figuring out how they behave and talk. Others may choose to play with their imagination, have arguments with the characters in their head.

Then you need to do world building, which is when you create the fantasy world and invent the “laws of physics” the world adheres to. If you have demons running around, then the question becomes where do they come from and how did they get here? And if you want to write something original, it may take even more time to figure out how it all works.

2. Research

Another aspect is research. If your main character is a police officer, understanding how police investigations are done can help you build a good crime story. Sometimes you may want to experience the things you’re writing about, such as shooting a gun or parachuting out of plane instead of simply imagining what it feels like. [Obviously, without hurting yourself or others.]

All along the story you do research; to take the example again of shooting, how many bullets can the gun shoot? How accurate is it at great distance? If a character gets shot in their leg for example, how much blood leaves the body? How long until they pass out? Do they pass out or does something else happen? How long until someone goes into shock?

3. Inspiration

Writers get stuck a lot. At least that’s my case. Sometimes it’s a big block and I can’t write at all, other times it’s a small open question I need to remember to resolve within the next few chapters. What helps is distraction and inspiration. Watching movies or series, listening to music, and reading books can stimulate your inspiration. It doesn’t mean you copy someone else’s work, but maybe you realize your book doesn’t have enough tension. Or you would like to have more characters in your book. Maybe you love the dynamic between two characters in a series, but you would have given them a different twist. You can draw inspiration from many (even unlikely) places.

4. Post production

After you’ve written the story, there is a lot editing and re-writing involved. But even after the book is done, you still need to figure out book cover, title, series name if it’s a series, dedication, acknowledgements, book format, launch date/time, marketing platform & social media use, self-publishing or traditional publishing, pen name or real name, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others.

Writing a book is more complex than it seems from the outside, but it’s a challenge worth taking on.

Why other authors are not your competition

From the outside it can look like you’re in competition with other authors, but I don’t feel that way. And I don’t think it’s useful to look at other authors as competition, even if they write within your genre.

You can argue that when someone decides to buy a book, they could buy someone else’s book instead of yours, and therefore you’re in direct competition with other writers. But that is just a temporary restriction; a reader may not buy your book that time, but they may buy it at another occasion. And the more people read and buy books, the better it is for all writers because the audience gets bigger.

Most people don’t read books

The number of readers is relatively low. I think a lot of people prefer to watch TV or movies instead of reading a book because it requires more mental engagement. So to me writing has always been about getting more people to read in general, not stealing away readers from other authors. If more people read, then more books will be read by more authors. If a new reader discovers a good book, they may be inclined to read more books by the same author, or read similar books in the same genre by other authors. So you can only win.

Those that do, read lots of books

Most of those that read regularly, read lots of books. Some genres are dominated by a handful of authors, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for you. On the contrary! Sure, most readers have their favorite authors. But that doesn’t mean they won’t ever read anything written by other authors, especially if their favorite author is still working on a sequel or taking some time off. It’s like having a favorite TV show; you will not watch that show exclusively and nothing else ever until you die. You will want to try out other things in the same genre or something completely different, either to wait until the next season comes out, or to mix it up. So once again, you can only win.

And there is also another huge upside; once a book series has ended, those readers will look for the next great series to read and that may be yours. Why then waste your time being bitchy at other authors?

Authors’ advantage

If authors help each other out, and promote newcomers and other authors (even established ones) they really like, it will benefit everyone. You interact with your audience, the readers get to know another author, the other author will be grateful (and may return the favor when he/she is the big shot!) and you create a positive atmosphere for everyone.

For me the author’s community is like a company; there is no point in fighting within our midst since we’re all selling the same product. It’s about working together and promoting the creative writing space as a whole in all its genres, from comic books to poems and everything in between. It doesn’t mean you have to be loyal and defend absolutely everyone. There are “authors” that I don’t think are worthy of that title, but ultimately the readers will decide who they support and buy books from, and as I said above there is no point in tearing each other down. Best case scenario you start a feud with a fellow author and you both lose respect from the audience (because newsflash, everyone can publish a book.). So don’t waste your time on being negative and judgmental, take that energy and do something positive.

What to do when you have writer’s block

First of all, I believe writer’s block is much more common than we think. There were many moments where I suddenly blocked while writing When Colour Became Grey and I was staring at the last sentence I had written, reading it over and over again, unable to come up with the next part.

For me, writer’s block most typically comes after I’ve finished writing a scene and I don’t know what should happen next. I usually know what should happen further down the line, but I can’t seem to formulate the bridge in my mind bringing me from point A to point B. I will usually start to get the creative juices flowing by re-reading the last pages I’ve written, or jump to a different section of the book I’ve already written.

If reading parts of the story I’ve written doesn’t work, then I’ll imagine a completely new scene, unrelated to where I’m stuck, and start writing it. I love writing fight scenes so I will start thinking of a way a character would enter a fight, or maybe they are hiding from someone but they get discovered, or maybe it’s set right after a battle and the character is wounded.

If I’m still stuck, I will read what I call “The Red Thread”. When I write a book, I have a separate document where I make bullet points of the overall plot line and where I want the story to go (i.e. the Red Thread). I also write down ideas for characters, plot development, scenes I want to include, as well as plot holes I haven’t figured out yet or things I still need to develop or that currently don’t make sense but I want to keep in the book.

If that still doesn’t work, I then take a break for a few days and don’t think about the story at all. Sometimes disconnecting from your written work and looking at it with fresh eyes can give you a completely new perspective and brand new ideas.

To avoid getting stuck in writer’s block, I write out the scene in a few sentences before writing the scene in full. I have that short description below the rest of the text I’m working on, so I can always re-read what my idea was. That way I can keep track of where I want to go. When I stop writing, I try to not stop right at the end of a scene, but rather keep writing and lead into a new situation. Once I’m done I will also write a couple of sentences where I think the story should go next so I can pick my idea back up.

I used to often forget what I was leading up to or why I had started writing a particular scene. Now I write down all my ideas, even ideas I later discard I will leave in my Red Thread document as they can always inspire other ideas, or can be used in another story.