From idea to first draft

There’s no one way to get started writing a book. Hear from best-selling authors about their various approaches to the initial writing process.

Tips from real authors on how to start writing.

There’s no wrong way to write. Whether you’re starting a novel or drafting your memoir, many writers have a process that’s as unique as the stories they tell. Draw from the strategies that other successful authors use to develop your own. There’s no right or wrong way to start, as long as you’re making progress.

“The blank page is the first major obstacle that any writer comes across. And it’s an obstacle for reasons that seem to be opposite. One, there’s just nothing there. It’s empty. It’s like death. It’s something that’s… how do you approach nothing and create something?” said Walter Mosley, author of over 40 books. “And the best way to deal with such a major obstacle is to ignore that it’s an obstacle and just start writing words.”

Some writers embrace Mosley’s approach, but others like to create an intricate plan before they even begin. Many writers fall into one of two camps:

  • Pantsers, named for “writing by the seat of their pants,” might not know where their draft is going — but they find out as they keep writing.
  • Plotters, who approach writing in a very planned and methodical way, often using an outline to plot the characters, conflict, and world.

Regardless of your approach, it’s helpful to make writing a daily habit. Consistency can be key to transforming an idea into a true first draft.

“I always say to new writers that you have to write every single day even if it’s just for five minutes,” said Aileen Erin, author of several series of popular Young Adult books. “Once you get into a routine, have a habit building up the word count [until] it comes and starts to flow more and more and more. But writing every day is an excellent habit for every writer.”

Successful authors often recommend writing anywhere and everywhere you can: at home, on your commute, in a waiting room, in the morning or late at night. Ideas can come anytime, so be prepared — keep a physical notebook, or take quick memos or voice memos in the Notes app on your Apple device.

“I’ve been in the position of writing for the last 20 years. I’ve written through everything,” said Barbara Freethy, a best-selling author of romance novels. “I’ve written through having small kids, I’ve written in the parking lot of the baseball game, I’ve written in the dentist office.”

No matter when you start or the tools you’re working with, many authors agree the key is to give yourself permission to keep writing. Don’t procrastinate.