Advice for writers: these 5 steps take your book from idea to implementation

Writing is work, not inspiration.

One day in summer 2010, I was sitting in the audience at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, and feeling every fiber of my being internally resist against everything that the four well-established authors on the panel were saying. Little wisdom chunks like “Writing is work, not inspiration” sounded miserable to me.

To that point, I’d been the artist who painted when I felt like it, wrote when the spirit moved me, and indeed considered myself all-around “inspired.” Because such activities came easy to me, I never thought art or writing was something over which I should have to sweat. THEN I STARTED AN MFA PROGRAM AND BOY HOWDY. Let me tell you, writing IS work.

Naropa Summer Writing Program 2010: When I still thought I knew everything.

Naropa Summer Writing Program 2010: When I still thought I knew everything.

But! It doesn’t have to be the kind of scullery-maid drudgery to which Cinderella’s evil stepsisters sentenced the one blushing blonde among them. Writing can be, should be, and is all kinds of awesome fun—and it’s hella more rewarding than any other “work” you’ll do today. So let’s get started!

Follow these five steps to take your book from idea to implementation:

  1. When you do get that spark of inspiration, write it down immediately. The physical act of writing turns ethereal thought into visceral muscle memory. Then that great idea is more likely to stay present and active in your conscience mind, where the wheels can spin your straw into gold—meaning you get to keep your baby (aka, your book)! Rumpelstiltskin, anyone?
  2. Talk to people about your ideas. Don’t talk their ears off, and don’t bore them—there’s nothing worse than alienating those who stand to be your first fans. But the more you discuss your plot, the more confident you become in it. When people poke holes in your story, you know where to fix the leaks. Try out different character traits, and take polls on whether they sound believable. Allow real people to inspire your protagonists' fatal flaws—it makes them relatable!
  3. Do your research. Think you’re already an expert, but you need a few more details to make a scene really come alive? Turn to the books that already exist. Walk into a library. Close your eyes. Stick out your hands. Walk slowly (SLOWLY) around, letting your fingers guide you up and down the shelves, over spines, caressing covers, until they happen upon the perfect resource. This is called bibliomancy. Just don’t use it as an excuse to grope people (without their consent, anyway).
  4. Write, and write some more, and build writing into your schedule like you would grocery shopping and doctors appointments. Never miss a writing appointment you’ve made with yourself. When you need a break, read. The only way to become a better writer is to read great writing. Read mainstream fiction, and popcorn lit, because these have made it into the cultural consciousness, and it’s good to know what’s influencing the face of fiction. But read deeper. Read the classics. Troll the internet for books with a cult following. They’re always just about to be the next big thing.
  5. Remember that the worst thing you have written is better than the best thing you have not. You can spend your life doubting yourself and your ability, or you can in the immortal words of Nike “Just do it.” Godspeed.