9 Lessons Learned While Writing My First Book


Written by Frankie Cameron

Writing my first book was a challenge. With little more than an idea and a character, I jumped into writing my first novel. I learned so many lessons along the way, doing so many things wrong before getting them right. Let me share with you how not to write a book.

1. Show Don’t Tell

Show don’t tell refers to showing the reader what is happening instead of telling them.

For example
Telling: George stomped away angrily.
Showing: George clutched his fists into a ball, spun on his heels and slammed the door.

The first example is telling, the second is showing. You don’t want to tell your readers what your characters are feeling, you want to show them how the character is feeling without telling them.

My first draft has so much telling, instead of showing its embarrassing. But once I learned this technique, my writing improved tenfold.

2. Pick a Tense

There are three main tenses: Past, Present and Future that break down further into simple, continuous, prefect, and perfect continuous for sixteen tenses.

For Example:
Simple Present Tense: She runs every day.
Simple Past Tense: She ran every day.
Simple Future Tense: She will run every day.

I started writing in the past tense, rewrote the entire book in the present tense and then rewrote the entire book back in the past tense. That was a lot of work. Next time I would just pick a tense and stick with it.

3. Pick a Narrator

There are four types of narrators: First-person narrator, second-person narrator, third-person limited narrator and a third-person omniscient narrator.

For Example:
First-person narrator: uses “I” and is usually an active story participant. You see the world through their eyes.
Second-person narrator: uses “you” as a pronoun. This is the least used narrator.
Third-person limited narrator: uses “he/she/they/gender-neutral” pronouns. They make comments on the story from their own point of view
Third-person omniscient narrator: uses “he/she/they/gender-neutral” pronouns. They are all-knowing and have access to all the character’s thoughts and past knowledge.

Just like with tenses, I also experimented with narrators. I started with first-person, then switched to third-person omniscient, then switched back to first-person. If you are not sure what to do, pick a narrator, write a chapter or two and then, if it doesn’t work, consider switching. Don’t do what I did and switch back and forth, rewriting the entire book.

4. Write When You Don’t Feel Like It

You can’t wait for inspiration to strike and hope that the words will magically flow one day. It doesn’t work like that. You must write every day, whether you feel like it or not. Sometimes when you start writing the words and ideas will follow.

The first couple of years I spent working on my novel I only wrote when I felt inspired. That is why it took me two years to write three thousand words, which leads to the next topic.

5. Accountability is Important

Writers need accountability. Whether it comes in the form of a writing group or tracking your words in a spreadsheet or both, writers do better when they have a plan.

I honestly would not have finished my book without my writing group. Although we set our own goals and targets, reporting our achievements to each other inspired me to work harder.

6. Ideas are Everywhere

There are two types of writers, Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters outline, create their characters, build their world, and know everything about their story before they write. Pantsers write organically. They start with a character or idea and then write in whatever direction the story takes them.

I write organically. I had my setting, and my character, and began from there. Originally, I thought my book would be about twelve chapters and it ended up growing to thirty. Mostly because of ideas. Once you ask ‘What If’ questions, it is easy to grow your story. Ideas keep coming and when you keep adding, your story becomes much deeper.

7. Note Taking is Crucial

Writers need to keep detailed notes. If they don’t, they will mix up vital details about characters, setting, and historical events. You might think you’ll remember everything, but you won’t.

After I had written multiple chapters, I kept having to go back and search through previous chapters for details to get them right. It is so much easier to keep organized notes of important things and refer to them. I created spreadsheets to get organized. Here are a couple of screen shots of my notes for Hollow Edge.

8. Get Comfortable with Editing

Editors make your book better, they just do. When you are writing, you are too close to your story and you can’t see the plot hole or character deficiencies. There are three types of editors: Developmental, Line and Copy Editors.

For Example
Developmental Editing: Developmental Editors look at the book from a macro perspective. They will look for inconsistencies, tone, descriptions, emotions, personalities.

Line Editing: Line editing focuses on how you’ve written your story and making sure it flows smoothly. At this point, you’ll tighten up your wording, cut your word count, remove weasel words, and clarify your writing.

Copyediting: In this phase, you’ll look for common grammatical errors, Easily Confused Words, Misspellings and Verb Tense Agreement.

At first, I didn’t want the added expense of hiring an editor, but I wanted my book to be the best it could be. My editor made my book so much better, pointed out a few things I had missed, and made some suggestions to improve my story and characters. I ended up crafting an entirely new ending.

9. Things Take Time

Writing, editing, cover design and everything in the writing process takes time. You might think you can rush through the process in a few weeks, but in reality, it will take much longer. You can plan and schedule, but be prepared for delays. If you try to speed things up, your final product won’t be as good.

I finished my manuscript, sent it to beta readers in August of 2020, and set a publishing date of May 27th, 2021, which I thought was plenty of time. It wasn’t. Eventually, the publishing date was moved to September 21, 2021, and even that almost needed to be pushed back. My cover designer left my cover in pieces, and I had to get a friend to put it together for me to make my publication date. Build-in extra time to your publishing schedule to make up for delays.

Related Story: Writing Hollow Edge

Final Thoughts on Lessons Learned

I hope this blog has given you some insight on how not to write a book. Learn from my mistakes and publish your first book.

Until next time


Feature photo by annmariephotography from Pixabay.

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