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Tips for Aspiring Authors: How to Get Started on Writing Your First Book




I often receive messages from readers who tell me reading Rave New World has inspired them to write their own story, which I take as a compliment. They’ll often ask me if I have any tips on the writing process. So, I figured I’d write a blog which covers this.

 

“Everyone has a book inside them”, is a phrase you’ll hear when someone finishes entertaining friends with a series of anecdotes with the line, “People say I should write a book.”

 

It’s true that everyone’s life is a chronological narrative which plays out in the first person, with a beginning, middle, end, and a character arc - and may even follow the hero’s journey with calls to actions and character types (if you aren’t familiar with ‘The Hero’s Journey’, check out Joseph Campbells book of that title).

 

But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone can write a book. A story can’t tell itself; it needs to be told – and told in words on a page rather than around a table after a few drinks to people who know (and like) you.

 

My initial chapters were sent to friends – who all responded positively. Looking back, this was not surprising as they were my friends who were part of the story and appreciated my sense of humour. It did however give me confidence to continue and send excerpts to some readers who didn’t know me.

 

Ask yourself if your story would appeal and engage strangers? If your story is published 99% of your readers will be people you’ve never met. If they feedback positively and honestly, that’s the next hurdle cleared. Ask them to be brutally honest and tell you what they didn’t like or feel could be better too, or this exercise is merely a vanity exercise, and a waste of time.

 

If you’re a relatively unknown author like me rather than a celebrity or public figure, and writing in first person, its essential the reader respond to you favourably. If they don’t like you or find you interesting, they are unlikely to continue reading. Your tone and voice need to be entertaining (without showing off), and sound authentic and honest.

 

This brings me to the first questions you should ask yourself. ‘Why are you writing the book – and who for?’

 

To get things off your chest? To teach people? To entertain? Or because you would like to be a published author ‘cos it’s cool and think you’ll make lots of money. If it is, I’d close that laptop down now and buy a lottery ticket instead as you’ve got a better chance of getting rich - and you’ll have a lot more time on your hands!

 

I’ve always wrote with an audience in mind. It could be myself, my family, my friends, or a certain demographic. Ask yourself who you’re writing it for. There’s no wrong answer, but there must be an answer. In my case, I explain in the foreword who my intended readers were initially. As the book started taking shape and feedback indicated it had a wider appeal, I wrote with both audiences in mind; A) my sons and  B) a raver who’d never met me…and found to my surprise that I didn’t have to change my approach. Both required honesty, a visceral authenticity, and some funny stories to keep them turning the page.

 

If you care what people think of you and regard your book as an opportunity to show the world the best aspects of you like an insta profile shot of you looking your sun-kissed best in the VIP area at an Ibiza Superclub, the chances are it’s probably not going to appeal to the publisher or the masses. People don’t want perceived perfection, they get bombarded with it all the time. This may sound obvious, but when you’re writing your own script, the temptation to become James Bond is ever-present. That girl / hunk you failed to pull can suddenly become attainable. That business idea your mate had can now become yours, and all the mistakes and regrets you had can be wiped from history, after all, who’s going to stop you?

 

Ego is the enemy of autobiography. It will sanitise your story and negate any cathartic benefits of engaging in the exercise (hence my earlier comment about writing your story for status.)

 

Getting published is one of life’s mysteries. Briefly it’s a chicken and egg situation – publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts from unpublished authors, only from literary agents…who are deluged with unsolicited manuscripts from unpublished authors…

 

Every book you see on the shelves in a store has cleared a lot of hurdles. Each one will have done it in its own way. Rave New World’s journey to print is covered in the epilogue. It was turned down by over a dozen publishers, all of whom really liked it, but that wasn’t enough to tempt them to offer a contract. I’m no different to any other author who has a folder of rejection letters. 

 

If J K Rowling can be turned down by a long line of agents and major publishers, what hope is there for the unknown, unpublished author?

 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t write your book, just ask yourself why you’re doing it and who you’re writing it for and what your expectations are.

 

Telling your story is a wonderful exercise if it’s done with pure intent and not driven by egotistical or financial reasons. It offers an opportunity to reflect on your actions both good and bad. Re-living my (mis)adventures reminded me of what I’d done with my life at a time when I thought it was over (the Covid lockdowns of 2020/21). It made me feel grateful for the amazing places I’d got to visit, and proud of the things I’d achieved when I was feeling quite low.

 

My advice is don’t write your book in the expectation it will be published. If it doesn’t happen you won’t be disappointed, and if does happen, it’s a bonus. There are many good reasons to write your book, but getting it published shouldn’t be at the top (or even second) of the list.

If you’re still happy to proceed on that basis, good luck!

 

Further reading:

The Hero's Journey – Joseph Campbell

Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft – David Morrell

 

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