For some reason this question’s been coming up frequently: “what software’s the best to write a book?”
The short answer is: whatever you use for your writing sessions now.
Here’s why. Writing a book is challenging, even for people who’ve been at it for years. Learning new software is stressful.
If you want to write a book, keep to your writing routines
You’ll hit “the wall” as anyone does when they write a book. This book crash usually happens around page 100 or Chapter 3. At this stage, you’re looking for reasons to quit.
The book’s crap and you have many, many excuses for not carrying on. The idea’s lousy, you’re too busy, you’ll write next vacation — and so on and so forth.
You don’t need special software to write a book
I adore Scrivener. I’ve been using it for a decade, ever since the beta version. Much as I love it, for the first couple of years I wrote in MS Word, then dragged the docs into Scrivener. Mostly that was because clients and editors wanted Word docs. But also, it was wanting to get stuff done.
You have a writing routine now, even if you’re a relatively new writer. If you tinker with that routine too much, you’ll procrastinate, or worse, you’ll block. Your productivity will go out the window.
Useful software for writing books
After all these years, Scrivener is part of my book-writing routine. My books and writing courses start and end in Scrivener.
I write shorter material like articles and blog posts in Ulysses. Not only is Ulysses a fun writing tool, it also makes it easy to output docs to HTML, PDF, ePub, and DOCX.
I know several authors who write their books in Google Docs. I couldn’t imagine anything more punishing, but kudos to them.
I’ve also heard good things about:
yWriter, which looks Scrivener-like;
(free) FocusWriter, a cross-platform app which is minimalist. The bare bones interface is meant to remove distractions;
(free) LibreOffice, an MS Office alternative;
(free) Sigil, open source, cross-platform, and useful only if you’re a little techy. Outputs ePub documents. Inputs can include HTML, and plain text. Creates elegant ebooks. If you’d like to try it, this is the official website.
In our Advanced Fiction class we’re writing novellas. It’s fun to write a novella, because you can finish your story quickly and get it published
You may be wondering… what’s a novella?
Novellas are short fiction. Novellas are too long to be short stories, and too short to be novels. So they’re an ideal length for today’s readers who want stories they can read quickly.
I think of novellas as overgrown short stories, and write them at anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 words.
Write a novella, and sell it — fast
Did you know that when you write a novella, you can make as much income as you can writing a novel?
I asked a couple of self-publishing authors who specialize in short fiction how they priced their novellas — did they price them lower than novels? Both said that they invariably priced their novellas at either $2.99 or $3.99. They added some of their novellas to KDP Select, some they didn’t.
What you do with your novellas will vary according to what you want them to achieve for you.
For example, if you’re writing a series, you could write a novella as a lead-in to the series, and price it at 99 cents. The hope is that you’ll get readers hooked on the series.
Now let’s look at some tips to help you to write novellas confidently.
1. Start with the story question: what’s at stake?
The story question is also known as the narrative drive; it’s what powers the novella.
When you’re writing a novella, keep the cast of characters small. You haven’t the space for a tribe.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a novella as a prequel to a series of novels, you may add in a couple of characters you don’t strictly need, because they’ll make an appearance in your series.
3. What’s the climax?
What does your point of view (POV) character fear most? Once you know that, you know that this greatest fear will play out in the climax of the novella. You’ll torture your character by making him face what he most fears.
A student asked whether you need a climax in a novella. Some authors feel that you don’t. Other authors end on a cliffhanger, so that the reader will buy another book which carries on the story.
I like to include a climax, and I never end on a cliffhanger. I like my novellas to be a complete emotional experience for readers. That said, it depends on your own needs, as well as the genre.
For example, let’s say that you’re writing a mystery series. The series has an overall mystery, which won’t be resolved until the final book, although each book contains a complete mystery, which is resolved in the climax. Each book in the series adds more clues to the “big” mystery of the series.
Let’ say that you want to write a novella to promote your series. Of course you won’t resolve the overall series’ mystery, but you will resolve a complete mystery for readers.
Please don’t get too hung up over what to do, climax or no-climax. Your story will usually tell you what’s needed once you’ve written a few thousand words.
4. Write your first draft quickly, in scenes and dialogue
I like to write the dialogue in scenes first. The dialogue is usually the action of the scene. Writing that first gets it out of the way. Then you can focus on underpainting your scene.
5. Add your “underpainting”: character motivations, thoughts etc.
When you’ve written a scene, mostly in dialogue, go back and add stuff. I call this process adding bits of business to the scene; bestselling Outlander author Diana Gabaldon calls the technique “underpainting”. Great word:
… the technique involves a good deal of body language and inconsequential small actions. The reader is conscious of the main thrust of a paragraph, page or scene; the spoken dialogue, the main actions. Subconsciously, underpainting brings the scene alive in the mind’s eye.
In underpainting, you’re putting in whatever the scene needs. You add the viewpoint character’s thoughts, actions of other characters in the scene, the time of day and weather if it’s relevant… Anything and everything which fleshes out the scene.
Of course, in a novella you add less of this than you’d add in a full-length novel.
So, there you have it: some tips to help you to write a novella. Let me know know if they work for you. 🙂
“I want to write a book…” I’ve heard those words many times. The writer is motivated, but writing a book takes time, and real life gets in the way, so the motivation doesn’t last.
Suddenly you find that you have no time, because your day job is more demanding. Or something happens at home. You can’t work on your book for a week or two, and gradually you forget all about it. Six months later, you feel guilty because you gave up on your dream.
Change is uncomfortable. Your life changes when you write a book — it starts changing as soon as you start writing.
When you write a book, it takes time and motivation
I discussed how to create a writing habit here. The big benefit of turning writing into a habit is that you no longer need to rely on motivation.
Now let’s look at three tips which will help you to find the motivation to write a book.
1. Give yourself reasons to write: write down the benefits of writing a book
Your motivation is strong when you begin writing. You’re inspired, and words flow. You tell yourself that you can do this, and wonder why you ever imagined that writing was hard. Sooner, rather than later, you hit speed bumps. Then road blocks, and you tell yourself that you will write “tomorrow.”
You can avoid that by creating a list of reasons to write before you start writing.
How will your life change for the better once you’ve published your book?
You list may include benefits like: pride and satisfaction, the money you could make, and the opportunities a published book would bring you.
Writing a list of the benefits is vital. If you try to keep the reasons in your head, you’ll forget them as soon as your dream collides with reality. As we’ve said, your writing brings change. That change affects everything in your life.
Review your list of benefits at least once a week.
2. Drop your expectations: allow yourself to write rubbish
You can’t write a book in a day, or even a week. You have weeks, if not months, of writing ahead. Then, after your first draft is done, you need to do an initial edit of your book yourself, so that you can revise it.
You’ll hire an editor later, but firstly, you need edit it yourself, to make sure that your book achieves what you set out to do. In the heat of creation, all book projects morph.
When writing fiction, you bring in new characters. A main character takes on a life of his own. With nonfiction, you intended writing A, B, and C. After your first draft, you realize that you need to cover D and E as well.
Books are messy.
Important: expect messes while you write.
Please drop your expectations before you start writing. You can fix messes later, but unless you’re a true unicorn author, your writing will never go as expected. Be happy to make messes, and to write “rubbish”. The rubbish helps you to realize what you need to write.
Which brings us to…
3. As long as you’re writing, you’re writing a book correctly
No book you write is the same as another. No matter how many books you’ve written before, each and every book is a new adventure.
Take heart, because as long as you write, and keep going, you’ll finish your book. You’re doing it “right” — all you ned to do is keep writing.
Challenges which seem unsolvable will magically clear themselves up, either tomorrow, or next week, so keep writing. 🙂
Your motivation to write a book develops while you write
I’m usually working on six to eight book projects at any one time; my own, and clients’ projects. Some books are in the outlining stage, others in various drafts, and a couple are in the revision and editing phases.
If nothing else, I know this: motivation happens while you’re writing.
Often, I’ll think about a couple of my projects when I wake up in the morning, and realize that I truly, deeply, do not want to look at them today. I write those projects at their scheduled time anyway, because I know that my motivation will develop while I’m writing.