Is Now the Time to Write a Book? 5 Tips for Starting Your Manuscript While in Quarantine
Spending a lot of time at home lately? Unless you’re an essential worker, you probably are (or should be). And while most people seem to be spending their newfound free time consuming Tiger King or whatever the new, hot streaming show is by the time you read this, others are taking advantage of this quarantine by discovering hobbies or finally getting around to projects they’ve perpetually been putting off. For some, this latter category could include writing your own book — but where do you start?
If you’re considering using this shelter-at-home period to help you get a jump start on finally putting that manuscript you’ve had in stuck your head onto paper, here are a few tips I think will help set your book-writing project off in the right direction.
5 Tips for Writing Your First Manuscript
Flesh out your idea before writing
Before you jump into your book and start banging out your manuscript, I always recommend creating an outline first. This may just be personal preference but I believe there are numerous benefits to this strategy. For one, it gets you to “put some meat on the bones” of your idea and ensure that you truly have enough for a full novel or non-fiction book. More importantly, this outline will provide you a roadmap while you’re working — which could potentially help alleviate and avoid writer’s block.
Keep in mind that, just because you create an outline ahead of time doesn’t mean you can’t stray from it if you come up with a better idea or the process of actually writing takes you another way. Obviously, that’s just a natural and productive part of the process. Still, I find that starting with a basic idea of where you going to be worthwhile.
By the way, in the past, I’ve also floated the idea of preparing a full book proposal (typically used to pitch non-fiction books to publishers) for yourself even if you have no intention of ultimately shopping it around. While I still feel like that can be an extremely useful tool, I also understand that would-be authors are probably looking to get to work on their manuscripts ASAP in order to make the most of their current downtime. Therefore, I’ll say that a regular outline is sufficient for now.
Consider if now is really the best time to write
Not to be a wet blanket but it is possible that now might not be the best time to write your book. While the extra time this crisis has afforded many can certainly be nice, we are still in a crisis after all. Therefore, given the anxiety that many of us are and have been feeling as of late may mean that you’re currently in a different headspace than you might otherwise be. That might not necessarily be a bad thing but, for some, it could negatively impact your productivity or inadvertently darken the tone of your writing.
If this doesn’t apply to you, then great! Nevertheless, I do think it’s something to think and be honest with yourself about. Additionally, if you’re really serious about writing a book, hopefully taking the time to flesh out your idea now will make it easier to revisit later. Then you’ll be ready for my next tip…
Set-up a sustainable work plan
Should you resolve to move forward with your project at this time, it’s important to think long term. That’s because, while you may have a lot of extra time on your hands now, that won’t likely (or hopefully won’t) be the case forever. So what happens to your manuscript if you do suddenly return to work? Does it just sit there collecting digital dust?
Rather than trying to beat the clock and binge your book now, consider how you’ll continue to make progress on your project even after life returns to normal. This typically means finding ways to make writing your manuscript more manageable. For example, maybe there’s a certain time of day or part of your week that you can block out and dedicate to your book until it’s done. Alternatively, maybe you can set a daily word or page count goal for yourself. Then, you can not only get into the habit of using that work period/reaching that goal now but also continue doing so for as long as needed to complete your project.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t do some extra work during your quarantine and beyond — I mean, that is kind of the whole idea behind this post, right? However, I do think it’d be helpful to note what times or writing goals work best for you and will continue to going forward.
Is it writing time or editing time?
Part of coming up with a sustainable work plan is discovering your best writing process. Namely, are you the type of writer who’d rather create a complete first draft of their book before going into to edit or one that would rather make changes along the way? This question is even more relevant right now as you’ll want to decide how to use your extra free time as effectively as possible.
To start, it might be a good idea to schedule certain rewrite days. This could mean free writing Monday through Thursday but looking over your material on Friday — or really any arrangement you care to try. Pretty quickly, you’ll determine whether or not you like this setup or whether you’d rather spend your time continuing to make progress toward a full rough draft. Again, there’s not really a wrong way here so do whatever you determine works for you.
Take advantage of your captive audience
Speaking of editing, another potential silver lining to these trying times is that people you know are likely stuck at their homes as well. Even better, they’re probably hungry for some entertainment just like the rest of us. So, why not use this to your advantage and use them as a sounding board for your book ideas?
Sharing rough drafts even among friends can be an intimidating proposition, but it could also yield some insightful feedback. Heck, you may even consider sending some pages to a few people and inviting them to discuss their thoughts during one of those group Zoom calls that have become so popular of the past few weeks. Again, this strategy might not be for everyone — especially for those with thin skin — although it could serve to benefit your book in the end.
A quick note on taking feedback, though: remember that you don’t need to implement every idea that’s offered to you. As the author, it’s up to you to decide what advice to take and what to ignore. Also keep in mind that, if your reader is only seeing a small part of your manuscript, they may not realize that issues they may have with this sample may be resolved in the context of your full book. But, above all else, don’t let even the harshest of criticism discourage you from moving forward.
During this unprecedented time, you’d certainly be forgiven if all you wanted to do was lounge in your pajamas whenever possible until this blows over. However, if you want to do something more with your time and maybe even have a complete manuscript to show for your efforts when this crisis is over, there are a few plans of attack that can help make that possible. From developing your idea and looking for a long-term writing schedule, to considering different editing options that may be unique to this time, hopefully you can find the silver lining in this crisis and finally write the book you’ve always wanted to.