I’ve written two novels. My starting point philosophy is that it’s a lot like exercise or sports–the more you work out the better you’re going to get, but you have to start small. You have to have a good coach, because the fallacy of the 10,000 hours or 10,000 page thing is that you wrote these pages and spent these hours doesn’t mean you’re professional. You need guidance, you need a coach or a teacher to guide you in the right direction, and give you feedback. You need a Burgess Meredith.
2. Something nobody mentions when they’re discussing Gladwell’s thesis. You should read the article, or better yet listen to Tim Ferriss’s interview with Gladwell because you could be working in the wrong direction. This is why so many people go for MFAs. But really the easier (and cheaper) solution is to find a writer’s group or have a group of beta-readers who are good readers and writers.
3. Be gracious; be thankful. You’re not Stephen King. And there is a high chance that your work stinks something fierce, but it takes an extremely confident and positive person to even take this chance of putting it out to a close group of friends who will speak to you honestly.
4. To the actual writing of the book. It’s a marathon. Sorry again for the sports analogy but it’s true: writing a book works best in sprints. If you’re someone like me who is a little ADD you can be very concentrated for short bursts of time before you get distracted. Most people’s attention span only lasts for about 45 minutes. So start with a “what if…” question, set a timer for–I don’t know–5 minutes and write your answer down for five minutes without stopping. Next time, ask yourself: who are the main characters, what do they want, and what stands in their way of getting it? Keep doing these writing sprints. Starting small is important, and then you build up into one longer work. Same with these writing sprints–the more you do the reps and the sprints the easier it gets, so you need to up the weight or distance after five minutes gets too easy. Add a minute or more the following week. Like weight lifting or other exercise, the philosophy is the same–you need to push yourself physically.
5. Starting small also means starting with short pieces. Think of them as a sketch, or a series of sketches, or learning an instrument. I haven’t cultivated any music practice, but my wife is a musician so I know this analogy works: you must learn the cords and keys to a specific instrument before you write a song, or play a whole piece. And this takes years. Usually you do covers before you start creating your own tunes. You shouldn’t jump headlong into a full-length novel before knowing all the parts that go into a novel or long piece. So focus on a random object, then a theme, that description, then emotion, then structure, then genre, before trying to tie the whole thing together.
Then revise. Revise. Revise. Until it stops looking like this: