How to Become a Fiction Writer in 6 Steps
So you want to know how to become a fiction writer. Who hasn’t thought to themselves at some point in their life: “I’d love to write a novel someday?” Okay maybe not everyone has, but there are definitely a lot, and those people who haven’t are maybe a little bit sad.
The difference, of course, between a wannabe novelist and an actual novelist is the latter actually writes a book. I know that might hurt to hear, but it’s the cold hard truth.
But how do you actually become a writer? Are there steps you can take? Is it easy? The answers are: it depends, kind of, and definitely not. If you’re thinking this process is going to be simple, then please go ahead and click out of this article. (Actually don’t. Scroll a bit and click a few things so my boss doesn’t get mad. Thanks.)
Okay, that’s enough rambling from me.
In this article we’ll go over some steps on how you can embrace your writer dreams. As with anything, there are no right or wrong ways to do this—you need to find what works best for you. However, these six steps can help you get started.
How to become a fiction writer step 1: To be a writer, you need to be a reader
There are few absolutes when it comes to publishing and writing, but this one is pretty universal. If you’re interested in writing, you’re probably already an avid reader, and that’s good. You’re already ahead of the game then.
There are people who claim they don’t read books and yet they want to write them. I guess that’s fine if it works for them. But reading books is about more than just writing them, it’s about supporting a community. It’s about embracing the works of those who write in your genre and taking in the thoughts and ideas and perspectives of others, rather than being confined solely to your own. It’s about forming a picture that is far bigger and grander than just what’s happening inside your head.
(I’ll go out on a limb and say that anyone who doesn’t read books is going to have a tough time being a great writer. I’m sure there are a few exceptions out there but, for the most part, this will be an uphill battle for you if you aren’t a reader.)
Read books in your chosen genre
Read books in your chosen genre. Consider them with a critical eye. Think about things like:
- Why are their openings compelling and how do they draw you in?
- What kind of word choices do they make? How about the metaphors?
- Can you recognize the overall structure?
- How do they end?
- How do they set up plot twists?
- How do they end and start each chapter?
- What keeps you reading?
- What draws you into their characters?
- What tropes do they use?
And so on and so on. You might want to write these things down or let yourself absorb them. But reading good books makes it easier to write good books. Nothing gets me more fired up to write than reading an amazing book in my genre.
How to become a fiction writer step 2: Choose your genre
This is a double-edged sword. Some people will tell you not to worry about this and just write your story. And that’s absolutely fine if that’s what you want to do. If your goal is to just get it out of your head and on paper (or the screen), then do it.
However, if you ever plan to publish that story (and actually sell it to people) whether you do it via traditional means or self-publishing, you’re going to need to understand where it falls on the bookshelf. To add to this, you should also understand who your ideal reader is. Can you compare your book to some popular books that are currently selling? This isn’t about copying or writing something someone else has written, this is about how you plan to position your book in the marketplace. If readers love XYZ author, then they might like your books too.
Writing to market
If you plan to self-publish, there is an entire concept aligned around the idea of ‘writing to market,’ which means writing books that indie books lover want. When it comes time to market your brilliant book, and you haven’t defined your genre, it’s going to be that much harder to attract your ideal reader.
The most obvious choice is to write in a genre you enjoy reading, however some people choose genres based on their profitability instead. Personally, I could never be excited about writing a book that I’m not passionate about, but everyone functions differently. Do you, boo. (However, if this is your first book, I’d consider sticking to writing something you love—because you are about to become intimately acquainted with it.)
How to become a fiction writer step 3: Write the book you want to read
Toni Morrison is famous for the line, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” This is something you might want to consider. Think about what I said above—you can still make your book specific to a genre, but maybe there’s something within that genre you’re craving to see.
This is where writing something you love will serve you. If you’re passionate about the story, you’re more likely to stick with it. Also, if you want to get it publication-ready, you’re going to read it about 45,784 times. So you better really, really like it.
How to become a fiction writer step 4: Remember that writing a book is hard
Ooh, I assume that wasn’t what you wanted to hear. Sorry, we don’t sugar coat around here. Writing a book from start to finish is hours and hours of work (and probably some blood, sweat, and tears. Definitely tears.) And writing that first draft is truly only 10% of the work. After that comes the revising and editing and the feedback and then the querying and the marketing and… the list goes on and on.
Get out that first draft
But you can’t get to any of those things if you never actually finish. So here are a few tips to help you bang out that first draft:
- Try to be consistent. You don’t have to write every single day, but try to do it most days. Like anything, practice makes things easier. If you do end up taking a longer break, don’t beat yourself up. Just try and get back to it and put the past behind you. It’s okay—there is no race and timeclock to beat.
- Set a word or time goal for yourself. These can be small daily goals or larger monthly goals. Be realistic about what you can actually accomplish. A good place to start is 500 words a day. See how that feels for you and adjust accordingly.
- Set up a dedicated writing space. If you can, a workspace just for your writing can really help. Keep clutter to a minimum and use visual cues to signal when it’s time to write. Personally, I make myself a cup of tea, which puts me into writing mode.
- Keep editing to a minimum. It can be tempting to go back and rewrite and edit what you’ve written the day before. And while that can work for some people, it traps a lot more people in an endless loop where they never make it past Chapter 10 and lose all their steam. If this is your first book, I urge you to press forward. It doesn’t matter if your first draft is messier than a kindergarten finger painting. No one but you ever has to see it and that’s what the editing and revising phase is for. There is nothing that can’t be fixed in a messy first draft.
- Understand you will have to edit. Once you do get that first draft done, do not make the mistake of thinking you’re actually done. All writing needs editing no matter how many books you’ve written. Your first draft is just the beginning, but understanding that can help make the entire process seem less daunting.
The good thing is now you know it’s hard and when it feels that way, that’s totally natural. Hopefully these things can make it a little less difficult. Hopefully.
How to become a fiction writer step 5: Figure what type of writer you are
There are many ways to write a book and generally, there aren’t any wrong ones. You might have heard the terms plotter or pantser. Basically, a plotter is someone who maps out every aspect of their world, characters, plot, and story before writing. A pantser, on the other hand, is someone who sits down and starts typing, thereby going by the literal "seat of their pants."
The truth is, most people fall somewhere on the spectrum in between, but you might tend towards one end or the other. Personally, I am a pantser. For me, the story just doesn’t flow until I sit down and start actually writing. It means my first drafts tend to come in under word count, are pretty messy, and have a lot of plot holes to go back and fill. That may sound chaotic, but after writing eight books, it’s what works for me.
Plotters might have neater first drafts because they’ve spent the time up front building all those things I like to discover along the way (you’ll sometimes hear pantsers referred to as ‘discovery writers’ as well).
So either way, you’ll be plotting eventually—it just depends on whether it’s before that first draft or after. Neither one is right or wrong. The correct one is the one that gets your book written.
Before you start writing
Some things you might want to consider before your start writing are:
Story structure: There are numerous kinds of story structures you can follow to help plot your novels. Whether you use one religiously, loosely, or not at all is up to you. But it’s worth reading about the different kinds regardless of what type of writer you are. Here are some popular ones to look at:
Characters: Some people like to fully develop their characters before they start writing. Here are some ways to help develop your characters:
- Make use of common character archetypes
- Explore the different types of character arc
- How to write compelling characters from the inside
- Think about your character goals and motivations
- What are your character’s flaws?
- Ask yourself some questions about your characters and how they’d behave in certain situations
Those are some ideas to get you started and, if all else fails, we’ve also got this handy resource on how to plan a novel you can look at.
How to become a fiction writer step 6: Find other writers to commiserate with
I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a writing community, whether that’s in person or online. While writing can seem like a solitary endeavor, ask almost any successful writer and they’ll tell you they couldn’t have done it without support along the way.
Why do you need writing friends?
- Motivation: When you’re surrounded by other people also ‘doing the thing,’ it motivates you to do it, too. Few things are more powerful for your future writing career than a group of like-minded people working towards a similar goal.
- Commiseration: Writing is hard, remember? And no one understands that better than other writers. Whether it’s that block you can’t seem to get past or that 134th rejection letter you received that week, you need people to share your lows with.
- Celebration: On the flipside, no one understands better than another writer how big a deal it is when you finish that manuscript, land that agent, sell that book, or surmount any of the other successes writers can achieve. You also need someone to share the highs with.
- Ideation: Sometimes you're stuck on a plot point or have written yourself into a corner. Having people you can bounce ideas off can be invaluable to your work.
- Feedback: You can’t be a writer without some feedback. You can’t. You are too close to the work to see what might not make sense, what might be boring, or what just isn’t working. Writing friends make great critique partners and beta readers. Embrace them. Love them. Appreciate them.
Where do you find writing friends?
Good question. This can be tricky and it can take some time. But by being generous with your own time first, you can form connections that will eventually become mutually beneficial. Some places to look for writing friends are:
- Story Craft Café: Dabble has set up an entire community just for this purpose. If you’re not already a member, what are you waiting for?
- Twitter: The writing community on Twitter is huge. Check out the #writingcommunity hashtag, join in a pitch event or Twitter chat, and make some friends.
- Facebook: There are also countless writing groups on Facebook, including many that are genre-specific. Do a search for some that might apply to you and jump into the conversation.
- Your local writer’s guild/bookstore/library: If you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere with a large population of writers, look for events or opportunities to network and meet with other writers in person.
Now that you have a basic idea of what it takes to become a novelist, I hope I haven’t scared you off. The truth is, yes, it’s a lot of hard work, but the rewards are totally worth it. When you get that first fan email telling you how much they loved your book, or when you sign with that agent, or land that big book deal, or make that bestseller list—those are highs you’ll never forget.
To make your journey into noveldom easier, Dabble is here to help. Not only can you use it to help set word count goals for the day, month, and beyond. You can also use it to map out your plot structure, store character notes, and keep you focused on your writing. It’ll make those six really hard steps a lot easier.
Try it yourself for free for 14 days!
There's no avoiding it: critical feedback is an essential for becoming a great writer. Here's how to navigate the process with grace, create excellent work as a result, and get through it all with your self-confidence intact.
While it's not for every story, tragic irony can be a great way to mess with both your characters and your readers... in a fun way, of course. Learn all about it in this article.
Sensitivity writers are more prevalent than ever before, and for many authors, they're an essential part of the editing process. But what do they do exactly? And how do you know if you need one? We've got those answers right here.