Here are some simple steps on how to write the absolutely perfect book:
1. You can’t.
2. Don’t even try to do that.
3. No, I said don’t.
4. Stop setting that goal for yourself.
5. Cut it out!
Here, let’s try a different technique. This article’s title is henceforth changed (yes, in mid-article):
"How to Write a Book in the First Place"
That’s better. By now I’m sure you’ve realized I'm not going to tell you how to write the perfect book, because no such thing exists. Anyone who thinks they can write the perfect book is not only a sad and misled individual, but more than likely a newbie to the writing world in general.
Think about it. You have a favorite book (recall it to memory). That book is not perfect. It may seem flawless to you as you read and re-read each sentence with the greatest care and attention to detail, but I can assure you—if the author didn’t think it was chock-full of nitpick-able errors and plot holes, then the critics do. Believe me, I took a class on literary criticism. The critics are out there.
In that regard, it is in your best interest to discard any notions that writing the perfect book is possible. It is not.
Now before you throw your hands in the air and give up on all your writerly dreams, sit back down. Remember the new title of this article is How to Write a Book At All.
Now that is entirely possible.
I believe everybody has a book in them—some have a dozen, and if you’re Stephen King, probably a good thousand—the hard part is actually doing it.
1. First, you need to write.
Ignore your grammatical errors. Ignore the internet. Ignore the entire world, if possible. And for goodness sake, ignore readers for as long as you can. This is your first draft (which I have heralded before). Get the words on the page. This is the most important step.
There! You have a first draft. But don’t stop there. I’m serious. Stopping at this stage kills almost as many books as never writing does. Read on.
2. Pretend it doesn't exist.
After you have vomited a good amount of literature onto some paper (or your word processor), put it away for a while. My personal don’t-read-it period is anywhere from two weeks to three months. (I can cut it to a week for short stories). Once you have sufficiently forgotten most of everything you spewed out, you are ready for step three:
Some writers call this a myth. Those writers are wrong. You need to reread your book and fix all the mistakes you can root out. Be warned—this will be painful. You will cringe. You will slap your forehead. You will shake your fist at the sky and scream into the infinite abyss of space. This is natural. Also, the shaking of fists and screaming becomes more likely the longer you let a piece sit. Go back and read something you wrote in fifth grade and you’ll know what I mean.
4. First readers.
Once that’s done and you have finished lamenting at the universe, it’s time for your first readers. This is the time to let in those pesky people I told you to ignore earlier. They are valuable now—they have fresh eyes and fresh minds. Having never seen your manuscript before, they are the perfect guinea pigs to test your plot twists and jump-scares on. They will also root out most of the grammatical and plot errors.
Allow them to do their work and, in the words of my academic advisor, do not disclaim. Let the book speak for itself—if the readers gets confused or lost, you will know the story doesn’t stand on its own, and you can pick the readers' brains to find out how best to fix it.
As a side note: it really helps if your first readers are your friends. They tend to be nicer, so the shock of realizing your masterpiece is just a baby scribble is somewhat lessened.
5. Editing (round 2).
Once the first readers have had their go, edit the book again. I do not recommend waiting at this stage. Keep the readers’ comments fresh in your mind and make the changes that need to be made right away. Or at least take notes if you need a cool-down period (I know I often do).
* * *
This is where my pattern must break. From here, you may cycle back through the previous steps many, many times. Perhaps you decide to write an alternate ending and need more feedback. Perhaps you rewrite the draft entirely. Some writers navigate this loop for five, six or thirty-three drafts. The important thing is that they don’t give up. These writers understand that everything they do to the book makes it better, and every critical comment will only build its strength.
This is also where I must remind you:
You can’t write a perfect book!
Never forget this. Don’t let the criticism of your readers—or the rejection from publishers—bury you. There are a million reasons someone wouldn’t like a book, but there are another million reasons someone would. If you give up, if you decide that because you can’t reach perfection that it isn’t worth trying at all, then you have deprived not only yourself, but the entire world of a beautiful creation.
You can’t write a perfect book, but you can write your book, and no one in the universe has written one exactly like it. People out there will read it, and you will read it, and that will make you happier than attempting a perfect book ever would.
All that being said, it’s time to stop talking. I am going to go work on one of my books.Are you?