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How to write books that readers love

The first novel I tried to write was the one I wanted to. My passion project. The one that took all of my beliefs about the world and had the character shout them to the reader. The writing was actually pretty damn good. Maybe better than my writing today (Purple Prose wise… I’m now much more like Hemingway; terse and simple).

But I could never finish the story. I wasn’t mature enough as a writer. I didn’t have the experience. Your FIRST BOOK is the beginning of a new hobby. The first thousand hours you spend writing it is JUST PRACTICE.

It probably won’t be your masterpiece. That’s a hard lesson to learn. All those great characters and chapters… hidden in a drawer. Nobody will ever read them. Even if I dust off that project some day – and I probably will – I doubt I’ll use the same scenes or characters. They will have matured with me.

But there’s something else.

I used to write for me. I don’t anymore. I don’t write for Pure Art. I write for readers. I write stories I hope know they’ll enjoy. When people ask what kind of stuff I write, I answer “Bestselling Fiction.”

What does that mean? It means I take hot, popular genres with millions of hungry readers, I read a bunch of bestselling books in that genre, and I figure out how I can write a story that’s as good as those other books. I know I need similar characters, plot devices, setting and heroes. I can make it unique, different, new and interesting, but I’m still trying to make those readers happy by ticking certain boxes and surprising them at the same time.

It’s not the readers’ job to discover and appreciate my book. And it shouldn’t be my job to market it at them and try to get them to read it. If I write the right book; the book that fits perfectly into the genre and satisfies overdelivers to their expectations, my book will become a bestseller.

Except that…

It’s a shit ton of work. The hard part of writing the book is writing the book. 

I love this answer from Neil Gaimon, where he makes up a crazy and inventive mythical process that makes writing easy (of course it doesn’t really exist).

The only way to write a book is to plan it out. Sketch the scenes. Figure out the conflict and plot twists and ending.

Then start filling in the blanks, going through each chapter and writing down what happens. Then going back through and improving every chapter. Then getting frustrated and unsure of what you’re doing. Then revising and moving things around and changing stuff; then writing all the chapters over again. Then changing your introduction or hooks, and endings; then adding some character development and motivation. And then finally, after all that is done, going through it again and improving the actual writing to make it halfway decent. And then again and making it pretty darn good. And then again if you want your prose to shine and touch readers.

This could all easily take a year. I’m going to try and do it faster, by giving up my day job and writing 100% of the time with no distractions or obligations. I expect to be making a full-time living off my writing after the first year. But I’ll never know if I don’t commit and try.