How can I start writing a book?

How to start writing

If you have to decide whether to start writing, don't do it. The writing that we are talking about is a calling, and one cannot choose - it is the one that chooses you.

Actually, this heading should read: "When you've started writing for a while because you feel the need to, and you desperately want to know how to continue so that what you write will one day be useful." It was just too long for me.

I'm 17 and I want to write. Surely it would be good for my self-confidence if you answer me.

Well, I remember when you are 17 you think all sorts of strange things. So: I don't think my answer can have any influence on your self-confidence. Actually, if you think twice, my answer has nothing to do with you at all. I could be a stupid ass who basically doesn't answer emails from 17 year olds. Wouldn't it be very stupid if your confidence should suffer from the fact that someone else you've never met in your life is a stupid ass, right?

I think the main problem for most of them is getting the right "input" in the early stages.

Yes. And one of the greatest obstacles hanging in our (land of poets and thinkers) minds is the genius myth. That, so to speak, Goethe didn't have to go to the bathroom because he could write such sublime verses. The most important thing for a writer is perseverance, perseverance. For him this is the same as fitness for a tennis player. Boris Becker could be skilful on the ball and strong in serving like what, if he hadn't had the condition to hold out for five hours on a red-hot place, he would have done nothing. Condition alone is of course of no use, but talent without condition is useless in any case. And you need persistence to write. It just takes until you have typed 300 pages or whatever, there is no getting around it.

But what do we know about fitness? It's a matter of training.

And the same goes for perseverance.

I think stagnation or self-doubt is the main problem that all beginners struggle with.

Most of all self-doubt, yes. You can literally waste decades on that. And if you don't write, stick with it and write a lot, you don't get any better. In particular, sitting around and thinking about whether you are good enough doesn't make you better.

The fact is (and I wish someone would have told me when I was 18) that you don't have to be the best writer in the world to get printed - and to be liked by readers too! What the heck, I've always enjoyed reading Perry Rhodan, although not a single issue by Marcel Reich-Ranitzki has been mentioned in praise (or at all). You don't have to be "finished" in any way - because you never are. It is still better than we have done so far. Learning never stops, but that doesn't mean you can't start publishing by now!

In any case, I am pleased that you deal so intensively with writing (and the craft) on your website. As a reader you always had the feeling that authors CAN write.

Yes, that's right. It is also the case that in writing there is something that you either have or you don't. But that alone is not enough. A diamond is also only beautiful once it has been cut.

Can I still learn to write at my age?

The ability to write certainly has nothing to do with age - popular examples here are the farmer Ana Wimschneider ("Herbstmilch") or Theodor Fontane, who wrote his first novels at the age of 60. On the other hand, everyone knows that you cannot learn everything you want, because certain things are necessary for some things. This is usually called "talent" and means things as diverse as a footballer's feel for the ball or the musicality of a piano player. So the question is probably basically, "Do I have talent?" The connection with age arises from the fact that one assumes with some justification that up to a certain age all talents that lie dormant in one have shown themselves in some form.

However, bad grades in German say absolutely nothing about talent. How German lessons in school are generally poison for adolescent writers. (Incidentally, this also applies to literature studies.)

At least the way you write letters does not read as if someone was writing who was "unmusical with words", so to speak. So don't give up. If I'm not mistaken, Jack London didn't start writing until he was 29. (Read his "Michael Eden" if you can find it in any library - it's his autobiography, so to speak, and very interesting.) Also, that you've even got down to writing and, most importantly, that you notice that there is something about it that you don't like is a good sign. (How do you think how my first novels read? How it teems with characters who are flatter than gold leaf and exude dialog that makes "Good Times Bad Times" sound like Shakespeare?)

Goethe once said that talents are first expressed in the form of inclinations. If someone has the need to write, to be able to write well, then there is also a talent slumbering in it. Talent does not always mean that you try something for the first time and can do it right away. The ability to recognize good and bad, even if you are not yet able to produce the good, is much more important to start with! Because it is only really hopeless if someone writes a terribly bad text, but considers it to be a noble prize (according to the motto "the schnitzel may be burnt, but I have prepared it!").

The most important thing is that you have FUN writing. If you don't like it afterwards - well, that's another thing that you shouldn't let that stop you from continuing. But as long as you enjoy writing (mind you: writing itself), you keep writing, and if you keep writing, you CANNOT AVOID getting better and better!

So. Now for my recommendations on what you should do:

There is only one way to learn to write: by writing. So write, give yourself a few years and you will inevitably get better. It is important to know: this improvement does not take place continuously, but in leaps and bounds: there is a quantum leap about every hundred thousand words, and suddenly you write a noticeable piece better. (A novel is about 50,000 words.)

So write a few novels or whatever you want to write. Don't assume that what you write will or MUST be printed; write around the fun of writing. (Publishing a novel costs a publisher about 50,000 DM. Only send a manuscript out if you honestly believe that it is worth it.)

BUT that doesn't mean that you should write for the drawer - on the contrary! The most important recommendation is to seek out an audience as early as possible. Best of all friends who like to read and with whom you can be sure that they won't give you any negative stuff like "You and write? I'm laughing myself to death!" or what more of the "edifying" encouragements are.

It is important that you find out where your novel was found exciting and where it was boring, where something was not understood, etc. It is not important that your "test readers" give you advice - that is completely unnecessary. The most important effect that even the smallest audience has on you is that you perceive your own texts very differently because you know that someone else will read them. And that kind of perception is what matters.

You have to learn to write yourself. But there are quite a few good books on the subject. By far the most helpful book I have ever come across is the book "Learn to Write Guaranteed" by Gabriele L. Rico from Rowohlt Verlag. It only came into my hands 3 years ago, but brought me a good deal further, who I can now look back on 25 years of writing.

The main thing is to do something. To keep moving. To write. Writing is a lonely, tedious business, and you have to be able to endure that too. And taking the path described above will definitely bring clarity - even if you find that your urge to write may not be as great as you thought. That too can be, and then, even if it is difficult, you have to face this truth (I once had the same experience with playing the guitar). If so, I'd like to mention one more piece of advice from bestselling French author George Simenon, who used to say to every young writer, "Find out if you can STOP writing. If so, do something else. You will be happier. "

Now, that shouldn't discourage you. Write quickly, persistently, and fearlessly, and find out the truth.

Basically, I just want you to write to me: Idiot! Just write! or something like that ... But maybe it's not that simple after all?

It is not that easy. I can't tell you that, you have to find out for yourself. Sometimes you also realize: that's not it. I thought it was my dream, but then I realized it wasn't true.

To do this, however, you have to START. You can dream about it all your life - and, boy, I think THAT hurts in the end: to realize, I HAVE NOT EVEN TRIED!

So give it a try - with the energy you would muster if you knew you only had one year to live. (Who knows ...?!) Then you will notice whether you are correct or not.

There is no shame in saying goodbye to a dream. Not even the dream of being a writer. If it was an illusion, you are definitely closer to the truth afterwards.

I'm 17 and I really want to write. Write correctly. Put thoughts, ideas and emotions into words that a third party can read. You could say I want to share myself. So I started with a little autobiography, but quickly realized that my style was constantly changing and my whole story was, how should I put it, lacking the foundation. Do you know this situation? When writing, do you remember that you want to implement this or that writing style or can it change depending on your mood? Do the books you are reading have any influence on your work?


I really want to write. Write correctly.

Nice. No problem. All you have to do is do it.

Put thoughts, ideas and emotions into words that a third party can read. You could say I want to share myself.

The last sentence was now the worst. That was psycho / official German. "Share" ?? !!? If you want to share something, you call and share it. Point. You write to draw other people into your dreams. To let them participate in their own experiences. To keep them from (supposedly) more important activities.

So I started with a little autobiography

Well, of course you can write what you want. And this may be a good exercise to start with, because at least one doesn't have to think about what the characters are going to do next. But I still want to add a little mustard to this.

There is a very true statement from, I believe, J. Michael Straczynski who says: "Everyone has a story that interests no one - and that is their own." If you want to reach other people, you have to have stories to invent. Note the last word: "invent"! Style, etc. is also important, but inventing action is part of the job description. You can't start practicing this early enough. Your own story and its problems, on the other hand, are best dealt with in a diary. But that's nobody else's business. You only talk to yourself in it.

"Inventing" definitely means turning your own experiences into stories. Vacationed in Italy, had a great time - totally OK to mess that up into a story. Bad childhood - good idea to do a novel about it. Only that can mean that the story then turns out differently than in reality. Stories told have laws of their own, and the argument "but it really was so" doesn't count. Zero. Nada. Niente.

But there are also people who don't want to invent anything, but prefer to tell events that actually happened and exactly AS they happened. This is not the type of writing that I do, but journalism in the broadest sense. Is also OK. The two areas relate to one another like a feature film to a documentary film. You just have to be clear about what you want.

And to the question of WHAT is best to write, there is only one answer: things in the way you prefer to read them yourself, for your own pleasure.

But quickly noticed that my style was constantly changing and my whole story was, how should I put it, the foundation was missing.

Style has relatively little to do with the foundation of a narrative. The foundation of a narrative consists of the plot, characters and locations.

When writing, do you remember that you want to implement this or that writing style or can it change depending on your mood?

Yes, it was the same for me at the beginning. That's not a problem either. You can only find your own style by imitating dozens of other styles first. By imitating you get to know a style better than by reading alone. And new things do not arise from ignorance of what is already there. What to do? Just keep writing.

I've had my head full of ideas and stories since I can think. Unfortunately I haven't yet, or didn't dare to write them down, because I always have the feeling that everyone else is writing better than me. when i start a story i often put it aside after the first few sentences, because i have the feeling that i somehow lack the linguistic form.

I cannot disagree with this feeling. But mastering the linguistic form and having something to tell are two different things. One can learn to master the language, the "stories in the head" are given or not. Without the ideas that flow to you, it is hopeless. Without a command of the language it is difficult, but by no means hopeless. On the contrary, it can even be an opportunity to approach language as a tool in a completely new and unique way.

Quitting because you feel like everyone else is writing better than you - you shouldn't. No one else can tell your stories but you. Acquire the linguistic form that you are missing! Remember, the human brain is basically infinitely capable of learning: you can learn anything at any age.

I also don't want to write to be published ...

Yes / Yes. Everybody is saying it ;-)

But it is right not to think about publication right away, but first of all to have fun with writing. After all, you don't think about Wimbledon before your first tennis lesson, do you?

I'm almost 13 now and I'm about to write books. Assuming I have finished a book with 100-300 pages at the age of 14, does that mean that I'm good? And can I already present the book to a publisher or am I still too young for it?

It is definitely a mature achievement, because many people start writing a book, but there are few who make it to the word "END". Very few.

Whether you can present your book to a publisher is less a question of whether you are too young than whether the book is then also suitable for publication. It is not fundamentally impossible. There are a number of authors who started to write and also to publish at a very young age - Charlotte Link, for example, at the age of seventeen, if I am well informed. And a publisher would certainly have no objection to publishing a book by an even younger author - if it is suitable, provided that it is. Because that would make the headlines.

It's just that when you do something for the first time, it doesn't quite work out. For example, when you cook lunch for the whole family for the first time: the schnitzel burns a little, the salad gets too watery, the potatoes are slightly too salty, etc. You can eat it, but it is not REALLY successful; there is simply no experience.If you do it the fifth, twentieth, hundredth time, then it's no longer a question, then it slips and everything fits together.

It is like that everywhere. If you've just got your driver's license, you don't go straight to Formula I. After the first soccer game, you don't get straight to the Bundesliga. After your first appearance in the school theater, you don't go straight to Hollywood. Everywhere you need experience, everything requires you to stick with it for a while and practice and learn everything there is to be learned. Also when it comes to writing novels. I also started writing when I was your age, but for a long time I only passed what I wrote around with my friends: Always a few chapters first, up to a point that I thought was exciting - and then I have looked how many really wanted to read on. (Because saying "yes is great" is easy, and many already say that if you just put any words on paper.) I didn't publish my first book until I was 35 - which is a bit late, admittedly - and first after writing about 20 other novels, just for practice. If I read them today, I'm glad they are NOT published.

To answer your question: You can certainly present your finished book to a publisher, there is no such thing as "too young". Just be prepared to get rejections. But if, when you have finished your first novel, you have the feeling that it is not quite a success, then you better write a second one first.

My circle of friends and my girlfriend just can't do anything with writing. My mother describes it as a "very nice hobby" and my father laughs at the fact that I don't want to become a businessman.

All of these people, once they do it, will fervently declare to the world that "they always knew". Believe me.

But it can take a few more years until then, so you should find a job that nourishes you, gives you time to write, and makes you feel as comfortable as possible. It is of fundamental importance for the success of a writing career not to be dependent on it! If you don't want to be a merchant, you will be something else. Ideally, it should have little to do with writing, so that you still feel like sitting at the keyboard in the evening - i.e. not a journalist or the like. I would also advise against studying German or the like.

I occasionally write short stories to prepare myself for the big task of the novel, keep thoughts in my head, create characters and finally want to get closer to my goal.

Well. Do that. But do it by WRITING. Nothing comes from thinking alone. As long as you only have something in your head, it remains fuzzy, seems perfect - but writing means dressing it in a linguistic expression that always remains regrettably imperfect. We can only work on the degree of imperfection

My daughter (14 years old) writes short stories for herself. I suggested that she contact a publisher. Are there publishers who accept short stories from young people and also give feedback regarding the quality?

I have not read your mail without sadness. When I wrote my first short novels when I was 12 or 13 years old, my father was also immensely proud of his son and, if he had been able to, would have got me a publishing contract without delay, etc. when I look at them today, I am happy in several ways: first, that they were NOT published - and second, that I started writing back then. Today I basically live from the fact that I have had such a long period of practice in writing behind me - and, as far as the beginnings are concerned, in complete privacy!

I am convinced that you want the best for your daughter - which father would not - but I am equally convinced that you probably couldn't do anything worse to her and her love of writing than pushing her out in public so early and into the tough world of publishing.

Because you see, it doesn't matter in principle in publishing whether the author of a book is 14 or 114 or something in between - what counts is only the text on the paper. Anything that somehow makes the author stand out is interesting for the marketing department - and such a young author would of course be something special. In this respect, I cannot imagine that any publisher would reject a manuscript with the argument "the author is too young". If something is good, it's good, period. However, it is a long way to be able to write well. (You will agree with me that as a father you CANNOT be objective there. That would be bad too!) And this path needs protection, especially at the beginning, the possibility of almost maternal immersion and repeated encouragement.

It was an encouragement to me at the time that my father was LOVELY to read what I wrote. (The fact that I always had to show it when visitors came was rather horrible.) It encouraged me to give it to school friends, who also liked to read it. Some felt encouraged to do the same, so that a stimulating, creative competition resulted for several years - probably my most valuable apprenticeship ever! In all that time, it never occurred to me to contact a publisher. That came later, and it came by itself - everyone already has their own "built-in" timetable.

When I look back today, I wish I had little different from what it was before. More in-depth, more intolerant criticism would have done me good at a certain point - after a few years of writing, when I had gained a certain degree of certainty about what I was able to do and what was not. What I urgently needed would have been to point out that there is no point in starting a dozen novels and leaving them unfinished; that only completed things get you further, even if they are bad. And maybe it would have been good to have been encouraged to read better; perhaps combined with the hint that one also has to learn how to READ correctly and that "devouring" is not the only way to deal with books. (Although I don't know whether I would have been available for this tip :-D) What advice would I give to your daughter? It is of little use to be told something about the quality of your own texts, you have to learn to see it for yourself. It's a learning process: at first you think everything you write is great. Then you think everything you write is terrible. And only then do you begin to recognize differences: a paragraph that you have succeeded in, a dialogue that still sounds wooden, etc. READ OUT Aloud is one of the best teachers - either to others or to yourself. where he bumps. When reading aloud you "taste" the words better, you can feel the sentences better. I still do it today, and I'm still learning from it.

Looking for like-minded people! Many adult education centers have writing courses, and why not go there when you are 14? There are circles on the Internet in which you can exchange ideas about texts you have written yourself, and nobody needs to know how old you are.

Participate in competitions! Winning a literary competition, THAT is confirmation that matters. At, at and in many other places there are overviews of where which competitions are advertised.

And above all else, don't lose the fun in the matter. Everything else falls into place.

In school I fought German teachers up to the 12th grade who, in my opinion, only wanted what they thought to be wrapped up in other words, i.e. paraphrased and regularly got fours. In 13th grade I was told for the first time that I had a certain talent. Still, I don't really know what to do.

Well, how about just writing your first novel? You don't need to show it to anyone. It can be the worst novel you will ever write, no matter. The first challenge is coping with the sheer volume - writing 300, 400 pages until you get to the end of the word. That takes stamina and that needs to be trained.

What your German teachers think of you and what grades they give you is absolutely irrelevant.

I myself started writing (as a hobby) a year and a half ago. I'm sure I have no hope of discovering a book of mine in the bookstore one day. Nevertheless, even as a hobby writer, you want to write well and imaginatively. My only problem is that I read a lot at the same time. Therefore, with all the stories I write, I have the feeling that I have at least partially copied them from other authors. The idea itself then formed the basis for my own story, whether consciously or not. That bothers me increasingly. That's why I've wondered for a long time how real writers manage to come up with something new over and over again. How do you manage not to be influenced by other stories?

It's just a matter of practice. You have been writing for a year and a half - that is not long. In the course of time this phenomenon will be lost if you "swim free" with your imagination, so to speak. But you have to go through this phase of copying and imitating: you may not create original works, but you learn a lot about writing. If you do an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker, you must first copy tables and chairs that others have made for years, because the first thing is that you learn how to make tenons and dovetails, how to paint and veneer, etc. The chair according to your own plans comes much, much later.

So the only "trick" is: keep writing. And have fun doing it.

I once told a woman that my dream was to be a writer. She said to me: "My girlfriend has tried it too and it is very difficult to become a writer." I should forget.

You shouldn't listen to people like that at all. Just because they can't get things done themselves, they try to pull others down. Sure it's hard. Climbing Mount Everest is also difficult. Still, someone does it every week. And there are writers, aren't there? So it can't be impossible.

I'm just a little amateur writer and wrote my first short story. I am now quite brazen and ask you to whom can I send you for an assessment?

The main thing is not me ... :-)

No, seriously: To publishers or the like. there is little point in sending. The first short story is usually as good as the first schnitzel you make in life: You are proud of it, but it tastes good when you are honest, but not like a mother's. If you've ever written fifty or a hundred short stories, things look different.

What to do?

Find a writing group. Say, a group of people who all want to learn to write. In the past it was often at adult education centers (disguised as "courses"), nowadays there are of course also on the Internet - exchange rings by email etc., author forums etc. Principle: Everyone writes something, everyone says something about what the others have written. You exchange ideas, rub against each other, motivate yourself ("pah, I can do that better than him / her!") And learn new things.

An alternative - if you want a professional counterpart - would be to take one of the writing courses at the Axel Andersson Academy in Hamburg. Of course that costs something, but you are looked after quite well, have a personal editor, etc.

Then there is the broad field of short story competitions where you can romp around. More information at in the competitions area.

© Andreas Eschbach

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