Writing a Book is Sort of Like Running a Marathon

Just start. Start slow. Start small.

“I want to write a book, but I don’t know where to start.”

I’ve seen hundreds of comments like this on writers’ forums. Basically, it means, “I want to write a book, but it’s a lot of work and books are long and I already feel too overwhelmed to do anything.”

Understandable. Writing a book is hard. Long-term goals are hard for a lot of people. They’re not really sure how to stack up a series of short-term goals to get to their end goal of writing a book.

If that’s you – think of writing a book as something similar to running a marathon. That’s running, with your own body and nothing else, a little over 26 miles all in one go. Running a marathon is also hard. But people, many of them just for fun, run them all the time.

You can’t wake up one morning, decide you want to run a marathon and then run a marathon the following day. It’s not possible. However, you can get up the next day and run two miles. And then in a few days, three or four. Eventually, you might be able to run 10 miles at a time. Fifteen. Twenty.

Marathon runners work their way up to running 26.2 miles. They train for months in advance. They have setbacks. Even during the actual race, sometimes they have to walk for a little while. They struggle. They can do a lot of things to try and prevent injuries and setbacks, but there’s no guarantee they won’t happen. They push themselves as far as they can go, and then some. Many make it to the finish line. Many never do.

To write a book, you can plan and worry and ask a dozen questions of people more experienced than you are, but if you never actually start writing, there’s no chance you’re going to write a whole book from start to finish, from beginning to end.

Start. Start slow. Start small. You don’t write a whole book at once. You write it line by line, chapter by chapter. Finishing a book – that is your finish line. Writing the book itself may not be a race, but it’s still a long and exhausting process. You can’t give up before you even begin.

Maybe you will never write a book, the same way you may never run a marathon. But a runner can run a dozen 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons – as a writer can write articles and short stories and novellas.

Maybe you will write one book, run one marathon, and realize the extreme just isn’t for you. That doesn’t mean you have to quit doing what you enjoy. It just means you can do it in smaller bursts. There’s still value in that. There’s no value in giving up completely just because a writing a book is very long and time-consuming and hard.

This is not an easy thing to do. But it can be done. Now go – go write. Go do something. One step closer to finishing. Small – but essential.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Start Writing a Novel in Three Easy Steps


The process of starting to write a book is almost like jumping into an ice-cold pool with no bottom. As much as you can’t wait to dive in and get the hardest part over with, it’s not safe, or smart, to go in headfirst right away.

We’re here to guide you through the initial, simple steps you can take to starting your book without setting yourself up for falling short of your end goal (finishing it). Are you ready? One. Two. Three.

Step 1: Let your initial idea sit in your head for a little while

This first step doesn’t seem so hard, right? You don’t even have to write anything. Except, at this point you have an idea, and the itch to start writing it is so unbearable you probably can’t imagine, well, not.

That initial spark of inspiration isn’t going to go away if you don’t start writing right this second. You’ll have a much more successful, productive start if you give that idea time to develop a little. While you don’t have to know the exact beginning, middle and end of your story, you should have a good handle on where you want to start before you actually do. This can take a little time, but it is definitely worth the wait. 

Step 2: Sit down and write a sentence

It doesn’t have to be the first sentence or the last one. It doesn’t even have to be the beginning of a chapter or scene. Often the reason we’re so eager to start writing a new story is because there’s a single line stuck in our heads, and that alone is enough to thrust our minds into overdrive.

Just sit down and write down that line, no matter where it might fall in the story that may or may never actually become a story. It will instantaneously put your brain at ease. If you want to expand on it and write a few more lines, go or it. But I that’s all you have, leave it. It’s written and it’s been documented. If you’re not in a place where you can start writing a new story, at least that line is out of your head, ready and waiting for you when you get to that place.

Step 3: In the beginning, think more often than you write

The early stages of novel-writing are crucial. This is where you develop the voice of your narrator or main character and start to formulate the style you’ll continue writing in throughout the duration of your project. While it’s not wrong to dive right in and write hundreds upon hundreds of words within the first few days, it might be best to take it slow.

Is that an easy thing to do, faced with a new idea and enough inspiration to last basically a lifetime? Of course not. But you don’t want to use it all up at once, either. In the beginning, it’s okay to spend more time contemplating your next move than you do actually making it. While you may not always realize it, writing is an exhausting task. It often leaves you feeling drained and empty, no matter how motivated you are to keep writing. You definitely don’t want to burn yourself out only 10 pages in.

Like the entire process of novel-writing, starting a novel takes patience and discipline. But if you’re not very strong in either of those areas, don’t give up before you even get the chance to try: you might find that writing is your strength, and hey—you might even be really good at it, too.

Take a deep breath. Think it over. Ease yourself in slowly, and watch your story come to life.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.