So, you want to write a book…

I gave a presentation at the DeKalb Public Library Author Fair titled, “So, you want to write a book…”

I opened with this startling statistic:
Did you know 90% of people SAY they want to write a book?
Based on reported goal percentages, half will begin and less than half of those will finish.
Of those that “finish” writing their book, only 8% will take it through publication.

I covered things like Procrastination:
No matter HOW MUCH you WANT to write this book, you WILL get distracted.
You will waste time.
You will suddenly have a million other things to do.
You will allow yourself to get sucked down the rabbit hole of “research”.
You will procrastinate.

As I see it, there are 3* Types of Procrastination:

1. Thinkin’ Procrastination – I’m not sure what to do. Lemme just think about it for a while. This procrastination includes activities like: font selection (serif or san serif?), font size, page number location (top, bottom, center, left, right?!), and practicing your signature for when you will be autographing your published novel.
2. Functional Procrastination – You’re not doing what you should be doing (writing) but you are getting something done. Laundry is washed, dried, folded, AND put away(!). But the blinking cursor is the sole icon on the lonely screen…
3. Squirrel Procrastination – You can’t focus. Nothing gets accomplished, much time is wasted. Akin to channel surfing, your mind refuses to stay tuned to one station. If you find yourself beginning several projects including document set-up, laundry, and watching a show, but nothing actually gets completed, you are suffering from…SQUIRREL!

*There may very well be hundreds of types of procrastination. My consideration of multiple types of procrastination might be considered procrastination. Have I mentioned that public speaking is not my forte? I’d pretty much rather do anything than speak publicly, including WRITING!







I emphasized that writing is a process:
You will learn MORE about how to write a book and who you are as a writer through the completion of your first draft than you will from any stack of resource materials.

As you are writing, I recommend you put it ALL on the page. Dump it ALL in there. Every ancillary aspect, secondary feature, tertiary facet. Every sensory reaction, color, scent, feeling, person, place, thing that might matter…everything. You may have heard the term, “vomit on the page”? Well, that’s disgusting. Who wants to sift through barf for a second draft?

I propose we call the first draft a “junk drawer” instead. You have a junk drawer? Of course you do. I want your first draft to be a literary catch-all. Extra packets of soy sauce, batteries, rubber bands, ticket stubs, Chapstick, scratch offs, used lint roller, scotch tape, coupons, it’s ALL in there. You will organize it later, the important thing is to have MANY parts to work with—a lot of these junky items will not make it to the second draft—and some of them will inspire other items to enter the story. You get to be redundant in the first draft. You get to be cluttered. You’re just telling the story to yourself, no one is going to see this version. (Resist the inclination to share. Trust me on this.)
Be messy.
Or don’t.
Maybe you’re a bare bones first drafter. That’s fine.







Ideally, you will WANT TO WRITE.
But, and I say this with utmost sincerity, we’re all friends here, right? I can be honest with you… WRITING IS HARD.
It’s true. Getting this (points to head) down to here (points to paper) can be very challenging.







And I’m just talking about the WRITING of the FIRST DRAFT today. There’re many requirements once that step has been completed. But, one overwhelming task at a time, okay?

There is no shortage of how-to information on the internet about writing a book. And, despite my protestations, I guarantee you will spend many hours looking it up. With approximately a million books on craft, you will waste lots of time and money trying to sort through the advice to find what works for you. And that’s fine. I get it, we’re filled with doubt and second-guessing. It’s part of the process…but,
There are NO shortcuts.
So, just WRITE.







Writing a novel takes a long time. It just does. The story you begin today may very well take several (hundred) turns before it becomes clear what exactly it has to say. I don’t think it matters if you’re a PANTSER – one who sits and writes on the fly, or a PLOTTER – one who meticulously details every step of the story, as long as you are WRITING.

Guess what? It’s not finished until it’s finished. Okay, Mary Obvious, we know that.
Yes, but half-written manuscripts are clogging many a doc file folder.
(Have I mentioned that writing is hard?)
Please note that a FIRST DRAFT is called a ROUGH DRAFT for a reason. It’s rough. It might even kinda suck. But it is undeniably the MOST important step of the process.

I wrapped up with Mary’s Tips for Getting the First Draft Written:

  1. Just do it. Seriously, that’s the only piece of advice that matters.
    Take your writing seriously. If you treat it as a hobby, others will, too. If you respect your writing time, others will, too. Consider it your job. Some days are amazing and that experience pays in dividends. Other days are not so great. Power through. Discipline and dedication are key to discovering your writing success.
  2. Find a writer’s support group. For discussion, critique, instruction, etc.
    When you are writing, that’s REALLY all you can be doing. It’s a solitary act. But you will NEED someone to talk to, people to share the adventure with—the triumphs and frustrations. Talking through tricky plotlines is the best way to figure out what is (and isn’t) working and spit balling ideas is a tried and true way to brainstorm. You will need other eyes. You will need other opinions. Critique is part of the process. Critique is easy to give, as is a defense. You want a group of writers whose work you enjoy reading and whose opinions you respect.
  3. Read. Read good books and break down why you liked them. Read bad books and identify what isn’t working. Apply both lessons to your own writing. I don’t think it matters what you read. Read what interests you, keeps you turning pages, and makes you excited about writing.
  4. Attend a conference. It’s one-stop-shopping for the literary industry. You’ll meet plenty of people who know more than you and are eager to share. You’ll meet plenty of people who are behind you on the author trail and need your experience and advice. There are opportunities to learn from professional authors, query agents, pitch to publishers, and expose yourself to craft.
  5. Share your work. Enter contests, submit to journals, participate in open mic nights. There are SO MANY publication opportunities available! Put your work out there.

Local Writing Groups that I’m familiar with:
1. DeKalb Area Creative Writers – Private group through, contact for membership information.
2. In Print Professional Writers Organization – Meets the second Saturday of every other month in Rockford.
3. OWLS – Ogle-Winnebago Literary Society – Meets the third Saturday of each month, locations vary.
4. Chicago Writers Association – An event driven organization with many literary opportunities.
5. Northern Illinois Novel Knights – An affiliate of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. They meet once a week for write-ins with multiple events planned during November.
6. Rockford Writers Guild – One of the oldest established writing organizations in the Northern Illinois area. They meet regularly and produce two journals per year.
7. Fox Valley Writers – Publish Fox Tales journal.
8. Waterline Writers – Host curated readings followed by open mic in Batavia.
*Bonus shout-out to UW-Madison – They offer a lot of great online courses for all levels and interests. Also host events, workshops, and a conference.

Submission Opportunities for short stories and flash fiction:
1. Write City Magazine
2Flash Fiction Magazine
3Flash Fiction Online
4. Every Day Fiction
5. SmokeLong Quarterly
6. 100 Word Story
7. Hobart
8. Manawaker Podcast
9. Apparition Lit
10. LampLight
11. Freeze Frame Fiction

Recommended Writing Reference Books that I have found to be most helpful:
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
3. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
4. Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level by Donald Maass
5. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

I’d like you to consider me a resource, too. Feel free to contact me at and be sure and check out my website, to subscribe to my blog, MaryFranSays.

I met some wonderful new (to me) authors this weekend. I reconnected with some I hadn’t seen in a while. Thank you to all who attended the author event, and especially to Samantha Hathaway for organizing it.


About Mary Fran Says

I am an artist, crafter, designer and writer. I enjoy working with mixed media-- applying visual and tactile manipulations to telling a story. Not a lot of market for that, though, :), so I'm focusing on short story submissions and novel completions. Yes, plural. Lots of beginnings, too many ideas, not enough focus.
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1 Response to So, you want to write a book…

  1. Carol M Hegberg says:

    Good talk, Mary. Get those wannabe writers typing the keyboard!

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