How to Start Writing a Book After You Retire
Many people dream of writing a book, but while balancing work and family, few have the time to do it. That is why one of the hobbies for many retired seniors is writing. But how do you get started? Luckily, a lot has been written on how to become a writer and how to write a book. This post will offer simple ideas to help set you on your path.
Trying to figure out how to be an author or how to start writing a book can feel overwhelming. Some people may even suggest you need a degree first. The simple reality is, writers write.
Find inspiration: To figure out what to write a book about, start by asking yourself what you’d like to read. You’ll be more curious and passionate about something that interests you, and harnessing that combination will help keep you motivated.
Establish a routine: Scheduling a time and place to write will help set your intention and provide focus. When setting up your routine, consider which of these possibilities will work best for you:
- Noise: Do you want quiet? Or do you listen to music? Maybe you’ll want to bounce ideas off your friends.
- Time: Do you want undisturbed blocks of time or short moments between other projects? Do you like early mornings, afternoons, evenings or late nights?
- Location: Find a place to dedicate just to your writing.
Read and learn: What do you like to read and why? What can you learn from the type of writing you like and your preferred subject matter?
Be curious: Look for mysteries and try to solve them. If you have questions, track down the answers. Take special note of the quirky and unusual. To help you explore the world around you, here are some suggestions:
- There’s something odd or special about everyone and everything. What is it?
- Figure out how and why things work and don’t work. Think about why things are designed the way they are.
- Notice details. Look at an object. Is the color uniform? How does the light interact with it? Does it look heavy or light?
Keep a journal: Get a blank notebook and take it everywhere you go. Write down things you notice or that inspire you. Note bits of overheard conversations, signs, stickers, poems, fortune cookies, jokes, people and places you experience every day. Based on what you’ve captured, character traits and story locations and events will start to come together.
Telling the Story
Once you’ve found your inspiration, here are some rules of thumb to help you.
Draw the reader in: Because we perceive and experience the world through our senses, compelling writing will often have readers seeing, touching, tasting, hearing and smelling. Next, give concrete details. This will help provide a specific sense of understanding of what is happening in the story.
Write what you know: If you are more familiar with something, you can write about it in more detail, realism and depth. If you don’t know a detail that is important for your project, do research. Google it. Ask someone who knows. The more information you know about a situation, person or setting, the more you will be able to render it realistically on the page.
Consider structure: In what order do you want to tell your story? Is it linear with a beginning, climax and resolution? Or would it work better told in medias reas — when the story begins in the thick of things. Or should your story be interspersed with multiple flashbacks? Determining what you want to reveal and when could help determine your story’s structure.
Point of view (POV): There are nine different points of view, but the three main categories are first, second and third person. When deciding point of view, think about what information you want your readers to know.
- First POV: (Uses “I”)
- Involved — narrator is an active player and teller of the story
- Detached— narrator is not telling their own story specifically, but maybe the story of a central character
- Plural (we) — a collective narrator, maybe a large group of people
- Second POV: (Uses “You”)
- Inverted, the narrator is referring to himself or herself as the writer, and perhaps dissociating himself or herself from distasteful thoughts/traits/memories
- You = a character, distinct with their own unique qualities
- You = direct address to the reader
- You = reader is an active character in the story
- Third POV: (Uses a character’s name)
- Omniscient: Narrator knows everything, has free rein in the story and complete authority, and can use judgments
- Limited: This POV is missing something and is limited to a single character’s thoughts and feelings
- Direct observer: A narrator’s telling of a situation, but they cannot explicitly discern the emotions of the characters
- Fly on the wall: The narrator is a spy, watching the situation from a distant perspective, but is not privy to everything, for information is limited by the narrator’s location on the wall
Having a distinct style can help add depth and meaning to your story. As you develop your characters and storyline, here are some things to consider:
Keep it simple: Too many big words will drive readers away. Start small. Don’t use grandiose words just because they sound fancy. Instead, you want the reader to comprehend exactly what you want them to comprehend. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Short and sweet: Short sentences are easy to digest and very readable. That’s not to say you can’t, or shouldn’t, write a long sentence every once in a while.
Verbs are action: Verbs are the great drivers of sentences. They carry meaning from one thought to the next. On top of that, they can help you be more precise. However, verbs such as “did,” “went,” “saw,” “felt” and “had” don’t really add any spice to your writing. Using a more specific word for these verbs will better communicate more specific ideas.
Use adjectives sparingly: Don’t feel like you need to include an adjective before every noun to describe the noun.
Have a good vocabulary: Whenever you come across a word you don’t know, look it up. At the same time, use your vocabulary sparingly. Big words can sometimes come off as pretentious.
Say what you mean: Everything you want the reader to know has to be written on the page. Unlike a conversation, you can’t rely on hand gestures or facial expressions for added context or meaning. So the reader takes everything you write at face value, which means if what you write is confusing, the reader will be confused.
Use figurative language for effect: Figurative language, like metaphors and similes, is best used when you want to dramatize or draw the reader’s attention to something specific. But if you use figurative language too much, it can lose its power.
Punctuation: Underuse punctuation and your readers won’t be able to understand the meaning of your sentences. “Let’s eat, Grandpa,” and “Let’s eat Grandpa” have two very different meanings. Overuse punctuation and your readers will be distracted. No one wants to read a sentence in which colons, semicolons and dashes make more appearances that actual words. Also, use exclamation points sparingly. People don’t often exclaim things.
Break the rules: Know why you’re breaking the rule in the first place, and understand the likely effect.
So you’ve made your plans, done your research, considered your structure and POV, figured out your writing style, and selected your writing location. Next comes the hard part — writing. A blank page (or empty computer screen) can take you anywhere, and that kind of freedom can be intimidating. It can also quickly become another reason to not write. If you get stuck, don’t worry. It happens to everyone. To get the ball rolling, here are some thought starters:
- Go somewhere busy and write down what’s happening — the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and how things feel.
- Depending on the time of day, write what you did or have planned for the day.
- Write a letter to a loved one … or one to yourself.
- The most important thing you can do is just write.
Commit to finishing your project: There are countless unfinished novels, screenplays and short stories sitting in desk drawers and on computers. Completing a goal is essential to figuring out what you want to write. By the time you finish your project, your writing skills will have improved, and you’ll have accomplished something few people ever do … finish.
Join (or start) a writers’ group: Sharing ideas and feedback with others is one of the best ways to become inspired, improve your work and, best of all, keep writing. While it might be scary at first, every person you share your work with is a potential person to inspire you. Providing feedback to other writers will also give you a detached perspective you can take back to improved your own work.
If you want to explore how to be a writer or how to write a book, imagine what you could do with all your free time once you move into a maintenance-free senior living community like Laurel Circle. To learn more about our hobbies for seniors and how we’ll help you embrace the life you want to live, call us at 908-595-6500.