Hard choices up front

Before you start haphazardly writing a book, there are a few decisions to make that are very important. Once you’ve started the project in a certain way, it is difficult or impossible to come back on your decision. Here are a few that I’ve been struggling with so far.


The language you write in will determine your audience. In this day and age where you can self-publish your book on Amazon and other places like it, the choice of language will determine whether your book will be read or not. The Amazon world is heavily dominated by English speakers and trying to self-publish a Dutch book would be a lot more difficult considering the limited web-presence of Dutch-speaking readers.

But writing in Dutch is a thousand times more comfortable and natural to me. Although I do believe the Dutch vocabulary is sometimes limited and outdated. A lot of modern vocabulary is borrowed from other languages (mainly English). Writing in English on the other hand wouldn’t be impossible but I would doubt myself too frequently. I’m not confident that I can really write properly using a language that isn’t my mother tongue. Writing a scientific text in another language isn’t quite the same as writing a piece of fiction.


To quote James Wood in How Fiction Works, “the house of fiction has many windows, but only two or three doors”. You can tell a story in the third person or in the first person. Some of the books I enjoyed the most were written in a first person point of view. Haruki Murakami has almost always a first person narrator and I love those novels. I’ve tried to emulate his narration at times but I’ve found that first person narration is difficult to do well. I’m still not sure I can pull it off for an entire book, especially in situations where you need multiple points of view. When the main characters split off into different subplots, I’m not sure how the first person point of view can still do the job.

Book length

I believe that having a target page count for the entire book would be useful. It is not easy to start writing a chapter if you don’t have a rough estimation of how many pages you want to fill with a certain scene. Good scenes and good dialogues are finished when you have a good balance between sharing too much and sharing too little. You have to catch yourself if you start explaining every little detail. Sometimes things must be left unsaid to keep the reader guessing, to invite the reader to fill in some of the blanks for himself. That way the reader is invested in the character and builds up some kind of expectation that can then be confirmed or debunked with great effect. Setting a hard limit to each chapter, forces you as a writer to keep track of your scenes and how long they run.