How to Write a Book

How to Write a Book
Spectacles lying on an open book, row of books behind c. 1947. Photo by Jack Cato (1889 - 1971)
Spectacles lying on an open book, c. 1947. Photo by Jack Cato (1889 – 1971) via State Library Victoria

I’ve been asked several times recently how I came to write a book, so today I’m sharing the answer. Writing a book is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. On the surface, it’s a hard thing to do, but it’s very easy to write a book. It’s all the other stuff that’s hard. You just have to take it one step at a time.

1. Form the Intention to Write a Book

The first thing to do is to form a firm intention to write a book. Now I know that sounds ridiculous, but writing a book takes time. You need to decide how much you can spare, and where it’s coming from. Can you give it an hour a day or will it be a couple of hours on the weekend? Or will you go to a class or book yourself into a hotel for a week and write non-stop?

One of the things that got me started was this TED talk by Matt Cutts (has sound and starts playing immediately). He suggests that you can do anything for a month, and challenges you to try. He explains how he wrote a novel using the NaNoWriMo challenge. If you don’t want to write fiction, that’s ok. You could do NaNonFiWriMo for non-fiction or NaBloPoMo to blog every day. There’s probably others too.

2. Decide What to Write About

What you decide to write will put boundaries around what you do next, because all books come with a built-in structure and audience expectations.

For example, a romance will be something in the region of 50,000 – 80,000 words and follow a basic story line of person meets person, they fall in love, there’s a big bust up, they get back together again and live happily ever after. (That’s the simple version).

The easiest way to get started is to write about something you know a lot about, and for me, that was event planning. Inspired by a conversation overheard on a train, I put my event planning experience into a book to help others to put together Stress Free Dinner Parties.

Or you could write a book about something that you are investigating for yourself like I did with Signature Wardrobe Planning.

3. Choose Where to Write and Create a Writing Nest

You might think it is as easy as setting up at your dining table, but I am afraid there’s a little more to it than that. It needs to be a place where you can get comfortable, and where you can work undisturbed. Ideally, it will be appealing, and you will want to get in there and get words on the page. Listen to music if you like, or just the ambient noise.

I have an adjustable desk which I can set low enough for me to sit comfortably and ergonomically on my ergonomic chair. When I sell a few more books, I might get one that I can sit and stand at. I have my laptop hooked up to a stand-alone screen and use a wireless mouse and keyboard. I’m debating about whether to get a desktop. It is nice to work outside or in different places, but I tend to slouch and get a sore back, neck and shoulders when I don’t sit properly.

4. Plan Your Book

Tempting as it is to just start writing, if you are serious about writing a book, you need a plan to get you to the finish line.

Draft Your Outline

Having decided what you are writing you now have an idea of what has to come first, what comes last, and what bits need to go in between. You may also have an idea of how long each section has to be.

Draft Your Schedule and Completion Date

With your outline complete, you can allocate timeframes to each part. If you set yourself a date to finish by, you are more likely to do so.

5. Start Writing

And don’t stop until you finish your first draft.

Edit Your Book

If you want to make it a good book, you need to edit what you have written. It will be a mess, and there will be a lot of work still to do. You will need to rewrite a lot of it so that it makes sense. It might not flow right, so you may need to rearrange chunks of it. You might flesh out some parts, delete others, or add examples. Check your spelling and grammar and improve the overall consistency and coherence.

I like to print my drafts out, then read and correct on the paper, and type up my corrections at the end.

Edit Your Book a Second Time

Repeat your first editing process.

Congratulations! You Wrote a Book!

Make time to celebrate. Champers all round! Now it’s up to you to choose what to do next. You don’t have to publish it, or sell it, or do anything further if you don’t want to.

Getting published is where it starts getting complicated and you need to start bringing in professionals and start making hard decisions. So I’m going to leave it here because that’s a series of posts for another time. You can find a lot of information about this kind of thing on other blogs; The Creative Penn is a good place to start.

And that’s how you write a book. Have I made the idea of writing a book better or worse for you?

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