So, you want to write a book? That’s awesome! Before anything, start identifying yourself as a writer. If you’re working at writing, whether that’s studying or practicing, then you are a writer. Calling yourself a writer can give you the confidence needed to finish writing a book.
As a self-published author, I can tell you, without a doubt, that the hardest part of writing a book is actually writing. Its easier to quit than to finish. There will be many times that you are going to be tempted to give up. You may become overwhelmed, run out of ideas, or get bored with your project. The key is to keep going. Start at the beginning. Don’t expect to sit down at your desk and whip out a book in no time. It doesn’t work like that—this is a process.
You start by writing a sentence, then a paragraph, and if you’re lucky, you may even complete a chapter. Take it one step at a time and remember to stay motivated in order to complete your project. No one cares about the book you almost wrote. Readers want one that you’ve actually finished. The thing that truly makes you a writer is not your ability to start a project, but to actually complete one. To help make your writing process as smooth as possible, I’ve divided the 18 steps into 4 phases.
Phase One: Before You Begin Writing
Prior to putting pen to paper, its important to prepare yourself for such a task. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later. Preparation is a foundational part of the book writing process.
1. Set Up Your Writing Space
You don’t need a sanctuary, but make an environment that allows your creativity to flourish. I started my writing career on my bed until I was able (and had the space to) purchase a desk. Whether you prefer a noisy coffee shop or absolute solitude, its up to you to create an environment that gets you in the zone and helps you stay focused. As writers, we do what we have to in order to get the job done.
Here are some ideas for creating your ideal writing space:
• Declutter your space: Disorganization and chaos in your physical area can transfer to your mental psyche as well. Keeping your area organized also keeps your thoughts organized as well.
• Inspiration: Decorate your area with inspiring quotes or pictures that will help you stay motivated.
• Create a playlist: Depending on the vibe of the project I’m working on, there is a genre of music that helps me get into the flow needed to complete that project. Do you focus better with classical or alternative? Set up different playlists that you can use to get into your zone.
• Buy a calendar: Setting goals for the day or week will definitely get your book written faster. Manage your writing time by using a calendar and, most importantly, make sure to get it done.
Here is a checklist from self-publishing school
2. Gather Your Writing Tools
Some authors, like me, handwrite their first drafts before typing them up on the computer. If you are one that handwrites your drafts, don’t skimp out on paper, pens, and pencils. Still have your computer handy for research, communication with those in the publication world, and for eventually typing your manuscript.
Take a moment and think of everything you would need besides your desk, so that you can fully stock up on supplies ahead of time. This preparation is necessary to prevent interruptions during your writing time because you need to search for something. Your writing space is your office; make sure it is equipped with items such as:
• Reference books
• Staplers and staples
• Paper clips
• Writing utensils
• Pencil sharpener
• Pencil holder
• Note pads
• Printer ink and paper
• Cork boards
• Tissues for the cold seasons
Most importantly, get a cozy chair! There is nothing worse than trying to access your creative mind while you are uncomfortable.
The list above is just a guideline; if you can’t imagine needing any of these items, that’s fine. Equip yourself with what you know you’ll need. As your writing career progresses, you can upgrade your writing space accordingly.
Phase Two: How to Start Writing a Book
3. What’s Your Big Idea?
Choose something you are passionate about: a story that gets you up in the morning and draws you to your writing space. Your story should not only excite you, but also anyone you tell it to.
If you’ve had past experiences where you’ve tried writing a book, but failed to finish it, it could be because your premise needed adjusting. Perhaps your idea would be better for an article or post, but couldn’t carry for an entire book.
Think about Vampire Diaries, 50 Shades of Grey, or Harry Potter. The market is flooded with ideas in these genres and the competition is fierce. What can you write to make your story stand out? How can you make readers salivate? What’s your big idea?
Once you’ve come up with an idea, how do you know if your story is a winner? Well…is it always on your mind? If you’re constantly developing it or eliciting excitement from those you share your idea with, chances are you have a concept that you can work with. Most importantly, your story must capture you, so much so that you have to write it. Otherwise, you’ll becomes bored half-way through and you’ll never finish your manuscript. I always keep this Toni Morrison quote in mind:
“if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
4. Create an Outline
Its never a good idea to start a writing project without a clear idea of where you’re going. An outline is a road map for your book and ensures that your ideas are organized. Regardless of whether you’re writing a short story or a 400-page novel, an outline will always be there as a reference if you get stuck along the way. Having an outline doesn’t change even if you’re writing a nonfiction book. In fact, this is required by agents and publishers in your proposal; they want to know that you know where you’re going with your story. If you lose interest in your book, its possible that you didn’t start with enough exciting ideas. This is why an outline in essential because it allows you to foresee if your book structure will hold up through the end. Set your reader up for a huge payoff by making promises early on and building the anticipation throughout your book, but make sure you deliver!
Keep your outline to one page, if possible, but make sure to include all of your major points so you always know where you’re going. Your outline is for you, so don’t worry if your structure doesn’t follow the classics of basic outlining. For fiction, start with your title and premise, then all of your major scenes. For nonfiction, after the title and premise, try to come up with chapter titles and write a sentence or two of what each chapter will be about. This outlines is meant to serve you and your story; definitely change it or expand on it while you’re writing, if needed.
Use these steps to help create your outline:
• Brainstorm: List every thought and major story idea that you want in your book.
• Organize: Combine similar ideas.
• Order: Arrange ideas from general to specific. Use subsections.
• Label: Create a main heading and subheadings that will be used as your chapters.
5. Set a Writing Schedule
In order to make writing a habit, you must set a schedule. You won’t find time to write—you have to make it. You want to aim for at least 6 hours per week of writing. Ideally, it would be best if it was the same time during your writing days, but if that’s not possible, just cut out 6 hours wherever you can.
The truth is, people always find time for the things they really want to do.
If you have time to watch your favorite shows on Netflix, then you have time to write. Ask yourself how important it is to you to write your book? Successful writers make time to write.
6. Divide Your Project Into Smaller Pieces
Writing a book is a massive project, but your manuscript is comprised of several small parts. This kind of ties into step 4. Try not to overwhelm yourself by thinking of your book as this immense 350+ page task. Instead, see your book for what it really is: a manuscript made up of words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages. Over time, those pages will add up and eventually you’ll have triple-digit page amounts. Keep it simple. Start by breaking down your big book idea to a single-sentence premise. Then build onto that as you move forward with writing. Take it step by step. You don’t have to write the whole book today, but only a sentence.
7. Have a Deadline
If you’re like me, you need a deadline to motivate you. Not only will it keep you on track, but it can also be used to hold yourself accountable, especially if you share your deadline date with others. Once you’ve landed yourself a publisher, your deadlines will be established in your contract. Until then, set your own deadlines and treat them with the same care. Your deadline is sacred. After you’ve chosen your date, you need to determine how many words (or pages) you will need to write per session in order to have your book completed in time.
Use your calendar!
If the words per session aren’t adding up, then maybe the deadline you’ve chose is unrealistic and its okay to change it. If you have no idea how many words you write per session, perhaps experiment beforehand to figure out how many sessions it will take you to complete. For example, let’s say you want to finish a 350 page manuscript by this time next year. Divide 350 pages by 50 weeks (2 weeks off) and you get 7 pages per week. Next, divide that by your number of writing sessions per week and you’ll know how many pages you need to complete per writing session. Maybe you want to take 4 weeks off instead of 2. This is the time to adjust these numbers and determine your pages per session, while setting up your deadline. Change your numbers to make your deadline goal realistic to achieve and lock it in.
8. Maintain Focus by Eliminating Distractions
Do you find yourself writing a paragraph, then checking your email or Facebook? Before you know it, the day has gotten away from you and you’ve wasted a writing session. Once you’ve entered your zone, you want to remain focused for the duration of your session. We are less efficient when we are distracted and any disruption to our flow can set us back 20 or so minutes. Luckily, there are some steps that you can take to help you stay focused while writing.
Leave the Distractions Behind
• Find the best time to write.
• Create a writing schedule. Hold your writing sessions at the same time every day. Not only does this develop a habit, but it also conditions your mind to prepare for writing until it becomes second nature.
• Turn off your phone and disconnect from the internet. You can use programs like Ommwriter or FocusWriter to block out your screen.
• Try the pomodoro technique. This is a time management method that breaks down your work period into intervals that are separated by short breaks.
• Let others know of your writing schedule. Politely ask that they not disturb you during this time.
I learned quickly how vital research is while writing Awakening. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, research is an important part of your book writing process. You may be asking yourself, if fiction is a made-up story, then what research is involved? Your details need to be accurate for your story to be believable, especially if adding historical elements like I did. As for nonfiction, even if you consider yourself an expert on the subject, ensuring that you get all of your facts right will make your final manuscript look more polished.
Every post I write, I conducted research for, which is why some posts take longer than others, depending on the topic. You’ll notice I include links to my sources as well.
The last thing you want is to have even a small mistake because of your lack of research; your readers will notice and it will tear at your credibility as an author an expert. In addition to your own resources, also look into the following:
• The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus: This online version is right at your finger-tips. Word to the wise: don’t let it be known that you’ve consulted a thesaurus. Don’t go with the fancy word that jumps off the page, when a common word would flow much better.
• World Atlas: Tons of information about any continent, country, region, city, or town, including information that you may not have thought of.
• World Almanacs: Great for accurate data, government information, and more.
Phase Three: Actually Writing Your Book
10. Find Your Writing Voice
Think about the most exciting that that’s happened to you. Who did you tell it to? How did you sound when you were talking about it? That is your writing voice. Write in a way that when read, it sounds like you in your most excited state. The goal is to capture your reader. If your story isn’t engaging, then your readers will lose interest.
11. Remember: Keep the Reader First
Every decision you make regarding your manuscript must be made with the reader in mind. It is important to know your readers: their age, interests, loves, and hates. If you’re unsure then consider what you’d like to read and write something that is pleasing to you as a reader. For example, if a scene bores you, it will surely bore your reader, therefore, you would delete it. Remember to keep your reader as your priority. Focus on what will keep him/her reading or make him/her intrigued.
12. Open With a Compelling Sentence
Do you get stuck from the pressure of writing the perfect opening sentence? You’re not alone. I’ll admit, there are some projects I have yet to start because I’m unsure of how to begin them. Although it can change if the story demands it, an opening line shouldn’t be crafted after you’ve written the rest of the chapter. Settling on a good opener before you get started will build your confidence and you can watch as your story takes off. Your opening sentence can be poetic, dramatic, surprising, or philosophical. Look at some of the classics for great opening line inspirations.
13. Push Through the Middle
It happens all the time: writes will have a great concept and beginning. They can’t wait to get to their dramatic ending, but then realize that they don’t have enough cool stuff to fill the middle of their story. With nothing intriguing to write, they bail on the story completely. If you feel like this is happening to you, be sure to refer to your outline. Your middle sections should be as valuable as the first and last. During your outlining stage, you would have bulleted important scenes for the middle chapters. If done properly, you will be able to eliminate the stress of the middle chapters. Every book gets challenging a few chapters in. The novelty wears off and its easy to run out of momentum. If the middle starts to get to you and you feel like quitting, don’t. do whatever you need to do to keep yourself and your readers engaged. Remind yourself of why you started this journey in the first place. It’s more than just wanting to be an author. You have something to share with the world. The middle is challenging, but a necessary part of the process. You can and will get through it.
14. Conflict and Tension
Readers of all kinds, including nonfiction, crave conflict. Without conflict, your story will get boring and your readers will lose interest. An argument, a misunderstanding that causes tension in a relationship—thrust your characters into conflict with each other. This will keep your readers’ attention. Regarding nonfiction, even if you can’t write about that type of conflict, build a tense scene that readers will get a payoff for later in the story. Your goal is to keep your readers turning those pages, no matter what genre you’re writing. Keep your readers through the end of your book.
15. Powerful Ending
Again, this is important for any novel, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. In order to make sure your ending doesn’t die out, keep in mind the following:
• If you have multiple ending ideas, pull at the heartstrings. Readers remember what moves them most.
• Don’t rush. Deliver the payoff that you’ve promised your readers earlier on and make it satisfying.
• Don’t settle just because you’re eager to finish. I completely understand having spent years on a project and finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Its important to be happy with every word and not rush the ending just because you’re impatient. You’ve spent however long on your story thus far, take just as much time and consideration on your ending as well. It’s just as important as the rest of your story.
• Make sure your readers are delighted with an unpredictable ending; it has to make sense.
16. Turn Off Your Internal Editor
I rewrote the first chapter of Awakening three times before I shut my internal editor off. I realized that I would never finish the story if I spent all my time rewriting the same chapter. Most writers are perfectionists and its challenging to complete a first draft because we want every sentence to be, well, perfect. We each have a voice in our head questioning our every word and sentence, making us want to scrap everything and start again. Tell that voice to back off. This is not easy to do. You have to remind yourself that you can’t be the creator and the editor simultaneously. It is important to get your story or message down first, otherwise your writing process may slow to a snail’s pace and you’ll have wasted a lot of creating time. Or worse, you may not complete your story at all.
Don’t worry about clichés for now, or whether you’ve lost your readers attention; just focus on that rough draft. This could be chapter by chapter, or the whole manuscript. Whatever works for you. Just make sure that you’re wearing only your “creator” hat when writing that draft. Once done, then switch gears to your editing side and revise what you feel is necessary before continuing. After you’ve completed the whole manuscript, go through it yet again to make sure your story flows and that you’ve engaged your readers. Never submit anything that you are not 100% happy with. Yes, there is still an editing process that your manuscript will go through with your publisher, but why not present the best manuscript you can beforehand?
Phase Four: Revisions
It’s a harsh truth that agents can tell within the first couple of pages whether your manuscript is worthy of further consideration. Within those first pages, they can tell how much editing is required to make even those pages ready for publication. If the investment doesn’t make economical sense, then that is that. So, to ensure that an agent keeps reading your manuscript, you must become a fierce self-editor. This means keeping in mind a lot of things, including:
• Choosing simpler words over ones needing a dictionary.
• Show, don’t tell (it’s all in the details).
• Resist needless explanations (such as, “she walked through the open door”—we can assume it’s open if she walked through it, therefore, you didn’t need to tell us it was open).
• Avoid using too much stage direction.
18. Find a Mentor
Where better to learn than from someone who’s been where you want to be? With a proper mentor, you could avoid amateur mistakes and possibly shave off years of trial and error. Seek out an author who’s very experienced, not only in writing, but also in the publishing world. You want to work with an author who knows how to work with agents, editors, and publishers. I have a friend and mentor that I meet with monthly who is a very successful author. She even worked in publishing before pursuing writing full-time. There is nothing more valuable than gaining insight from those who have been there. As my mother use to tell me, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.
What process do you use for writing? Please share in the comments below!