How To Write a Book (Part 1 of 2)

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— Lemony Snicket

Somewhere in your heart you know it.  Maybe this is a recent dream, but quite likely it’s been kicking around in your subconscious for some time and every once in a while, when reading a new book, or hearing an author interview, or thinking about your lifetime goals it comes to the surface — you want to write a book.  Maybe you dream of being a fulltime, famous, professional writer or maybe there’s just one idea or story that begging you to expound on it and send it out into the world.

Whatever your dream project is — a memoir, non-fiction, children’s book, or novel — there are some common elements needed to move from Chapter 1 to ‘The End’.

Elements of Success in Writing:

  • Figure out what you want to tell and why.  Before you write a word, get a good idea of why this book?  Toni Morrison says ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’  That’s always been my driving force.  Figure out what makes it special and different than similar books.  Don’t worry about originality yet (we’ll get to that part), just envision who your book is for.  Sometimes it helps to think of a person you know who is also your intended audience.
  • Plan (a little).  Finding a similar book can help you get an idea of number of chapters, number of pages, type of words (for children’s books) etc that your book might have.  The internet has acted to level the playing field and let you acquire ‘insider knowledge’ of the book business. Did you know there are four categories for children’s fiction?  Simply do a Google search for ‘books how many children fiction categories are there’ and you can find the answer.  Just remember that ten ‘Wikihow’ articles don’t necessarily equal the depth of one good how-to book.  This is the ‘know the rules so you can break them’ phase.
  • Make a roadmap, not a blueprint.  I wish I remembered what writing book this was from, but never the less it’s still important advice: make a roadmap not a blueprint of your book.  A blueprint is exacting and unchanging, but a roadmap lets you decide to take a detour when you see something interesting and you still know where you’ll be at the end of your book.  A lot of beginning writers start without a roadmap, and begin with a flush of excitement but can lose their way after a few chapters.  To me, a good road map is only a couple of pages long but will let you know the next ‘beat’ of your book if you get lost.  The outline for my novel ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ was two pages long and explained the main plot from beginning to end — just like you were telling a best friend the plot of a movie you saw.  For my self help non-fiction book, I decided to focus on five areas of improvement (Inspiration, Freedom, Peace, Energy, Strength) and then decided to have five little chapters in each area and named them (i.e. Do Yoga).  These outlines kept me moving forward while giving me the freedom to discover better ideas along the way.
  • Make your goal to finish.  Believe me — there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing your first book, of knowing you’ve done what a lot of people will talk about but never do.  You can always edit and polish on later drafts but just getting finished should be your first goal.  I started with screenplays and just told myself that whether or not the plot made any sense, I would reach page 100 (the length of a screenplay).  I knew one writer who kept rewriting chapter one over and over again.  I met him again years later and he was still writing chapter ones.  Now, each person must follow their own path and it’s great he’s still writing, but if your goal is a finished book — look toward that finish line.
  • Remember — you have potential.  My belief is that LOVE + TIME = TALENT.  If you keep writing, and reading, and learning you will get better and better.  The book ‘Talent is Overrated’ has some wonderful stories about how being born ‘talented’ might mean you get out of the starting gate before everyone else, but if you’re trotting and everyone else is working hard and galloping along you’ll soon be left in the dust.  If you love the book you’re writing, if you’re excited by it, the feeling will pass right along to the reader.  And you are the only you who has ever been, so your work (if it’s true to you) will be original and one-of-a-kind.
  • Just keep writing.  Even a page a day will get you to your goal.

Next time I’ll give you a timeline for writing your novel and answer some commonly asked questions.

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