Steps for How to Write a Book

So you want to write a book I know the feeling. I’ve been writing books for many years now and I have a number of foundational steps that you can follow if you’re going to write a book. Speed is not the point, quality is the point.

To begin, establish your writing space. Establish what you need so if you need solitude make sure you find a place in your house where you can shut the door or you can turn off media and you can have privacy, silence, and whatever you need to write. The more you can afford, the better you’ll do as far as equipment and space.

The next important step is to assemble your writing tools. Learn how that works for you.Your back and your neck are important to your writing. You’re going to be spending a lot of hours in front of that computer so don’t scrimp on your computer and when you’re home don’t scrimp on your chair.

Make a list of all the things you’re going to need while you’re at home. If you need paper clips or a stapler or whatever make sure you have all those within arm’s length so you don’t get distracted by having to look for things.

Another important thing you want to do is to break the project into small pieces. The reason that writing a book seems so colossal is because it is writing a book. Break the task into as many small pieces as you can. You have to realize yes it’s a 4 or 500 page manuscript in the end. That’s made up of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Just doing a step one at a time that’s the way to get a handle on it.

The next step is to settle on your big idea. It needs to be a big idea if it’s book worthy. It’s going to be a big concept. If it’s a small idea use it for a blog or an article. It has to be big. I can’t overstate the importance of this. If you try to write a book before and you ran into a roadblock at the 20 or 30 day mark or maybe the 20 or 30 page mark it could be because your idea wasn’t big enough.

How do you know if your idea is big enough and if it has legs. If it stays with you, if you tell your spouse, or your friend what your book is about and every time you tell them it gets bigger that’s a book that’s going to last in the marketplace too.

Next construct your outline. If you are a pantser (one who writes by the seat of your pants) you can have some sort of idea where you’re going, even if it’s on one side of one sheet of paper. Give yourself some direction of where you’re going. Now some people especially if you’re a beginning writer, your editor or your agent may need to see an entire synopsis of your novel idea so you’ll have to do more of an outline than you might have to do later. Agents and editors demand outlines for nonfiction. There’s no writing a nonfiction book without an outline. The agent or editor want to know what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, where you’re getting your information, and what your points are going to be.

Every time you get to the halfway or 3/4 point (what is referred to as the marathon of the middle) remember the reader is right with you. If it seems boring to you, your reader is asleep too. If this happens you’ll take care of that with your outline.

In nonfiction, you’ll know that your middle has enough good stuff in it. For fiction, especially if you’re a panther, you better be sure you’re saving a lot of big setups and payoffs for that marathon in the middle. You can do the same in nonfiction. The same structure works for nonfiction. In fiction you don’t have the same number of elements as far as tension and conflict and dialogue and that type of thing but you still need to set up in the payoff. Make your non-fiction book say you’re writing a nonfiction book about how to __________. You need to set it up so that it looks impossible until your specific solution comes through. That’s your setup and payoff.

Remember don’t be intimidated by an outline. Your outline serves you not the other way around. If you have an outline and you find yourself drifting from it or you think the book is going in a different direction, better change the outline. Don’t change the book, make your outline and work from it.

The next step six is to set a firm reading schedule. That includes a firm deadline that you keep firm. This is a thing that hangs up too many beginning writers, they don’t have a publishers deadline so they have to set their own. Sometimes an author tends to fudge on our own deadlines. Make sure you don’t do that. Keep your deadline firm. The way you do that is you figure out roughly how many pages you’re going be writing for your book. If it’s 300, 400, or 500, divide that into the number of days you’re allotting yourself to write. This may change once you get started and realize how many or how few pages you can write per day. If you schedule yourself for 10 pages a day and you’re really not comfortable with more than four or five, change your schedule. Change your deadline. Once you get it locked in, keep it firm.

Statistics show that only about 1 in 100 writers literally meet their deadlines. If you just do that, you set yourself apart from ninety nine out of a hundred writers. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re going to find the time to write. When you have to write you have to have something taken out of your schedule. Is that an hour or two of sleep at night, is it a concert, is it a ballgame, is it a movie, is it a favorite TV show? How bad do you want this. Schedule your days right on your calendar or on your computer. Keep that deadline firm.

The next step is to conduct your research. Everybody knows that you need to do that automatically for nonfiction. You have to be an expert in what you’re writing about and not just drawing on your own experience. Show that you immersed yourself and all the writing in your field is accurate.

A lot of people miss the fact that research is just as important for fiction. It could be even more important if you miss a small detail of history or aircraft or weaponry. You can be sure readers are going to point this out specificity. It establishes credibility to fiction and fiction needs to be believable. Once you’ve done your research, you’re going to be tempted to show that off to the reader. You want to resist that urge. Your research is not your main course, the story is the main course. Research is the seasoning that adds that specificity. It is what gives you credibility and believability.
Make sure your research becomes seasoning and that it’s right, because readers notice.

The next step is to write a compelling opener. Give it the time it deserves, because if you can pull off an important compelling first line it will set the tone for your entire book. You probably won’t write a more important line than that first one. Most first lines fall into one of these categories: surprising, dramatic statement, philosophical, or poetic. A dramatic statement keeps the reader reading. The first decision you make in your manuscript should go through that filter of reader first. Not you first, not editor first, not agent first, not reviewer first, not critic first, reader first. Writa a sticky noteto yourself reminding you that you wanted to be the best, most compelling, most moving, most emotional experience your reader has ever had. Think reader first, not anybody else first, so think reader first, last, and always.
The next step is to fill your story with conflict and tension. Readers crave tension and yes, this applies to nonfiction as well. Almost every time a writer shows a their manuscript and says I don’t know where to go from here it’s because they got to a point where the people on the page are agreeing with each other too much. We like that in real life. It’s nice to have pleasant conversations or talking with your spouse over a meal. That you’re talking about how nice a day it is and what you’re going to do, there’s nothing more boring in fiction than that. What you want to do is have one of those characters say something totally off-the-wall. Maybe this isn’t a beautiful day and the writer writes in a conflict. What’s the problem in their relationship, what’s the underlying tension that caused that conflict. That will keep people turning the pages. You want to do that on every page, even if it’s just a matter of someone setting up an appointment. They need to see the doctor tomorrow, there’s an implication, something’s coming up otherwise. Why would the writer put it in there? In nonfiction, how do you do that, you don’t want unpleasantness, it doesn’t have to be something negative, it doesn’t have to be a battle or a war or a fight conflict. The tension comes up in nonfiction simply by promising and then delivering. Setting up and paying off are some of the best nonfiction writing and ones who have spent the first several chapters promising you what you’re going to get when you finish reading this book and then they deliver.

The next step is to turn off your internal editor while you’re writing your first draft. Most writers lean towards being perfectionist(s). That inner critic sitting on our shoulder telling you what’s wrong with every word you write. That inner critic is just you or me and that critic needs to be told to shut up. Now is not the time to be criticizing your own work. Always save your editing until the next day at least or longer. You can wait between when you write it and when you edit it the better for the end product. This is the opening pages of a work-in-progress.

Next if you wouldn’t show this first draft off to your worst enemy, don’t worry about cliches, redundancies, or lacks of logic. Get the story down and turn off that internal editor. Get your story down and then tell yourself that the next day you can put your perfectionist cap back on and have at it.

Remember the marathon in the middle? Look at that again because if there’s any place you’re going quit, it’s going to be during the marathon in the middle. This is the toughest spot for every writer. Yo will wonder and ask yourself, why did I get into this business? The problem with the marathon of the middle is we’ve all got great ideas to start and we can’t wait to get to that big finish but now we’ve got a couple hundred pages in the middle to fill. If you just start padding it in fiction with extra scenes or nonfiction with extra points, your reader is going to drop off the page. This is where you don’t just survive, you thrive. Set up your payoffs so well in the middle that you can hardly wait to get to the ending. The ending will work better because you didn’t just persevere through the marathon you arrived.

Next is to write a resounding ending. You want your book to end the way a Broadway play ends when that curtain comes down with a satisfying thud. Even nonfiction has to have that great ending. How do you make sure your ending doesn’t fizzle? You give it the time. If you rush it or just don’t know how to make it work keep at it, don’t settle for second best. If it takes longer to write your ending than the rest of the chapters do whatever it takes to make it work. If you’ve got several ideas for how what might be best, go for the one that is the most emotional. Readers remember what moves them.

The last and most important point is that you need to become your ferocious self. What does it mean to be ferocious? You know what it means it means to be aggressive. Everything else is for naught if you don’t polish your manuscript to the point where you’re happy with every word. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect or that you don’t need an editor. If you should place it with a publisher, you need to polish that thing until it sings. Why because agents and editors can tell within two minutes whether your manuscript is going to be worth reading or rejecting. That doesn’t sound fair and maybe it isn’t fair, but they have so many things to read the competition is so vast, they’ve learned to be able to tell within a page or two whether your manuscript has potential or not. That puts all the pressure on you to self-edit. Learn to edit yourself, cut, or add power. go you