One of the first questions I get from people when they find out I'm a writer is: How do you write a book? This article is meant to take the mystery out of the process a bit one part at a time.
For so many people, writing a book has either been a lifelong ambition, or they've just been through a life-altering event that unlocked their need to communicate their experiences. Yet it seems to be one goal that's just out of reach for most of them. So is there a secret recipe that will unleash your creativity and help you write the book of your dreams? There are plenty of writers that would tell you that there is no single, set path to authorship, as everyone follows a unique way.
However, there are some things that successful authors have in common: Highly effective writing habits that help them reach their goals. So, it stands to reason that if you emulate them, it should help you as well!
To help you achieve just that, I've put together this how-to article. Whether you've been an aspiring author since early childhood or for the last five minutes, this step-by-step guide will give you the fundamental knowledge you need to get started.
1. Picking a Subject
The first thing you need to write a book is, of course, a subject matter. If you don't have that, you'll, more than likely, never get past the first few pages of your initial draft. Perhaps, you already know what you want to write about, or maybe you're at a complete loss. In that case, ask yourself a few simple questions :
-What do I want to write about?
-What is important enough to write about?
-Who will want to read my book?
-Will I be able to write my story effectively?
The answers to these questions should be able to help you narrow it down. If you have several different book ideas, but you're passionate about only one of them, then that's the premise of your book. On the other hand, if you lack ideas, then these questions should steer you in a more definite direction. Think about the types of books you enjoy reading, or have left a notable impression on you. More than likely, you'll want to write a similar one.
If you're really not sure what kind of book to write, perhaps you might try using writing prompts or a plot generator to get your creative juices flowing. If, after all that, you are still uninspired, maybe you might want to consider benching your idea of writing a book until inspiration hits you. Forcing the matter will only leave you frustrated.
Once you've found your inspiration, the next step is researching your genre and your subject matter. If you decided to write the kind of book you like to read, then you already have an advantage since reading books in your favourite genre is the best way to learn how to write that sort of book. Select a few representative titles and examine them. How long are they? How many chapters do they have? What is the central theme? And then last, but certainly not least...do you think you can write a book with similar elements?
While you're at it, do some online market research to determine the most popular books in your genre. If you want your book to succeed, you'll have to contend with these bestsellers. Read those book blurbs and figure out what sells. What do all these books have in common, and why do readers find them so appealing? Does your book idea hold up to these standards? How can your book offer something new? If you're writing nonfiction, do you have a unique viewpoint on your chosen subject matter, or are you unusually knowledgeable on it?
Going that extra mile is, for better or worse, the only way to give your book a leg up in today's competitive market. So don't skimp on the research, because it will tell you where the bar lies and how you can surpass it.
3. Creating an Outline
If you want to write a great book, you first need an outline. There are very few good writers that are true pantsers (Pantser = A person who writes well by the seat of his/her pants). Outlining is an especially crucial step if this your first book since you need a solid blueprint to rely on when you get stuck...and everyone gets stuck at some point!
So, how do you create that outline for your book? I could probably write an entire article on the subject (and I just might at some later point in time), but here are the essentials:
-Pick a format. There are so many different types of outlines to choose from: The free-flowing mind map, the precise chapter-and-scene outline, the character-based outline, etc. If one method doesn't work for you, try another! Any kind of roadmap is better than none.
-Establish a beginning, middle, and end. Way too many writers go into writing a manuscript with a powerful start. Then the middle becomes murky, and the ending is virtually nonexistent. Take your time to connect them to one another. Don't forget: The best books have conclusions that convey the feeling of being "deserved"! You should aim for that from the start.
-Struggles are at the heart of any good book. They draw the reader into the story. They generate tension, evoke emotion, and ultimately send the message you've been aiming for.
-Get to know your characters. Your outline is the perfect opportunity to develop your characters. Ask yourself: How will they interact with each other in the story, and how will said interactions demonstrate who they are and what matters to them most?
4. Starting off Big
Well, you've found your inspiration, done your research, and somehow managed to draft an outline. Now it's time to start writing! The beginning is the most essential part of the story. I don't believe it's an exaggeration when I say that the first couple of pages can make or break a book. If those first few pages aren't good enough, readers will quickly lose interest.
First, you need an opening that captures the reader's attention and makes it impossible for them to look away. From there, it's your job to maintain the reader's interest by raising the stakes and driving the storyline. Make the reader care about the main characters by giving them well-defined temperaments and motivations. On a side note: Never introduce more than a couple of characters at a time as it can quickly become too confusing for the reader.
There are countless ways to write the first chapter. You might want to experiment with different opening lines, or first scenes, to find the ideal balance. It's a lot of work, but in the end, it's well worth the effort in order to set the stage perfectly.
5. Focusing on substance
Many writers believe that the key to writing a fantastic book is style: Impressive vocabulary, elaborate sentences, and figurative language ala William Shakespeare, or Jane Austen. While style is definitely important, I find substance is far more so when writing a book; focus on your storyline, characters, and struggle(s).
Naturally, that's always easier said than done, particularly once you've started writing your story. It is quite tempting to fill pages with fluff when you reach a scarcely outlined section of your manuscript. However, that's exactly what it is: Fluff...and if you add too much of it, readers will, more than likely, become bored. This is another reason why outlining is so crucial. You need to know your story to stay on track!
6. Keeping the Reader in Mind
Do you want to write a book that readers will enjoy and, hopefully, buy? Well, then you need to write with your audience in mind. Sometimes there will be scenes that won't be overly exciting but serve the overall story arc. Try not to rush through them just to be done with them! Even if they don't seem appealing to you, they build tension and preserve the pace for the reader.
7. Setting Word Count Goals
Let's move on to more practical ways to improve your writing habits. Setting word count goals is a huge part of this, especially if you have a schedule to follow and plan to finish your book in a certain amount of time.
You should create word count goals for both your individual writing sessions, as well as per week, and even per month. Personally, I prefer to write a chapter per day, and most of my recent novels have about 30 chapters. This amounts to about 80000 words altogether. When you divide that number by 30, I end up writing roughly 2500 to 3000 words per day. Sometimes I write a little more, sometimes a little less.
For most novice writers, many websites and professional writers recommend the following word count goals:
-500-750 words/writing session
These goals are based on three to four writing sessions per week, which is reasonable a goal when starting out, yet it's still enough to mark progress. So, even if you only write 500 words per writing session thrice a week, you can still finish your first draft in less than a year.
Please make sure your word count goals are practical and attainable! If you've never written a book before, take your time, set a manageable goal, and gradually aim higher. You don't want to get burnt out and frustrated. Writing should be enjoyable, not a chore.
Thank you for reading the first installment! Stay tuned for part two in a couple of weeks!
Have a few tips of your own? Since this list is not all-inclusive, leave them in the comments below.
Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added six historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty , The Country Girl Empress, A Life in the Shadow of the Crown, The Perpetual Traveler, Excerpts from the Imperial Diary, and At the Castle of Dreams.. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Goodreads.
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