You’ve decided you want to write a book and you’re confused by the myriad of advice about how to make it happen. You want a simple, step by step by guide.
Good news – this that step by step guide. (If you’d prefer this step by step guide via video click here).
So, let’s start from the beginning.
Step One: Decide which genre you are going to write in?
The chances are you already know the answer to that one.
Let’s start with non-fiction.
Step Two: Decide which book you want to write first.
That might sound crazy but if this is your first book but there can and probably will be other books, blogs, articles and papers.
The second reason it is so important is because so many first-time writers try to cram everything they know into one book, making it a mammoth, unwieldy job for them and an equally laborious job for their readers to wade through.
For these reasons it is critical to decide which book you are going to write first before you move on.
An easy way of doing this is:
The next step is to ask yourself these three questions about the subject groups you have in front of you:
If one of these options doesn’t stand out to you after asking yourself these three questions, then go with the answer to the first question – after all – its all about your readers!
Step Four: Decide on a working title for your book.
Very few working titles become the title of our published books. There will be plenty of time to decide on your title once the book is finished, so a working title is usually an ‘unsexy’ description such as:
‘How to hold successful events’
‘How to write good blogs’
‘Nine tips for developing your main character’
You want a title that says what it does ‘on the tin’.
Once you’ve decided on a working title – type it out and put it somewhere you can see it while you write. It will be an invaluable and simple tool to keep you focussed on what is relevant to THIS book.
Step Four: Decide which topics will become chapters.
Taking the subject you’ve decided on and the topics identified in Step 3 and decide which of these are significant enough to become chapters in their own right.
Step Five: List them in a logical order.
Taking these topics – list them in what feels to you list a logical order for your reader to read them in.
Remember, in your editing process if you discover your ‘logical’ order doesn’t flow as well as you’d expected it to, ‘cut and paste’ can fix that in a few minutes so don’t spend too much time on it at this stage. Slot extra topics under the appropriate chapter headings.
Step Six: Are there any extra topics or topics missing?
Take a look at your list and decide if:
Make those changes.
Step Seven: This list is the basis of your book outline.
Under each chapter heading draft what needs to be covered in each chapter.
We are going to take a detour now because how detailed this outline needs to be depends on whether you are a plotter or a pantser.
In the writing world plotters are the planners and pantsers ‘fly by the seat of their pants’. Let’s be clear here – regardless of what you’ve been told – neither is right or wrong – they are simply different styles.
To illustrate this let’s consider some super successful authors – James Patterson, J K Rowling, Stephen King and Magaret Atwood.
James Patterson and J.K. Rowling are plotters and Stephen King and Margaret Atwood are pantsers. Objectively all of these authors fall into the category of some of the world’s most successful writers – yet they all do it differently. They are proof that each option works equally well.
James Patterson is known for his incredibly lengthy and detailed outlines. Having seen his outline for his novel ‘Honeymoon’ I can attest to that. He covers what he wants each chapter to cover and even identifies dialogue and scenes he wants included. Both he and his co-authors follow the outlines during the drafting process.
J.K. Rowling uses a type of written spreadsheet to map her books. Here is a copy of one.
Although they are completely different – particularly in relation to their level of details – its clear from the success of each of their books that their styles worked well for them.
Stephen King starts with a character and a situation. In one of his books he knew his character was a male author driving his car in a remote area. His car breaks down and he knocks on the front door of the closest house. That was all he had when he started writing his novel ‘Misery’.
Character – male author
Situation – car breaks down in remote area, knocks on the door of the only house in the vicinity.
He works from there and let’s his characters take him on a journey.
Margaret Atwood’s own view on plotting novels is well known. She considers it the writing version of ‘painting by numbers’.
Yet again they are both hugely successful. The point of this is to make it clear that you need to decide what works for you and go with it. Be aware that what works for you writing non-fiction may differ when you are writing fiction.
If you’re not sure then write a brief outline and see how that works for you.
I would recommend if you’re writing non-fiction to have a list of the topics that need to be covered in your non-fiction book, to stay on track and make sure each topic is relevant.
*Warning* – Do NOT spend too much time on your outline – if you don’t get your book written then all you’ll have is a fantastic outline and no book to show for it.
Step Eight: Write your book!
This is where it gets exciting. You are now ready to simply start writing. There is no special magic.
Start wherever you want in your book. Everyone is not a linear or chronological writer. If you are – great – start from the beginning! If not – start wherever you choose and make sure you save it well so you know where to find it when you need it.
Many who want to write fiction will have an idea about what they want to write, however for those who don’t here are some tips. (If you’d prefer to watch this on video, click here).
As we mentioned earlier Stephen King starts with a character and a situation. He says:
‘I want to put a group of characters (perhaps a pair; perhaps even just one) in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free.’
He believes that creativity and plotting can be incompatible. I am a pantser and spent many years trying to plot my novels before realising that it is perfectly legitimate NOT to plot.
A second option favoured by many authors is starting with a ‘what if’?
‘What if a woman embedded in a strict church community fell in love with another woman?’
‘What if your family had a secret and your life was at risk unless you could unearth the secret?’
‘What if aliens landed in your town?’
Then, if you are a pantser, just start telling your story and see what happens to your characters. It will feel unusual but once you start to get into the flow you will start to really enjoy the process.
If you are plotter here’s an easy strategy to get you started. Every story has a structure. The easiest to use is called the 3 act structure. In simple terms there is a beginning, middle (or body) and the end in every story – whether we are writing fiction or non-fiction.
The beginning is where we meet your main character and we are introduced to what they want. There should be at least a hint of what obstacles are in the way of them getting what they want. These obstacles can be external or internal – for example – they could want to get a promotion but are being held back by a difficult boss – that would be an external conflict. Or they could want a promotion but their lack of confidence is holding them back – that is an internal conflict. Some of the best stories have both.
The middle or body of the story is where you tell us your character’s story – their journey to getting what they want, or not as the case may be. You need to help us see the challenges facing them and how they feel about it. There should be ups and downs – moments when they look like they will succeed then another challenge looks like it will stop them. We need to care about your character and have a stake in them succeeding.
The end is where you tie all of the pieces together and we find out whether your character gets what they’ve worked for.
Use the 3act structure to plot out the major points in your story. Using these plot points you can establish chapters and outline briefly what you plan to write in those chapters.
Remember your outline is an ‘organic’ document so you can make changes if your planned action points feels as if they’re not working. Again, a reminder that spending too much time on your plan is not a good idea. You are not going to feel any satisfaction if all you succeed in finishing is a great plan, rather than your book.
Here are some tried and tested strategies for achieving your writing goals which WILL get your book written.
Why set goals?
Setting goals is important for anything we want to achieve. What we know is that we need to set goals to achieve anything significant. Finishing our books is the most obvious sign of achieving our goals but are we prepared to leave it to chance? How will we know throughout the writing process that we are on track to finish our books?
Setting goals and tracking them is the only way we can know that we will definitely finish what we started.
What goals should you set?
Everybody will set different objectives and that is how it should be.
You can set a time related or word count goals, or both.
What has worked with my writing clients is setting an achievable goal that is slightly challenging. We are taught to set very high targets for ourselves however making them unachievable can have the opposite effect on our motivation. There is nothing motivating about repeatedly failing to achieve what we set out to do.
What I have found with my clients is that once they feel they often want to give up. This isn’t because they aren’t doing extremely well – it’s because their targets were completely unrealistic.
If you’re not sure what goals to use then why not try my 10minute writing method. It was designed for busy people who want to write their books.
Using this method your daily goal would be just 10minutes a day. However, you cannot edit, research or review your writing during that period. Most of us are used to editing and reviewing our writing as we do it, especially at work.
We can experience difficulty trying to stop ourselves from editing while we write. I strongly recommend that you set regular editing sessions depending on how much you are writing each day. If you are writing for 10minutes a day you will not need to edit for a fortnight.
Why are you not able to write, edit, review and research in the same session?
We have two sides to our brain – one creative and one logical. We are used to using the logical side of our brain but much less so the creative side. If you swap between the two sides of your brain you will stop the creative flow and it will lead to writer’s block.
If you choose to adopt the 10minute writing method you can also set a wordcount target as well.
Another strategy you can use alongside setting your goals is to track your writing. Ernest Hemingway did this. He would set a wordcount target, record it and alongside that number he would record what he actually wrote for that day. In doing that he knew whether he was on track to finish his book.
Here is a sample of how you could record your goals and track them daily.
This simple format can really help you achieve your targets.
We also know that writing those goals down improves our chances of achieving them by more than 40%.
Writing them down and sharing them with an accountability partner, friend or someone else who supports your goals will increase your chances of meeting your goals by more than 90%.
It’s a no brainer then to set them, write them down and share them.
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