An updated version of a post from Feb. 2022
Apparently, 81% of people in the U.S. want to write a book. That’s enough to say that most people want to write a book in this country, and I suspect the numbers would be pretty big in other countries, too.
On the one hand, it’s a great statistic. On the other, it’s a sad one.
Yes, most people want to write a book. But most of those people also have no idea where to start, so they give up before they even begin. How do I know this? The statistic says that about 265 million people want to publish a book. You know how many books are published every year in the U.S.? About 300,000 – and think about how many of those are not first-time authors.
That’s a big gap. And while I’m not saying that we should be publishing more books from everyone who happens to have an idea, I am saying that there’s something stopping us. Somewhere on the way from brilliant idea to writing it down, there’s a disconnect. And I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the beginning stages of writing a book.
So, for all you 81%-ers out there, how do you write a book? I’ll show you.
1. An Idea
This is pretty obvious. If you want to write a book, it all starts with an idea. Fiction or non-fiction? Memoir or self-help? Fantasy or sci-fi? It’s important to pinpoint exactly what your idea is (including your internal and external genres) so you’ll be ready for the following steps. The idea may not come to you all at once and that’s okay. That’s what outlining is for! (Even if it’s very basic outlining like I do!)
Just a few things about that new little spark in your brain. First of all, you have to believe in it. If you don’t love this idea and believe in it with every fibre of your being, chances are either a) you’re not going to finish the book at all or b) the finished product will be soulless and forced.
Secondly, it needs to be original. If you truly want to write a meaningful story that readers will love, your idea needs to be something that will attract them not just once, but keep them coming back to your book for the rest of their lives. It needs to be amazing enough that they want to tell everyone they know about it.
Sometimes an idea doesn’t start out original and that’s okay, too. You may find your own special twist while you’re outlining or writing. But find that original element to your story, and you’re already making good headway.
2. Writing Practice
A book is not the time to practise your writing. A book is the time to showcase all the writing you’ve already practised.
But if you come up with a great story idea and you’re still a new writer, don’t panic! You can still write your book, but I highly recommend getting in some practice first. Start a blog. Submit short stories to magazines. Join a writing group on Discord or Facebook or wherever.
It’s very tempting to want to jumpstart your writing career with a book, but I can almost guarantee you that it won’t go over well. You want your book to be your best work, not your practice.
3. Identify Your Audience
Now that you’ve had your practice, you’re ready to begin writing, right?
Many people don’t think about their audience when starting to write a book, but it’s so important, especially if you’re planning on self-publishing. If you don’t know who you’re writing for, how do you know what to write? You’re going to write an adult epic fantasy novel very differently than you’ll write a middle-grade fantasy adventure.
So, who are you writing your book for? What other books would your ideal reader enjoy? What kind of reader are you? That’s a great starting point to pinpoint your audience!
Once you have your idea and your audience and you’ve practised your writing enough to know that you possess the skill to write a book, it’s time to do some research. Read books in your genre, especially ones that are comparable to your book. Read good books. Know what good writing looks like. Know the tropes to use with your genre and target audience.
Read articles, too, or even blog posts (like this one!) about how to write a book or about other people’s experiences writing books. Make sure you feel confident in the venture you’re about to undertake. Most of all, know that it will not be easy! The first step in overcoming the inevitable slump during the writing process is knowing that it’s going to happen. Then, when the going gets tough, instead of quitting, you’ll just shrug and say, “Okay. I expected this.”
Finally, we’re getting to some kind of writing! Before you really start to write your book, you should have some kind of plan in place. If you’re a plotter, go ahead and plot your heart out! By this time, you should know what kind of outline works best for you (which is why you do your research before this stage!), or if you’re a pantser, you’ve figured out some different methods that help you get started.
But even if you are a pantser, I encourage you to have something to go off of. Even if you end up entirely deviating from your plot, it’s a good idea to know where you’re going. As a pantser myself, I don’t use strict outlines, but I do usually jot down the 5 Commandments of Storytelling in my novel and briefly fill in a Save the Cat! beat sheet.
Even as a pantser, it’s important to know the heart of your story. The details come to me as I write, but I try to figure out the bare basics in advance to keep me grounded. But you can use whatever plotting method works for you!
6. At Last…Write!
And now that you’re fully equipped, it’s time to start writing your book! But this means more than just putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Writing a book means setting aside intentional time to work on it. In the beginning, you may want to sit there and write nonstop! But, as I said, there will come a time (usually in the middle of the book) when writing starts to become a chore. You begin to try and push your writing time aside in favour of something else.
Don’t let this stop you! Remember how I said to be invested in your idea from the beginning? This is where that dedication comes in. Remind yourself why you loved this idea in the first place. Write some short stories with your main character(s). Keep going even when you don’t feel like it.
This is why it’s so important to have a routine. Set aside a certain time a few days a week that is reserved for only working on your book. That way, you have no choice but to do it!
The key to writing a book is perseverance. If you keep going, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. And if you’re still having trouble, get in touch! My coaching and feedback services start at just $10.
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3 thoughts on “How Do You Write a Book?”
I’ve always been a pantser, but now that I have less time, I’ve realised that I need an outline to keep me on track. Do you have the same thing when it comes to outlining?
Outlining is super foreign to me though. It’s almost like a skill in itself, lol.
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YEP! I’m laughing right now reading your comment because I’ve had that same experience! I’ve always been a pantser too, but I recently realised that I‘ve been trying to carry over my writing process from when I had hours to do nothing but write after school every day into my adult life now where I’m busy with a million different things all the time. I definitely need outlines now, even just short ones, to guide me!
And yes, outlining is difficult for me, too—it really is its own skill! I’ve found myself gravitating towards shorter outline formats that give me just enough details to see the big picture but still leave things open for me to explore during the writing process.
I’m still refining my outlining process, though; it’s far from perfect and I’m still learning! If I crack the secret, I’ll let you know 😂
I’ve even taken to mind mapping and using Excel sheets. Here’s to us pantsers finding our way!
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