Over 50 percent of Americans believe they’ve got what it takes to write a book. Yet, a mere 15 percent have started writing, and only 6 percent are halfway through their first draft.
If you’ve never written a book but have always wanted to, what’s holding you back? Is it that you don’t know where to begin? This guide is for you if you’re stuck at the starting line. It outlines the basics of how to start writing a book, from finding your “why” to creating the perfect writing space.
Find Your “Why” for Writing a Book
The first step to writing a book is to find your “why.” Why do you want to write a book? Have you had a creative idea for a young adult novel swimming around in your head for decades? Are you eager to share a personal story about overcoming a particular challenge?
No one “right” reason exists for writing a book. Some people want to tell a specific story, while others want to highlight a problematic issue. Don’t worry that your “why” isn’t impressive or powerful enough. If it matters to you, it’s sufficient. Once you’ve identified your “why,” write it down on paper, and display it in your writing space (we’ll talk more about that in a moment) so you don’t forget it.
Schedule Your Book Writing Time
If you want to start writing a book and see it through to the end, you must treat writing like a job. Establish regular times throughout the week to sit down and write. Scheduling writing sessions will ensure you stay the course and stick to your writing goal.
You could write for an hour in the morning before work and an hour in the evening before bed. Whatever your desired book writing schedule is, add it to your planner. Then treat your writing times like other appointments.
Set a Specific Writing Goal
The idea of writing an entire book might seem daunting. Remember that you don’t have to draft a complete book in one sitting. Instead, break your book into manageable chunks, and give yourself a specific writing goal each day. For example, perhaps you’ll aim to write five pages or 500 words daily.
You can make your goal as small or large as you want. However, be realistic about what you can do to set yourself up for success and stay motivated.
Create Your Writing Space
As a burgeoning writer, you deserve a space to work on your book. A dedicated writing space makes it easier to get in the zone and transition into “writing mode.” Even if you don’t have an entire room to dedicate to your writing, you should at least have an area within a space that’s all yours. For example, you may establish one corner of the living room as your writing space. Set up a desk here, get a comfortable chair, and keep a pair of noise-canceling headphones handy so you can block out distractions.
Speaking of distractions, it might take more than noise-canceling headphones to keep you focused on your next writing project. First, be honest with yourself about your susceptibility to distractions. Then, be proactive about preventing them. For example, you tend to drift to Facebook or YouTube when writer’s block hits. So use a website-blocking tool to prevent you from accessing these sites during writing. Likewise, if you’re drawn to your phone to answer texts or emails, put it on airplane mode or leave it in another room while you write.
Begin with the Basics
Once you’ve created a schedule and established a sacred writing space, it’s time to sit down and begin the writing process. Here are some simple steps that will help you get started on the right foot:
Clarify Your Book Idea
Before writing, get clear on the big idea behind your book. What are you going to write about? You don’t have to have every detail figured out, but you should have a general idea of your book’s topic and the main plot points.
Not sure if your idea is big enough to carry an entire book? Distill your big idea into a couple of sentences. Then, consider sharing those sentences with a few people you trust. Sharing your vision can help you validate it. Sharing also allows you to make potential tweaks before you dive too deeply into the writing process.
Identify Your Reader
In addition to clarifying the big idea behind your book, you must define your target reader. Who will buy and read your book? Is it for children? Young adults? Middle-aged women?
Identifying your audience helps you adjust your tone and writing style to match their preferences. Without this information, you might struggle to write a book your target readers want to read, let alone share with their friends and family.
Even if you’re not writing an informational text, you must still conduct research when writing a book. For example, if you’re writing a historical novel, you’ll need to research the specific time period when the story takes place. This research ensures you use proper terminology for the time, describe clothing and hairstyles accurately, etc.
Failure to adequately research could affect your credibility as a writer. Readers might question your dedication to your craft or hesitate to read your future work.
Outline the Story
Once you’ve figured out your big idea and identified your reader, it’s time to draft an outline. Your outline is a roadmap that helps you identify your characters’ journey. An outline also enables you to stay focused throughout the writing process.
Some writers resist the idea of an outline. They find it tedious or assume that it stifles their creativity. If this sounds familiar, remember you’re not writing your outline in stone. You can—and likely will—alter it. However, having a rough outline to reference will keep you on track and give you a sense of direction. Think of it as your safety net if you lose focus while writing.
Plan the Opening Sentence (or Hook)
It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a graphic novel or a children’s picture book. Every great book needs an impactful opening sentence.
The first sentence hooks your reader and encourages them to stick with your book. The sentence might share information that takes them by surprise. It could also be a philosophical statement that gets them thinking.
Think about your favorite books and their opening sentences. What sets them apart from others?
Great stories thrive on conflict. When was the last time you read a book (or watched a movie or TV show, for that matter) in which every situation went smoothly, and everybody got what they wanted without having to work for it? You’ve probably never read such a book because that kind of story isn’t interesting (and definitely doesn’t sell)!
As you outline your story or consider your characters’ journeys, look for ways to infuse conflict. Keep in mind that conflict matters in non-fiction books, too. If you’re telling a personal story, consider how to emphasize friction and incorporate more suspense.
Put Your Internal Editor in Time-Out
It’s natural to edit while you write. For example, your internal editor is a great asset when drafting an email to your boss. However, your inner editor can be a hindrance when working on a book.
Strive to put your internal editor in time-out while writing—especially your first draft. If you have a grammar-checking tool on your computer, turn it off so you’re not tempted to go back and edit as you go. Remember that you can always go back and edit later. If you spend too much time editing along the way, you might prevent yourself from making progress on your book. You might even get so frustrated that you give up altogether.
Stick It Out
You must stick with it to go from starting the writing process to completing a book. Commit to your writing schedule and goal, then show up every day. Show up even when the last thing you want to do is write. You’ll have days when you doubt yourself or think you should give up writing altogether. Push those thoughts aside and stay the course. Persevere, and you’ll eventually end up with a finished draft.
If you’ve been trying to figure out how to write a book, you can use the tips in this guide to finally get started.