These five steps show you how to write a book.
YOU KNOW, THERE IS A METHOD TO THE MADNESS OF WRITING A BOOK! Whether you’re writing a novel, a memoir, or a nonfiction book, the following steps will show you the basics. Want to learn how to write a book? You can get started today! Just apply these five bite-sized actions to your book project and watch it take shape before your eyes.
Step 1: Prewrite your book
“Prewriting” is the first stage of writing a book. Consider prewriting to be the discovery step. In fact, if you’ve been thinking about your book, you’ve already begun the prewriting process!
During this stage, you’re in brainstorming mode. If you’re writing a novel, you’re deciding exactly what story you’re telling—and from whose point of view. If you’re writing a memoir, you might be considering how you much of your own personal story you want to share. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, this is the time to home in on the specific aspects of the topic you want to develop.
Depending on the type of book you’re writing, among other prewriting tasks, you might be
- Choosing your genre: For example, is your personal story best told as a true-to-how-it-happened memoir? Or would it serve you better to present that story as fiction?
- Researching: You may need to do some fact-finding to support your perspective on your nonfiction topic or the details of the era or location in which you’ve based your novel.
- Considering the broad shape or scope of your book: This is when you’ll develop a sense of where your memoir or novel begins and ends or how much of your nonfiction topic you want to tackle. Think of this as a rough pencil sketch. You want to imagine the general shape of your book—but you always have an eraser at hand.
Stuck on step 1? I’d love to help you brainstorm your plot or delve deeper into exactly what you should tell readers about your nonfiction book topic. Get in touch with me.
Step 2: Outline Your Book
When you outline your book, you’re developing an overview of your plot points or nonfiction subject topics. In this step, you’ll produce a foundational organization for your book. This organization provides a blueprint or map for you to follow as you embark on the next step of writing your book.
- Writing a novel? Base your outline on the major “plot points” of your story. Plot points are the external events your main character (MC) undergoes on her story journey.
While you may not know everything that happens in your plot at this point, creating an outline gives you a flexible way to imagine your MC’s entire story—without having to write the 100,000 words you’ll eventually need to tell it (yay!). Be sure to include common plot points, like inciting incident, low point, and climax in your outline.
- Writing a memoir? Interestingly, in some ways, you can you approach your own story as if it were a novel. In this case, though, you’ll be considering major life events you’ve actually experienced, rather than having to fabricate events for a character. Translate your experiences into plot points for your outline. This method can help you better organize your real-life story so as to create drama and suspense.
- Writing a nonfiction book? Rather than plot points, a simple outline format will map the chapters of your self-help book or how-to book. First, make a list of your main topics. These are your chapter titles. Next, list bullet points beneath the main topics. These points will deliver your ideas about each of your main topics.
Is Step 2 tripping you up? Plot and structure are my forte! So hit me up if you’d like support developing your outline.
Step 3: Write your first (rough) draft
Great news! You don’t have to get your book right the first time through. You just have to get through it! Your first book draft is experimental. It’s where you follow the map of your outline to see if it works—and adjust the places where it doesn’t. Writing your first draft allows you to experience the flow of your book from inside the process. But it’s not your final draft!
Here’s my expert writing coach advice: When you’re writing a first draft, don’t try to make it perfect. For this part of the process, bad writing is w-a-y better than no writing. Just write your way through to the end. Then step back and evaluate what you’ve done—and how to make your next draft better.
(Don’t take my word for it, though, lol. Author Anne Lamott is famous for encouraging writers to produce “shitty first drafts” or SFDs. I even have a blog post about SFDs! Check it out!)
When you’re working on Step 3, it can really help to have an accountability partner —especially when that partner has the professional experience to let you know what’s working and what’s not. Contact me if you’d like to discuss my Step 3 support.
Step 4: Get a reader
A book is meant to be read—of course! Your writing is a way you share your ideas and imagination with the world. But before your book goes out into that wide world, it’s helpful to get feedback on your first draft from a trusted few. Among a hundred other things, these good readers will help you pinpoint spots where your the pacing of your novel lags, for instance, or where the logic of your nonfiction premise needs further support.
Here are a few ways to access helpful opinions on your first draft:
- Join a critique group: Search the web for virtual critique groups that focus on your genre. My quick Facebook search for “novel critique groups” brought dozens of options! In most critique groups, you can submit small sections of your book-in-progress for ongoing feedback. You might also find some kindred writers in the group with whom you can eventually exchange full drafts for critique.
- Enroll in a writing workshop: Offering instruction as well as peer review, like a critique group, a writing workshop geared toward your particular book project can introduce you to one or more writers who would be a good fit to exchange full drafts. (My clients have particularly liked Gotham Writers classes.)
- Find a writing partner: When we participate in a critique group or writing workshop, we may find writers who have a good eye for writing and a kind spirit for delivering feedback. These folks are pure gold! If you meet such a person in a writing group, ask if they’d like to exchange pages—or even full drafts—if you provide the same service for them.
On the other hand, you might already know a good candidate or two. If you have friends, neighbors, or colleagues who write, see if they would be a good fit to share your writing with.
- Solicit beta readers: Beta readers are not necessarily writers—but they are good readers. They are the people who always have a book or two going and who talk intelligently about what they’ve read. They’re in book groups, attend author talks, and participate in library discussion groups. But if your friends don’t read—or you’re shy to share your writing with them—poke around the internet to find a beta reader group. (At this writing, goodreads has a beta reader group.)
- Hire a professional reader: While you might or might not pay a beta reader, you definitely will pay a professional reader. Pro readers are also called editors, developmental editors, book doctors, or book coaches.
We’re on the web. Search for us, then ask a few questions: For instance, does the pro you’re considering have experience in your genre? Will they share the names of previous clients as references? Do they offer a free (or inexpensive) sample of their services (perhaps responding to five or ten pages of your work in progress)? Do your due diligence before you pay up!
Looking for a reliable reader to complete Step 4? If you’ve created a first draft—or even gotten a good start on one—I’d be delighted to read your first 50 pages and give you some solid advice about how to approach your revision with confidence. Let’s talk!
Step 5: Revise Your Book
Revising your book gives you an opportunity to make it stronger and better! Here are some suggestions to help you do just that:
- “Revision” literally means to “look at again.” In that spirit, once you’ve allowed your draft to cool and you’ve digested the feedback you’ve received from your first reader(s), take the time to reread your entire draft, making notes as if you were your own beta reader. (Since “revising” does not equate with “editing,” keep your eye on bigger picture aspects of your book—and feel free to leave the commas alone for now!)
- As you read, ask yourself these questions: Does your writing flow easily from plot point to plot point or subtopic to subtopic? Is the voice or tone of the writing appropriate to the subject and engaging to read? If you’re writing a novel, does your character make an arc? If you’re writing nonfiction, do you make a convincing case for your perspective on your topic?
- After you’ve evaluated your work yourself, revisit the feedback you got from your reader(s). Do their opinions agree with yours? If so, preserve the parts you both like and make changes to parts you both believe could be strengthened. (And if their opinions don’t agree with yours, see if you can learn something from their responses, anyway!)
- Next, create a prioritized list of elements to address. Organize that list from larger issues to smaller issues. Now, work your way through the list, tackling just one issue at time, so as to avoid overwhelm. You might take a break between passes on your revision—because fresh eyes see things tired eyes miss!
If you want someone to advise and encourage you as you develop the strengths of your book and create strategies to bring the weaker aspects up to speed in Step 5, let me know. I’m all aboard!
Congratulations! If you’ve completed these steps, you’ve (almost) written a book! You’re now-revised book-length manuscript, once published, will eventually be your long-desired book!
Before looking for a publisher, however, you might want to repeat Steps 4 and 5—sharing your revision with a good reader and then making further changes based on their new feedback. Of course, you’ll also want to have your book copy edited before it appears on Amazon. But I want to assure you, by getting this far, you have much to be proud of. High five!!
I can show you how to write your book.
If you’re not sure how to start, or feel uncertain about any of these steps, I can help you write your book! I have well over a decade of experience coaching fiction writers, memoir writers, and nonfiction book writers. Check out my rates page to learn more, or book a free initial consultation. I’d love to connect with you and hear all about your book!
These resources will help you understand more about how to write a book.
Some of the titles below are classics—ON WRITING WELL, for instance, and BIRD BY BIRD. Others, like YOU’VE GOT A BOOK IN YOU and MEMOIR WRITING FOR DUMMIES. are newer entries into the world of writing about writing. But I chose each of these books to share with you because their authors have a passion—not just for writing, but for teaching. And the inspirational, instructional writing books they’ve crafted reflect that passion as well as their years of experience in the literary arts.
YOU’VE GOT A BOOK IN YOU
by Elizabeth Sims
In this terrific Writer’s Digest publication, Elizabeth Sims encourages you to embark on your book-writing journey. From her wealth of mystery novel and nonfiction writing experience, Ms. Sims is able to offer practical tips about how to get started, keep yourself motivated, and make it all the way to the finish line. And best of all, Sims thinks writing a book should be easy and fun! This book is a great guide to help you get the gist of book writing.
THE BOOK YOU WERE BORN TO WRITE
by Kelly Notaras
In this book, Ms. Notaras focuses on writing nonfiction books—and is particularly helpful in helping you focus on how to deliver your hard-earned wisdom with readers who will benefit from it.
Are you a thought leader, healer, or change-agent stuck at the starting line of book publication? Life coach and publishing industry insider Kelly Notaras offers a clear, step-by-step path for turning your transformational idea or story into a finished book as quickly as possible. With humor, encouragement, and common sense, she demystifies the publishing process so you can get started, keep writing, and successfully get your wisdom out into the world.
ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING
by Ray Bradbury
This book is a joy-filled exploration of how Ray Bradbury found his way to being the writer he became. Mr. Bradbury includes wonderful suggestions about how you, too, can discover the literary topics and approached that will light you up. Because, that’s what it’s really all about, right?!
Bradbury, all charged up, drunk on life, joyous with writing, puts together nine past essays on writing and creativity and discharges every ounce of zest and gusto in him. —Kirkus Reviews
ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING is purely and simply Bradbury’s love song to his craft. —LOS ANGELES TIMES
THE WRITING LIFE: Writers On How They Think and Work
by Marie Arana
Featuring more than fifty of contemporary literature’s finest voices, this volume will enchant, move, and inspire readers. In it, authors divulge professional secrets: how they first discovered they were writers, how they work, how they deal with the myriad frustrations and delights a writer’s life affords. Culled from ten years of the distinguished WASHINGTON POST column of the same name, THE WRITING LIFE [is] for anyone interested in the making of fiction and nonfiction—an indispensable guide to the craft.
PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK
by Joyce Sweeney, Jamie Morris, and Tia Levings
Whether you’re writing a novel or a memoir, my co-writers and I believe in the power of plot! We’ve all found that taking the time to think through a character’s adventures before slogging through 80,000 words makes for both a more efficient book-writing process and a better written book! The Plot Clock is the method we believe makes plotting your novel or memoir (almost) a walk in the park.
MEMOIR WRITING FOR DUMMIES
by Ryan G. Van Cleave
With easy-to-follow,step-by-step instructions―along with helpful tips and advice on how to get published―MEMOIR WRITING FOR DUMMIES shows you how to put pen to paper and hone the craft of writing a truly compelling memoir. Packed with proven tips and writing tricks of the trade, this book gives you everything you need to ensure your life story is never forgotten.
NAKED, DRUNK, AND WRITING
by Adair Lara
Adair Lara: award-winning author, seasoned columnist, and the answer to all of your autobiographical quandaries. NAKED, DRUNK, AND WRITING is the culmination of Lara’s vast experience as a writer, editor, and teacher. It is packed with insights and advice both practical (“writing workshops you pay for are the best–it’s too easy to quit when you’ve made no investment”) and irreverent (“apply Part A [butt] to Part B [chair]”), [including] answering such important questions as:
• How do I know where to start my piece and where to end it?
• How do I make myself write when I’m too scared or lazy or busy?
• What makes a good pitch letter, and how do I get mine noticed?
• I’m ready to publish—now where do I find an agent?
• If I show my manuscript to my mother, will I ever be invited to a family gathering again?
WALKING ON WATER
by Madeleine L’Engle
In this classic book, Madeleine L’Engle addresses the questions, What does it mean to be a Christian artist? and What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.
by Roy Peter Clark
Ten years ago, Roy Peter Clark, America’s most influential writing teacher, whittled down almost thirty years of experience in journalism, writing, and teaching into a series of fifty short essays on different aspects of writing. In the past decade, WRITING TOOLS has become a classic guidebook for novices and experts alike and remains one of the best loved books on writing available.
THE WEEKEND BOOK PROPOSAL
by Ryan G. Van Cleave
While you may not want to write a full nonfiction book proposal, this guide contains oodles of exercises and information that will help you think through the purpose of your nonfiction book, decide on your book’s audience, and clarify what you want to share with them. In addition, since a substantial part of creating a nonfiction book proposal involves writing an outline, you’ll find helpful ways to do just that—a step that will result in you getting clearer and clearer about what you’ll be writing, before you ever turn to that blank page.
ON WRITING WELL
by William Zinser
Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, ON WRITING WELL offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.
THE FOREST FOR THE TREES
by Betsy Lerner
“THE FOREST FOR THE TREES should become a permanent part of any writer’s or editor’s personal library.“ —THE SEATTLE TIMES
Betsy Lerner is a knowing and sympathetic [teacher] who helps writers discover how they can be more productive and how they can better their odds of getting published well. This is an essential trove of advice for writers and an indispensable user’s manual to both the inner life of the writer and the anxious place where art and commerce meet: the boardrooms and cubicles of the publishing house.
BIRD BY BIRD
by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott’s hilarious, big-hearted, homespun advice begins with the simple words of wisdom passed down from Anne’s father—also a writer—in the iconic passage that gives the book its title:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’
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