5 Methods to Start Writing Your Book
This is not a foolproof guide to turn you into a writer overnight, but being involved in the publishing industry, it is not uncommon for people to ask me for advice about starting and finishing the process of writing a book. Generally, they have at least some vague idea about what they want to write about, but that is as far as they have gotten.
There are many schools of thought on this topic, but the truth is that there isn’t some one-size-fits-all secret to writing a book. Here are my thoughts on some of the common methods and the book-writing process in general.
Anyone Can Become an Author
I hold the belief that everyone has a voice, and everyone can become an “author” even if they aren’t a professional writer. There are many challenges for those that haven’t been writing for years, but if you’re willing to spend the time, you can definitely make it over those hurdles. Let's get into five of the most common approaches to writing a book.
Method #1. “Just Start Writing”
I think the most common advice about writing a book is, “Just start writing.” For a person that has written very little in the way of a structured book, it is my opinion that this becomes an overwhelming approach. You might start writing, but things can begin to unravel. Self-doubt and lack of motivation are very real problems for most first-time authors, and honestly, even some seasoned authors struggle with these issues.
With this approach, try to understand that the initial draft may not exactly resemble your finished book. Creative writing teachers sometimes call this a “zero draft” because it’s not quite the “first draft.” This initial drafting is a great way to give some expansion to your thoughts, start piecing together a story, and give yourself the feeling of forward momentum. For many of us, this is purely developmental in nature.
In most instances, I completely rewrite the entire piece if I use the “zero draft” approach. Writing SOMETHING down is often the first step to properly putting together the book. Once you write that “zero draft,” you can better understand what you actually want the book to become.
Method #2. Create an Outline
Perhaps one of the most obvious steps to take is creating an outline, a work-in-progress version of what the final table of contents might look like plus notes about what each point on your outline will include. If you use the method of “just start writing” and want to rewrite the book, creating a detailed outline from what you’ve written will help put your content into perspective. If you don’t want to write the book twice, having an outline is going to help you reach the finish line quicker in most instances.
This is the method I most commonly employ for educational non-fiction as a freelance writer (a service I rarely offer these days). I research my topic extensively, take notes about the most important aspects, and attempt to create an outline that will walk the reader through the topic in a logical manner. The outline keeps me on task, and more importantly, it reminds me of what I’ll cover later and what I’ve already explained to the reader.
Method #3. Dictation
I’m not a huge fan of this method for my own writing, but for those that feel like they aren’t great writers, sometimes the best approach is to dictate their story with audio recording software on their computer.
After recording, you can either type it out yourself, or these audio files can be sent to a transcriber to put all of the words into a word processor on your behalf. Some transcribers may also offer editing and ghostwriting services, but if they don’t, you can find these types of contractors as well to help bring everything together. There is software that will transcribe as you speak, but it is not always reliable.
With this method, you need to understand you’ll be relying heavily on paid contractors (or at least friends/family), but it can be a lot easier than trying to write for those that don’t see themselves as grammatically inclined.
Method #4. Ghostwriter and Interviews
If you want to tell your story and publish it as a book, but you’re not interested in becoming a writer, perhaps one of the best methods is to find a writer that is skilled at journalism. These types of ghostwriters are going to listen to your story and ask questions to make sure they are getting the best possible content to write on your behalf. They will usually record it to audio files. Depending on the working arrangement, you can usually retain the sole authorship of the book even if you didn’t technically write a single word yourself.
Method #5. Ghostwriter Does It All
Technically speaking, this doesn’t make you a writer. You hand off the entire project to another writer, pay them for their services, and retain the rights to the book, allowing you to claim authorship. While this isn’t really writing a book, it is having your ideas come into fruition. This is a common method for companies and for-profit publishers, and of course, we see it a lot with celebrities and politicians too. If you want to be a professional writer and provide this as a service, these are the types of books you are likely going to be writing.
Setting Goals and Creating Good Writing Habits
Writing a book is a lot of work. Most of us need to set goals, which can be something as simple as “write 1,000 words per day, five days per week” or “write 10,000 words per month.” If you’re a first-time author, my advice is to keep it simple and doable. Setting overly-ambitious goals is like having an unrealistic New Year’s resolution; it’s probably going to fail.
Writing only 1,000 words per week is a good start as long as you keep it up. Write it into your schedule if you’re an organized person. Make sure your family understands that this is important and you will need time to yourself for this undertaking. If you have to, setup in a coffee shop where they cannot bother you.
As a budding author some 10+ years ago, I just wrote for at least one hour per night, usually before bed. If I didn’t write for an hour one night, I would make up for it on another night. Sometimes this would stretch into long periods of writing.
When I first decided to write a book as an adult, I cleared off one of the desks in my room and dedicated it to writing only. At the time, I worked in silence with just water and a pack of cigarettes. So essentially, the desk was just pads of paper and an ashtray. These days I write specifically on my work computer, as this already feels like a space for “work,” but creating my own space and rituals helped set me up for the type of dedication required to be a freelancer.
Your rituals are your own. Some writers like to put themselves in an easy mood with a glass of wine, classical music, or other things that help them relax. Developing your own writing habits and rituals is part of the journey, especially if you plan to write a lot in the future. For some, it’s as simple as sitting down with their laptop and typing. For others, it can be a much more involved experience. These rituals and habits can change over time as well.
Not all writers need outside support to reach their goals, but if your friends and family are not encouraging you, consider reaching out to online or local writing groups. Many of these groups offer a positive place for writers to network, share their works in progress, and find some support if it doesn’t exist elsewhere. Meeting people going through a similar experience may actually help you become more energized and creative.
These types of groups can also help with accountability. If you have writing goals, someone in the group is likely going to be willing to check that you’re following through. You can offer this for someone else as well.
Don’t Become Discouraged
As a final word: don’t become discouraged. Your book idea deserves to exist, you have a voice, and there’s no reason not to pursue your book-writing goal. You may or may not become rich and famous, but you can become a published author.
If you want to become a professional author, then the truth is that you’re going to be writing a lot. With a lot of writing comes a lot of opportunities to improve, and as you gain clout with readers, your back log of previously published books will garner more attention as well. Success as a writer isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not selling it as a service.
The thing to always remember is: it’s never going to happen if you don’t let go of the doubt. Get started and keep going until you’re finished. It’s going to take time. There will be lows. But you can achieve this feat.