10 Steps to Writing a Book

Step One: Determine your goal.

Are you writing a book for fun? To promote your business? To build your credibility? Think about the end goal of this book you want to write and how it will serve you and your readers. This will help you determine if you want to write fiction or non-fiction.

For now, don’t make your goal relate to earning millions of dollars. See this first book as an experiment and a way to learn more about the process. But even if it’s an experiment, you want to produce the best product you can that’s professional and well-written.

Step Two: Define your topic

Once you’re clear on your goal, start thinking about the topic of the book. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, think about exactly what you’re trying to communicate or teach with this book. Rather than covering a broad overview of a topic, go deep with one element of the topic. This allows you to share much more information with your reader and gives you the opportunity to write additional books related to the topic.

If you’re writing a fiction book, create your story and characters around a narrative that you know something about or have a passion for. If you’re a history buff, maybe you write historical fiction set in the time period that interests you. You certainly don’t have to do this, but it gives you an anchor for the various ideas you may have about a potential novel.
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Step Three: Create an outline.

Once you have your topic idea formed, begin outlining the chapters and/or sections of your book. Try to think from the end of the book first. What do you want your readers to walk away with at the end? How do you want the story to culminate? Once you have a general idea of how your book will end, create the outline moving toward that end.

If you’re writing non-fiction, you may be breaking down chunks of information to teach your readers something sequential. Or each chapter might be an individual lesson or essay on it’s own, all leading to a final converging point or message. You may decide you want to support or enhance the material with stories, quotes, or examples.

I write non-fiction books and generally write skeletal outlines for my books. For example, if I were writing a book on meditation, my outline might look something like this:

Chapter 1: What Is Meditation

History of meditation
Types of meditation
Meditation and mindfulness

Chapter 2: Beginning Your Practice

Learning to breathe
How to sit
The monkey mind

You may have another outline style that works well for you, but I find the skeletal outline is an easy and quick way to get your ideas on paper as you first get started.

Outlining a fiction book is a little bit different because you’re creating a narrative. Spend some time simply brainstorming and allowing your imagination to create a story in your head. Take some notes while brainstorming.

Then come back and begin fleshing out your outline further. Creating your outline will first involve deciding on characters and the roles they will play in your story. Once you have a general idea of the main characters, you can use a skeletal outline for the story, or you can write a brief summary of the story, and then determine how to break down the story into chapters.

Step Four: Determine how you will write.

I write my books on my Mac using the Pages word processing software and also use Skrivener. You want to write using something that allows you to easily edit and make changes without wasting a lot of time. Also, you’ll eventually want to send your manuscript to be edited and formatted, and it’s much easier and less expensive if you’re able to send it in a format your editor can easily edit.

Some people really enjoy writing in longhand, as it stimulates creativity and forces you to write slower. If you decide to do this, you’ll likely have to go back and type it all on your computer anyway. So you might as well start there unless you simply can’t write unless you have a pen in your hand.

Step Five: Set up a writing schedule and daily goals.

This is the most important part of writing your book. You can’t write only when you feel inspired or motivated. You must create a daily (or 5 day a week) writing habit. It’s best if you can write at the same time every day and commit to a number of words you’ll produce at each sitting.

Attach your new writing habit to a trigger or cue which prompts you to begin writing. This trigger is a previously-formed automatic behavior, like brushing your teeth or walking the dog. Select a trigger that happens every day and one that occurs at a good time for you to write. Eventually your new writing habit will be so associated with your trigger that the combination will feel automatic.

Start small with a goal of writing 200 words each day for the first week. Then increase the number of words until you reach 1000-1500 words a day. At this point in my post here, I’m at 1245 words. That gives you an idea of how much you might try to write each day. It’s really not all that much.

If you’re writing an 80,000 word novel, it will take 80-90 days of writing 1000 words a day to finish it. If you’re writing a 30,000 word non-fiction book, you can have it done in just over a month with consistent writing.

Step Six: Create the environment.

Find a spot in your home that you feel is conducive to writing. Maybe it’s your office, a standing desk, or your dining room table. Decide exactly what you need in advance so you’re prepared every day when you sit down to write. Do you need music playing? If so, what kind? Do you want a candle? A cup of tea or coffee? Do you need to be near a window? Having all of this determined in advance will help motivate you to get started and to make writing an enjoyable ritual.

Step Seven: Write, don’t critique.

As you’re writing, try not to constantly review and critique your work. Just write. That consistent writing habit is so important. You can always go back through the book many times to re-write and edit if you don’t like something. But it will give you a huge boost to just finish the book and stay committed to the process.

Everyone who writes is their own worst critic. Be prepared to think, “This is crap. Who am I kidding.” Every writer thinks this. Some of it may well be crap and need re-working or editing. But you have to start somewhere, so get it all down on paper and then deal with the crap. Read writer Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and you’ll learn the value of crappy first drafts. The most experienced writers have them.

Step Eight: Rewrite and polish.

Once you finish the book, set it aside for a few days or a couple of weeks. You’ve been so close to this project while writing it that you need to create some distance. Then go back and read over the entire book again, correcting mistakes, rewriting sections as necessary, cutting out wordy parts, and tightening it up. Take out words and passages that aren’t absolutely crucial to the story or message.

Go through this process a couple of times until you feel pretty good about what you’ve written. But don’t get stuck in the editing process. Once you review your masterpiece a couple of times, you’ll need to turn it over to a professional.

Step Nine: Find a professional editor.

Even the most experienced, professional writers use editors. You don’t want a book full of inconsistencies, grammatical errors, and misspellings. You also want to make sure the book flows properly, and that your usage of words is correct. A good editor polishes and refines the book before publication.

The editor checks facts and verifies headings, statistics, data in graphs, and footnote entries. For fiction, the editor will check for consistency and logic, and will read with the needs of the audience in mind.

Don’t skimp on editing your book. Yes, you’ll have to pay for a good editor, but you want to make sure you are releasing a professional work. If your book is filled with errors and inconsistencies, you’ll get bad reviews and people won’t buy the book. Also it will damage your credibility as a writer.

Step Ten: Publish it!

I could (and will) write an entire post about how to publish your book. But I’m including a mention of it here because you don’t want your wonderful book to languish in the documents folder of your computer. You may not feel completely happy with it or think it’s the next New York Time’s bestseller, but that’s OK. Get it out there so others can read it, and you can have the satisfaction of having your first published book under your belt.

With every book you write and publish, you’ll learn more and become a better writer. You’ll be inspired by other writers as you research and read more about writing and publishing. Everyone has to be a beginner in the beginning, but the more you write, the more of an expert you’ll become.


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