So, you want to write a book. It’s one that you’ve been considering for a long time. Every time I’ve mentioned what I do for a living, I always have people say that they have wanted to write but just were not sure how to get started. Let’s get started.
I’ll be frank; the hardest part is always getting started and staying motivated. Every writer also has their own way of creating a manuscript; some start at the beginning and some begin with the end.
Here are 5 quick tips to help you overcome that initial hesitation and get started on your story.
1. Pick a Genre (or maybe two)
If you already have a book idea, start there. If it is one that involves monster’s and unicorns, it would be in the Science Fiction category. Trying to solve crime via fiction? That would be in the Murder Mysteries section. Your local bookstore or Amazon.com is a great place to help you determine what genre you need to fit in. Look at books that are like your story and use that as your goalpost.
One reason that I state to pick one genre or maybe two is that you don’t want to make this too complicated. For a starting writer, it is much easier to have a focus. Writing a book about sunlight-resistant vampires who ride dragons to work where the Starbucks worker is murdered by a corporate tycoon who also happens to give great recipes to the staff (see Appendix A) would make your story harder to write as you would have to keep track of all of those subplots. It’s not impossible, but you might wind up alienating your audience who might feel that a flowchart was necessary to keep up.
Start small and then built from there. A corporate tycoon who happens to be a vampire (and is accused of murder) might not be a bad idea. Just remember to focus.
2. Choose Your Niche, Hook, & Ending
Before you start writing, you need to choose your niche — your main topic that will differentiate you from all of the other books in your genre. It’s another way to choose your audience by trying to figure out what makes your story unique.
Also, what do I mean by a hook? A line or idea that will draw a reader in to read your story. It’s also known as a narrative hook that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them keep on reading. That part is usually at the beginning of the book.
Even autobiographies have niches and hooks that make reader’s more likely to pick up the book and read it. A disgraced politician or a reality show star will more likely have more readers than an average everyday Joe. If Joe happened to discover something unique (the coffee-drinking vampire?) or become an overnight success, you would then have your hook.
Another way if saying this is to figure out how the story is going to end and what the goal of the story is. You want to write out your idea first, maybe share it with a few trusted people, to see if you can make it work. It also helps you avoid writing a book and having no idea what the ending, main plot, or point was. You can then craft the rest of your story to that end.
3. Create Your Characters and Your World (for Your Audience)
Set your World. First, create your world. With non-fiction books, this is relatively easy as you can establish that the book is set in Los Angeles, California, and you can do your research on a real-world location. You can also do the same in fiction. With a science fiction book, however, you have more freedom to create a variety of settings. Just be sure to create your world before you start writing. Otherwise, you may wind up confusing the reader with a world full of darkness but filled with those pesky sunlight-resistant vampires. (Why does it matter if they can walk in the sunlight if it’s dark all the time?)
Build your Characters. When you think of great movies or books, you often think of your favorite characters from them. Give your characters a biography, backstory, voice, motivations, and note their struggles. Be careful not to make your characters too one-dimensional; some of the best villains are sympathetic at times. You may want to start a separate document with these details in it so that you can reference it while you are creating your book.
Choose Your Audience. Your audience is another character that you must consider, especially if you are writing non-fiction. Who will buy your books? You would write one way for a children’s book about health than you would for a textbook on neuroscience. The same can be said for fiction. Consider who you want to write for and choose a narrative style from the start.
4. Outline or Pre-Write Your Book
Outlining among authors can be controversial. Some abhor it while others consider it a necessity. I’ve found that it can be helpful for both fiction and non-fiction writers to have at least a brief outline of where their book intends to go. Give a brief overview of each section and write out ideas for how the characters and events affect each other.
Even starting with a simple plan can help you flesh out your story.
- Introduce the World (CEOs who ride dragons to work)
- Find the murder victim and present the crime scene
- Introduce the protagonist who acts as sleuth
- Introduce potential antagonists (possible murderers)
Your outline will probably change over time so feel free to go back and improvise.
Quick tip: This may not be encouraged by some writing experts, but it may help to write within your outline. For example, right below that Chapter 1 outline above, you could begin writing out your story. Once you have that part written, you could eventually start merging all the pieces together.
5. Write First, Edit Later
Copy and paste that initial outline and put it into your word processor (Microsoft Word, Google Docs, etc.)
Start writing as much as you can within the outline. Write out the introduction (or preface) and go from there.
Some days you may write 500 words and others you may write 2,000 words. The key is just to keep writing. Don’t worry about editing the document at this stage; your primary goal is to get words down on paper.
Once you have finished your initial first draft, take a short break, a day or two. Then you can go back and re-read and start editing your document. Editing may include re-writing sections, line-editing (spelling, etc.), or even changing your basic outline.
However, that’s a topic for another section. Right now, celebrate the fact that you’ve written your first draft!
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions about creating your manuscript. Want to bounce off ideas or have me review your outline? I’ll gladly do so.
You can leave a comment or send me a message on my contact page.