Writing Your First Book: Where to Begin

January 14, 2020

 

An aspiring author wrote me recently asking my advice on writing a book. He wanted to know where to begin. Should he just start writing? Yes, I replied. And no. Because the most important thing when writing a book is making sure you actually finish it. This requires preparation. Here are a few book writing tips that have helped me.

 

One – Develop Your Idea

You should have a lot more in mind than just a notion. If, for example, you have an idea to write a book about a lost dog trying to find his way home but have no idea how the story ends, you won't get far before you run out of gas. A solid story idea has three things: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Decide what those three things are first.

 

Two – Outline Your Book

Once you have the story arc in your head, the next step is to create an outline of the plot. I like to compare writing a book outline to consulting a map before heading out on a road trip. It’s easy to get lost if you don’t know where you’re going—and having an outline, and allowing yourself the flexibility to bend it to new ideas that pop up during writing, will help free up your mind so you can actually write instead of worrying about where you’re going next.

 

Three – Start Writing

Now that you have your (figurative) ducks in a row, you can set about the task of writing your book. The most important part here is to understand that your first draft will not be your final draft. Accept that you will make improvements at a later time. Stay focused and write your story as quickly as you can, and resist the urge to read back on what you’ve written. Just write. Think of your first draft as a rough sketch of what your book will be.

 

Four – Be Open to Detours

As you write, you might find the need to depart from your book outline to make room for new ideas. This happens a lot. It’s not uncommon for a story to take on an entirely new shape during the writing process, resulting in major changes. If this happens, go with it, but make necessary adjustments to your outline as you go. This will help you not lose sight of where you’re going.

 

Five – Stop, Read, and Rewrite

Most inexperienced writers think that once the writing is done, their book is ready to be published. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order for a book to be good, and to be given a chance at finding an audience, it has to be refined. It may never be perfected, because there's no such thing as perfection. But it has to be improved. This is the point where you begin your second draft. Put on your critical cap and read what you’ve written through the eyes of a potential reader. As you do, take copious notes about things you want to change. Then go through and make those changes. This is how you get your second draft.

 

Six – Find Beta Readers

In a previous blog, I wrote all about beta readers: who they are, why they’re important, how to find them, and how to work with them to improve your book. Beta readers are key to producing the next step, which is your third draft. Only after you’ve incorporated the feedback of beta readers will your book finally be ready for an editor.

 

Are there more things to think about when writing your first book? There absolutely are. These are just some of the most helpful bits I've pulled together in my own personal experience as a writer, editor, and book publisher. If you can think of any that I missed, feel free to share your ideas in the comments box below.

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