I was surprisingly confident. Although I didn’t study English in college or have any professional writing experience, I was at the tail-end of my master’s program and in the groove of writing long papers. I thought, “how different can it be to write a book?” Spoiler alert… it was very different!
For starters, it was much longer than anything I’d ever written. Having full control over 200 pages versus 30 can feel a bit overwhelming. Plus, there is another level of pressure that comes from knowing you want several people to read your content versus just one teacher. So, I wrote, re-wrote, tore apart, re-built, reworded, and toiled over my first book for about a year.
Thankfully, I had enough time and supportive people around me to help me navigate. By the time I wrote my second book, I was able to write it in half the time and feel much more confident throughout the process. Here are ten book-writing tips I picked up along the way that can help make the process much smoother:
1. Get Clear On Your Idea
Start with a clear vision in mind. If you don’t have a solid direction you’re going, you’ll likely procrastinate and feel too nervous about getting in a groove. If you want to publish your book through a traditional publisher, they typically require a book proposal. I find these helpful, as they force me to solidify my vision. Do a Google search of “how to write a book proposal,” and you will find several great resources to help you develop your proposal.
2. Create an Overall Outline
Break down the bigger vision into a broad overall outline. I typically start with writing down all the main ideas I want to talk about in the book, then place them in an ordered outline. If you find that some ideas are redundant or don’t have enough depth to be their own chapter, place them within another section in the outline.
3. Develop an Outline For Each Chapter
Once you have your overall outline, get super clear on where you’re going by thoroughly breaking down each individual chapter. I aim to create all the headings that will be within the chapter. I use brainstorm bubbles, a.k.a “mind maps,” which help me do a brain dump and get all the relevant ideas out of my head in order.
4. Play “Fill in the Blank”
Now that everything is thoroughly broken down, it’s much easier to build each section of content, one piece at a time. Since you have the vision thoroughly developed, you can bounce around depending on what feels right that day. Look at the heading or subheading you’re focusing on, and make that one section the very best it can be. This helps you to avoid writer’s block and move where you feel inspired.
5. Research for inspiration
There’s typically so much you can say on any particular idea. The tricky part is figuring out the best or most relevant thing to say that will powerfully impact and serve your reader. It helps me to dive into research on a topic to see what data has been discovered and ways other writers have already written on a topic. That way, I can figure out the best direction for my writing. I’ll often place links or quotes within the outline, so I can use it for inspiration or reference later.
6. Get clear on your audience
It’s essential to think through your writing voice for your book, which may not be your most natural style of writing. For example, when I wrote my first book, I was finishing a master’s program and my 7th year of college. I had become comfortable writing in a very formal, academic style. My book’s target audience, however, was 14-18-year-olds. I had to completely re-think how I wrote to make sure it was understandable and relatable to my target audience. It helped me to read it out loud so I could hear how it might translate to teens.
7. Set daily word count goals
When you think about writing 50,000 words, it can feel super intimidating. However, writing 1,000 words a day for 50 days doesn’t sound so bad. So, set realistic yet challenging daily word count goals. Some days will be more challenging than others as you tackle more difficult subjects, but if you stay consistent and regular, the bulk of your book can be written quickly and efficiently.
8. Be willing to rearrange and cut
If you feel stuck or like you’re not getting a chapter to flow, consider re-arranging your chapters or developing a new chapter. Also, if a section isn’t working, be willing to cut it. Not every section will be your best work, so be ready to cut your losses completely or re-write a section if it’s just not working.
9. Set it down (but not for long) and come back
Our brains can be tricky sometimes, allowing us to read over typos and make sense of a sentence that doesn’t make sense to anyone else. The best remedy for that is time and mental space. Once your book is written, and you’re feeling good about your first draft, set it down for at least a few days, and do things unrelated to writing. Come back and see if ideas flow as well as you thought, then rework and edit as necessary.
10. Hire an editor
Editors can be game-changers, taking your content to a level beyond what you initially imagined. They can point out when you’re rambling or need further thought, help make your sentences more concise, and highlight typos you’ve missed. While you may be able to find errors or weak spots yourself eventually, a professional editor will likely do it better and more efficiently. I’ve been fortunate to work with a top-notch editor on my books, hired through my publisher, but you can find affordable, high-quality editors online through websites like Fiverr or Elance.
Hopefully, these tips will make it a little easier. Above all else, commit to finishing your book. I’ve spoken to so many people with fantastic book ideas who’ve tried to start their book 20 times but never finish it. People often glamorize the publishing industry and make it seem like being an author is all roses and lollipops, but the truth is, writing a book is hard work. Know that. And when you feel like giving up, which you probably will at some point, press through. Realize that you’re not alone, and most other authors have battle stories of their challenges with finishing a project.
Good luck, and send me a link to your book when it’s done!