With all the complex information I’ve gathered about how to start writing books over the past 20 years, I sometimes forget the simplest things.
To wit, the fact that many of the aspiring authors I meet literally do not know how to get started.
It may seem simple, right? You sit down and start writing. But in truth, there are a hundred micro-decisions that lead up to starting any big project.
Sitting your behind down into that chair is preceded by about 800 mini-steps that you may not know how to navigate.
So I’m going to break it allllll the way down for ya. We’re talking bite-sized pieces. We’re talking the amuse bouche of the book-writing process.
While I go into the meat of writing books elsewhere in this blog, this article has one purpose and one only: To give you a micro-step to-do list for simply how to start.
My suggestion is to start with Step 1 today…and then do a step a day for the next two weeks. You’ll be shocked how easily the writing starts after that!
Step 1: Become aware that you want to write a book. This requires simply thinking to yourself, Hey, I might want to write a book!
Step 2: Articulate one sentence that broadly sums up the book you want to write. Such as, I think I want to write a book about my childhood.
Step 3: Write that sentence down somewhere safe. In a journal, in a Word doc on your computer, in the Notes app on your phone, etc. Somewhere it will be able to germinate like a little seed nesting in a cozy pile of soil.
Step 4: Repeat Steps 2-3 at least 10 times, articulating the “hook” your book in 10 different ways. The idea here is to notice how many different angles you might take on the same topic, so you’ll know which one resonates. Don’t skimp—write at least 10 different “hooks”! Examples:
- I think I want to write a book about growing up with an alcoholic mother.
- I think I want to write a book about being the third child in a family of six.
- I think I want to write a book about growing up in Delaware.
- I think I want to write a book about how I got out of Delaware the minute I turned 18.
- I think I want to write a book about how I overcame my own addiction in my 20s.
- I think I want to write a book about how changing my diet changed my life for the better.
Step 5: Tell someone you trust. Confide in a supportive friend, colleague, coach, or family member. The word “supportive” is the key here! Telling someone who’ll give you a laundry list of reasons why you’re not a good candidate for “author” can kill the whole project at this point. If you can’t identify someone safe, skip this step!
Step 6: Go to your local bookstore and get inspired. Visit the section of the store where you imagine your book might be shelved. Find the exact spot where your book will sit. (Most bookstores shelve books in alpha order by the author’s last name, so you don’t even need to know your title!) Now, imagine what it will feel like when you can walk into that store and pull your own book off the shelf.
Step 7: Ask yourself if you’re equipped to start working on the book by yourself, or if you’re going to need help. Be honest with yourself. Do you understand the mechanics of writing a book versus writing a blog or article? Have you sought out sample outlines and researched the internal structures of other books like yours? Do you have reason to believe your writing chops are strong enough to produce a professional quality book? If you can’t say a confident “yes” to each of these questions, you may want to join a writing group, sign up for an online class or seek out a developmental editor so you’re not trying to do this alone. And if you need help figuring out if you need help, we’re always here.
Step 8: Pick a word count to aim for. Go back to that bookstore (or just mosey over to your own bookshelf) and find a book that feels like the size, shape and page count you imagine your book to be. Open to a typical full page of words in the book, and start counting. Yes, you heard me: Count the number of words you see on the page. Ands, ifs and buts included! Then, multiply this number by the number of pages in the book. Voilà! That’s the word count you’re aiming for.
Step 9: Ponder how you’re going to structure your book. If you’re writing a teaching book, consider a “step by step,” program-style structure. One that guides your reader easily through the content. If you’re writing your own story, pick out the eight or ten lessons you want to highlight, and the scenes/stories that go with them. Don’t get caught up; you can always revise your structure later.
Step 10: Get a Table of Contents down on paper. Go back to your journal or Word document or Notes app, and write out the titles of 8-12 chapters you’d like to include in your book. (If you want to have shorter chapters, you can have more of them.) Don’t forget to include an introduction and epilogue, if you envision having them!
Step 11: Flesh out an outline. Go through each chapter you just invented, and imagine 3-5 topics or scenes you want to cover in that chapter. Be sure to include an “introductory” section at the start of the chapter, and possibly a “closing” section after the last topic. List these subheadings with bullet points below each chapter title. You now have a basic outline!
Step 12: Map out subhead word count goals. Take the total word count you came up with in Step 7. Divide it by the number of chapters you came up with in Step 9—that’s your per-chapter word count goal. Then divide this chapter word count by the number of sections you’ve mapped out for each chapter, and write the resulting number next to each section in that chapter. You now know your word count goal for each and every section in the book!
Step 13: Create a writing plan. I’ve given you all the tools RIGHT HERE to find your way to a writing plan that works for you. Be sure not to skip this step! It’s your best shot at actually, truly writing this book.
Step 14: Choose a subheading—any subheading—and start writing! You don’t have to start at the beginning of the book, or even the beginning of a chapter. Just choose a subheading that resonates for you, today, and get started.
There you have it: 14 micro-steps to get you started writing the book! And if you could use some guidance on anything from your hook to your outline to the best writing plan for you, just let us know.