At some point in their quest to write a book, every writer gets overwhelmed:
“How did you do it? I mean what did your writing process look like? I am feeling so overwhelmed and I’m writing all kinds of notes and chapter ideas but don’t have anything really flowing. I have a thought here and another thought written over there, a list there and a list here but not orderly manuscript of any kind. How can I start the wheels rolling rather than just spinning mud around?”
It always helps beginning writers to hear what the writing process looked like for published authors.
There is more than one way to do anything, including writing a book. Each writer has his or her own system for constructing a book, but there are a few basic principles that are necessary no matter how you go about it. Non-fiction will require more planning than fiction in some respects, since you are dealing with a specific researched topic and must present facts, scriptures, citations, or other elements that must be accurate.
Here are some ideas I’ve used in my own experience, and those I’ve gleaned from talking with other published authors.
1. Organize Your Notes
If you have cards, notebooks or scraps of paper all over the place with ideas scribbled on them, the best thing to do is start fresh with either new notecards or notebooks to see what you have and where you need to go. You will find as you gather everything together in one place and rewrite them somewhere, you will see ideas you won’t want to use anymore, or gain ideas sparked from reorganizing the old ones.
So where do you begin? Chapter titles are a good place to start. I use a notebook or Microsoft Office OneNote to organize the chapter titles/notes. Once you have that as your outline, you can fill in one chapter at a time. This will help you organize your thoughts.
Ask yourself the following questions and answer them on cards, paper, computer or wherever you are going to keep track of your ideas.
What is your theme?
You will want to make sure each chapter speaks to your theme. Make notes under each chapter title about sub-topics you need within that chapter.(If you’re using MS Word, you can create a text box under the title or use bullets to separate your notes from your actual content.) Write down your theme and keep it handy where you can remind yourself what you’re writing about. Hang it above your desk if you have to.
Who is your audience?
This is crucial. You must make sure you are writing for the audience you are targeting. Your language, tone, vocabulary and subject matter need to match them. Is it single women? Teenagers? Divorced men? Talk their language and keep it relevant to them. Make specific notes about your audience under each chapter title to keep you focused on them. You can remove those notes later.
What makes you qualified to write the book?
Write up a little bio for yourself before you begin. This will set in your mind that you have a qualified opinion based on experience, knowledge, training, education, etc. Your audience needs to have confidence in what you are saying. So do you. Let them know through each chapter why you know what you’re talking about.
What are the key points you must make and why?
Don’t get off track with soapbox talk or too much personal story. Put just enough of you on the pages without making it a memoir, but stick to the points you are trying to make, reminding you and the reader why. Under your chapter titles, make notes about those key points so you won’t forget to add them through the chapter. Then remove them when the chapter is done.
2. Fill In Your Outline
Now fill in the chapters with your own words, the words of others in quotes, analogies, anecdotes and whatever else you feel must be in the book. Write without editing as you go: let it all come out. Decide how long you want your chapters to be and try to keep the word count somewhat consistent. Check out other books similar to the one you are writing and see how other authors have tackled formatting.
Finish the first draft! It will never be a book unless the first draft gets done. Then set it aside for a few weeks.
3. Proof Your Drafts
After a few weeks, print off your first draft and read it aloud, making notations in the margins about changes in content. Don’t get distracted by correcting punctuation and grammar yet, that will come last. Yes, last – it’s called proofing.
Ask yourself: Does it flow? Does it make sense? Did you make clear your key points? Do you sound credible? Are you targeting the right audience? Is it formatted correctly?
Fix the manuscript from your margin notes and print it out again. Let someone else read it with or without editing it for you.
Fix it again. Print it out again. Read it again yourself. Read it yet again. Now you can have someone proof it for grammar and punctuation.
Fix it and read it through at least one more time before you start the process of submitting to a publisher or uploading as an ebook.
- It will never be a book unless the first draft gets done.
- Don’t let the process — or worrying about the process — keep you from writing!
Once you actually get started in the process, you will discover your own little techniques. The best advice I can give is don’t let the process — or worrying about the process — keep you from writing!
Order Jan’s debut novel, Emancipated Heart!