One of the most popular questions I get asked from aspiring writers is ‘how did you manage to write a book?’ I think this question poses many underlying issues, including finding the time to complete the work, how to stay motivated and how to organise the content.
With this quick Four-Step Guide, I aim to provide tips and tricks that I personally find not only incredibly useful but also productive in progressing from the blank page to a completed manuscript.
So whether you are looking to write the next bestselling crime thriller, a heart-swelling memoir or even an exciting scientific report – these steps will help you achieve a finished product that is guaranteed to gain a loyal readership.
Step 1 – “Get With the Plan”
Before you draw the curtains and shut yourself away in your makeshift office to spend the entire evening writing pages of eloquent prose or re-enact a fast-paced action scene on the page, there is one pivotal action that MUST be taken.
There needs to be a certain degree of planning involved.
Speaking with other writers, this stage tends to be fairly flexible in terms of your approach. Some writers meticulously plan right down to the clothes that their characters will be wearing in each scene. Whereas some will only write a basic objective and enjoy the freedom in working around the concept simply knowing how it begins and how it ends.
The most successful planning tip I can offer is to draw up two individual plans.
Plan A – This is your basic plot. What happens in the beginning, what happens in the middle and what happens in the end. No unnecessary details – just a very quick outline about how the story will progress. For non-fiction pieces, this still applies – an introduction, what you aim to explore and how you want to conclude the content.
Plan B – This plan is more of a detailed outline and I find that this stage of planning is the most useful in knowing exactly the direction of the story or the content. Now, this plan may take a little more time but I assure you, it will become your very own Bible and will remain by your side from beginning to end.
The best way to approach this outline is to tackle the plot chapter by chapter. Without going into specific detail, write down what will happen in each section. This will act as the bones your story – you can then begin to add the flesh when you actually come to write these chapters (the fun part!)
- Aim to provide a micro ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’ with each chapter.
- Buy a notebook and dedicate it to whatever project you are working on. This allows you to keep both of your plans together, along with any additional notes, research, character ideas, drawings, quotes etc…
There is nothing wrong with writing your book without a plan but I have found that in order to provide yourself with something of a safety net, particularly when things get a little tricky during the mid-point of your writing – a plan will hold you up when the going gets tough…
- Determine any plot holes and how you can fix them.
- Provides a motivational tool for when you hit any ‘walls’ with your writing.
- Build a flexible framework that you can work your writing around.
- Allows insight into areas that may require additional research.
- Helps to solidify target audience (your readers) and niche (theme/genre of your book).
Step 2 – “Claim Your Time”
If you have followed Step 1, you should now have a fairly good idea of the direction of your writing. You will have determined any problem areas and aimed to fix them while following up on any additional research.
Now you are almost ready to sit down, fingers poised over the keyboard in anticipation of this exciting journey you are about to embark on.
This is the romanticised part. The elegant montage of the writer pulling rolls of manuscript paper from a typewriter generating clouds of steam whilst a dramatic piece of classical music plays over the action as it unfolds. I hate to be the bearer of bad news for any first time writers, but this is not how it happens. Expect long nights, lack of sleep and a look of frustration fixed firmly on your face. However, it is not always this tough – once you get going, there will be days when you’ll write your guts out and you’ll feel incredibly accomplished when you get something right. Whether that be a perfect sentence or a plot development that even you didn’t see coming! However, in order to achieve those moments, you must manage your time and you must manage it well.
This will be different for everyone depending on your lifestyle and commitments but if you don’t take the time to sit down and write, your idea will never come into fruition on the page.
For me, I tend to write in the evenings. My first book was written between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. during a particularly bad bout of insomnia. Normally, I will set aside a minimum of an hour a night to write. However when I am working on a project, I always aim to complete a chapter during a scheduled writing session.
- Write as frequently as possible. This keeps ideas fresh and is easier to maintain the ‘flow’.
- Sign up to a writing community to provide support and motivation, such as The Word Cloud or NaNoWriMo.
This might not be suitable for everyone. Some people may only have time to write at the weekends or some may have to plan on a day-to-day basis. So whatever your schedule may be, whenever you plan to write – stick to it. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you commit to your dedicated writing slot.
- Allows organisation of time.
- Prevents procrastination.
- Provides a body of work.
Step 3 – “Have Dinner With Your Characters”
Now this step may not apply to those of you who will be writing non-fiction, however it may be worth reading if you substitute the idea of characters with your desired topic.
So you’ve now planned your book, you’ve set up a timetable of when you will write and you’re just about to tell your story. Now, you may have a fantastic plot – you’ve fine-tuned all the twists and turns and you know exactly how you will get from A to B. However, if your characters aren’t properly formed, readers may lose interest in the story and never reach that exciting plot development that you’ve been keeping up your sleeve.
- Make your main character somewhat relatable. But remember, no one is perfect.
- Maintain a little mystery about the character but know their back-story.
- Ensure there is least one person who is opposed to your main character (an antagonist) – You can make them as annoying and as hateful as you like!
Characters are the tools in order to tell the story. If a reader does not care to know more about a character then they will be less inclined to read your book. It is important to know your characters inside and out and make them interesting.
- Allows the reader to ‘relate’ to the story.
- Gives opportunities to emotionally explore the plot.
- Provides some weight/integrity to the development of the story.
Step 4 – “Lights, Camera, Execute!”
This is the ‘doing’ part of the Guide and if you have followed the previous steps, you should now be in good stead to write your book. You’ve nailed the direction of the plot, scheduled your writing time and know your characters/topic inside out – you’re in a great position to finally put the work in.
This is the key part.
You have to put the work in.
It’s all very well sitting down during your self-scheduled writing slot but if you’re not actually writing then you there will be no finished book.
The previous three steps are useful in their own way but they also work to provide something else – ‘motivation’. It’s something of the holy grail to writers and I am confident that every writer will attest to experiencing the debilitating effect of ‘writer’s block’ at one point or another. I can assure you that you will experience a degree of ‘hitting the wall’ during the process of writing your own book.
But don’t let that put you off – keep on reading…
If you find that the words are not coming or you’ve been staring at a blank page for over an hour, here are some of my own personal tips at digging yourself out of that proverbial hole:
- Re-visit your plan and understand that is purely only the backbone to the story – you are allowed to go off track if you are confident that the conclusion still works.
- Re-read what you have written – there may be a spark of something from earlier on that reignites the continuation of the story.
- Remember that what you write is not set in stone – so just write! You can come back and edit later.
- Write/act out a conversation between two (or more) of your characters. Imagine that they are having a phone conversation and write out the dialogue. It sounds crazy and pointless as it won’t be part of the story but it breathes further life into the characters and may provide a stepping stone to continue writing.
- Limit distractions. This is quite a big one. If you are experiencing writer’s block, any little distraction will take over. The television programme on in the background may seem more interesting or there may be an amazing meme begging to be read on Facebook. So turn off the TV, put your phone on silent and if all else fails – go for a walk and think loosely about your story.
- If confident with what you have written so far, ask a trusted friend for some feedback. I would only try this one as a last resort as a critical friend may not instil you with the confidence to continue. Pick someone who will give you positive feedback and will understand that a first draft is not a finished product.
Hopefully, one of these tips will motivate you to continue with the writing and once it returns, you’ll begin to remember exactly why you chose to take this journey.
So there we have it – Four simple steps to help you write your book!
Sounds simple doesn’t it?
You still may not completely agree at this point. It might seem like a lot of work especially since the majority of steps occur ‘pre-writing’.
However, I can attest that it really is that simple.
If you are passionate about what you are creating, allow yourself to have fun with the process and follow these steps – you too can accomplish a piece of work that you can not only be proud of but also gather an extensive readership!
Let me know in the comments below if you have any tips or tricks that you find particularly useful or if you have found these steps helpful in any way.
Look out for further Step-by-Step Guides on other aspects of writing coming soon…
Drew Forest is a writer/blogger with over a decade of writing experience. He has provided content for small businesses and writers in a variety of different areas. With a strong passion for the written word, he has self published, edited and marketed several five-star rated novels as well as providing content for online businesses and authors.