In my travels I've met a lot of people who have confessed to me that they have always wanted to write a book. Some of them have tried to start it and then gotten bored or busy or befuddled. Some of them have pitched me their ideas to see if I would write their book for them for free because it's such a great idea (short answer: no). Some of them have decided that they will get around to writing it on their next vacation or after their kids move out or when they retire.
So, how do you get on track to writing that book you've been thinking about forever?
The first step is to decide whether you really want to write a book or not.
Because here's the thing: being an author is cool! You get to say "I'm an author!" and then people say to you, "really? I've always wanted to write a book! It's so neat that I know a real author!" and it makes you feel good. But if that's the only reason you want to write a book, then you should probably just run for office or do something nice for someone so that people say nice things about you.
Writing a book is a big commitment, and if you don't really like writing, it's a lot of work and headaches for not a whole lot of gain.
So don't write a book for the sake of writing a book. Write a book because you really want to write a book.
The second step is to decide why you want to write a book.
Maybe you saw the famous rise of JK Rowling to celebrity. Maybe Stephen King is your biggest hero and you want to be just like him (and his millions). If you want to write a book because you want to make a lot of money or become famous, you're out of luck. If you think income inequality is bad in general, you should see the divisions along author lines. The midlist author is slowly disappearing, with the majority of authors, both self-published and traditionally published, fall into the "makes less than $10,000/year" category. The number of authors making seven figures is less than 50.
That said, there are plenty of good reasons to write a book, that may help you figure out your why:
- You love writing.
- You think you have a great idea.
- You want to tell a particular story.
- You can't not write.
- You have a message to send that you are passionate about.
- You want to compile information on a topic that will help people.
- You want to help people and think that what you have to say can do that.
Whatever your reason for writing a book, there has to be passion behind it, or else the process of writing it will be arduous, agonizing, and awful.
The third step is to make a plan.
Once upon a time I met a woman at a writing event. She told me she wanted to work as a writer, full time, for a company. She wanted to do blogging or letter writing, or something like that. I said, "Great! What kind of stuff do you write?" and she replied, "I don't write yet. I want to get the job and learn to write while I'm getting paid to do it."
Wouldn't that be nice?
That almost never happens. But typically, as a writer, if someone is going to pay you to write, you have to prove that you can write first. Professionally, this might mean building a portfolio or resume. If you're talking to a publisher, you have to have a draft ready. But, either way, you have to make a plan to get to where you want to be.
Usually the first step in writing a book is to come up with an idea, but once you've got that figured out, there are a couple options. The first is to sit down and start writing the book. The second is to sit down and start outlining the book. Both options involve doing something.
Figure out what steps you think will work for you, and get working.
The good thing about this is that you have the option to change your plan if you need to. There is no taskmaster standing over your head threatening to rip out your fingernails. The bad thing about this is that you have to manipulate yourself into getting the work done. The book won't get written if you don't write it.
For your convenience, I've drafted up two different potential plans that you could use, assuming you want to get a 50,000 word novel written in a year. The first one involves just diving headfirst into the writing. The second one involves using an outline.
1. Create document file.
2. Write at least 1,000 words per week = 250 four times.
3. Write on Mondays at lunch, Wednesdays after dinner, Thursdays at lunch, and Saturday mornings.
March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
Week 1: Create document files for draft and for outline, and pull together any necessary resources.
Week 2: Write character descriptions.
Week 3: Write long and short novel summaries.
Week 4: Figure out novel structure.
Week 1: Flesh out Part 1 of outline.
Week 2: Flesh out part 2 of outline.
Week 3: Flesh out Part 3 of outline.
Week 4: Flesh out Part 4 of outline.
Write during lunch break Monday through Friday with a minimum of 230 words per day = 1150 per week.
April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
Now, everyone is different, and clearly this is just a vague structure. Some plans might include things like building a website or doing character sketches, working on book covers or querying agents. But making a plan and sticking to it is the best way to get your book done.
Remember, don't hold back. Don't self-edit too much. Don't get discouraged. Take Vitamin D. And be patient.
The fourth step is to consider publishing.
Do you want to publish your book? Because, you don't have to. There is no rule anywhere that states that if you write a book then you have to publish it. Honestly, if you've made it all the way to the end of a book, that is a huge accomplishment and you should be proud, even if you decide never to go another step further.
But if you do want to publish, you have to think about whether you want to get an agent and go through a traditional publisher, whether you want to self-publish, or whether you want to pay someone to take care of all of this nonsense for you. All are valid options and only you can decide which is best for you.
Each path will involve a few of the same tasks, but mostly a different set of tasks post first draft. For example, you'll need beta readers to look at your manuscript one way or another--people who will read and critique your work to help you make it better. You'll need a copy editor, because no agent will even look at a manuscript filled with mistakes, and if you self-publish one like that, you'll likely face a good deal of ridicule from the trolls and grammar police (and just normal people too, to be quite honest). But if you want a publisher, you will have to spend hours drafting query letters and sending them out to different agents. If you want to self-publish, you will have to spend money hiring people to do the tasks you can't do yourself, or spend hours learning how to do those things. If you go through a small press, you will have to do a lot of research on what they offer, look into the success of their previous projects, and then spend a lot of money to get your book through the whole process.
So do your research, and once you've finished your manuscript, it will be time to make a new plan--The Publishing Plan.
The Big Secret
So, now that you've read all the way to the end of my lengthy soliloquy on how to write your book, it's time for me to reveal the big secret to becoming an author:
Stick your butt in the chair.
That's all there is to it! Everyone talks about how hard it is and how much work it involves and all of the crazy hoops you have to jump through just to get a manuscript ready for publication or ready to have a publisher look at it, but all you really have to do is one thing: stick your butt in the chair. Every day. Every week. Every month.
And write the damn book.