So you want to write a book. It’s sounds so fulfilling and exciting and you have something that only you can say.
But where exactly do you start?
When I started writing my first book, Digging for Diamonds, I remember thinking, “How hard can this be? I write regular magazine columns and devotional studies – so this is just the same but longer, right?”
Here are five lessons I have learned about writing a non-fiction book in the past year:
1. Distil your idea.
More than anything else, you need a clear idea about what you are writing, to whom you are writing it and why. Unless you can say in a sentence what your book is about and why it will benefit the reader, it will be challenging both to write and to sell. With Digging for Diamonds a great graphic designer also worked with me to create a strong visual identity to reflect the theme of the book.
2. Structure matters.
You can fiddle around with a 500-word article until your perfectionist tendencies are fully satisfied. Not so much with 50,000 words, unless you want to go completely crazy. So, a strong structure is vital and acts as a skeleton onto which you can flesh out the body of text. I decided on four sections with three chapters in each. You might choose 30 ideas or 12 months or whatever. But somehow, your book needs to be broken into short chunks for you to write and for the reader to access in a way that makes sense.
3. Just write.
You can talk about writing, read about writing and even write about writing, but sooner or later you have to put those pesky words onto the page. There’s really no short cut, it’s harder work than anybody else will realise and it may take over your brain and your life, but write you must. My kids barely heard a coherent sentence from me for months, I sometimes woke in the middle of the night worrying about semi-colons, and I was occasionally found rocking in a corner surrounded by dark chocolate wrappers, but I had a deadline and I had to keep on writing.
4. Deal with distractions.
Almost everything feels oddly urgent when you know you should be writing. I fantasised about cleaning out drawers and organising DVDs into alphabetical order – which is extraordinary considering my normal state of domestic chaos. Other jobs invaded my allocated writing time. Crises crashed in from unexpected places and social media sucked me into its vortex. But the mental and physical clutter has to be battered into place somehow so that you can write. It’s a battle you have to win. You can do it if you relentlessly pursue your goal.
5. Involve others.
Writing is a solitary sport but you do need a team. Talk with others about your idea. Chat through your structure. Involve an editor. Although allowing others to make remarks about your literary baby is only mildly less terrifying than bungee jumping into a crocodile infested lake, the more you do it, the less chance there is that you will need to rewrite it twenty times later on. You want others to engage with your book – so involve others from the start to make sure you are on the right path.
In summary, writing is definitely for warriors rather than wimps! But if you have a desire to write: go for it. There will never be an ideal time and it will reveal every insecurity and bad habit you possess in technicolour glory, but the sense of achievement you will feel when you nail that phrase and complete that chapter are truly worth the effort.
And then, when your book is finally born, you will sit and hope and pray that somebody somewhere actually buys it….and maybe even likes it… Yikes.
Let me know:
What are your experiences of writing?
Have you always wanted to write but found it hard to get started?
How have you turned a good idea into something more?
Any responses to the 5 points above?