FAQ: how do you write a book?

So…how do you go about writing a book?

Quick answer?

Coffee!

Lots of coffee.

More detailed answer?

While each writer’s creative process differs considerably, there are four consistent steps to writing a book that stay the same across the board:

[[ Step 1 ]]

Read. A LOT!

  • If you love reading a certain type of book, chances are you’ll love writing that type of book, too. (For this very reason I am quite certain I will never write math textbooks.)

Research. And take notes.

  • ,Research takes very different forms based on the type of book you’re writing.
    •  For example, if you’re writing a picture book aimed at 5-7 year-olds, spend time with them! Volunteer. Notice (and write down!) what makes them laugh, what makes them angry, what they joke about, what they play, what they eat. (An author writing a suspense novel set in Alaska, however, will conduct a very different type of research.) 
  • Even fantasy worlds (like Narnia or Middle Earth) require research. (For starters, you might want to research simply “how to create a fantasy world” and figure out where to go from there.)

 Create your main character and get to know him/her. AndEnjoy your character! He/she should not be perfect, but should be likable.

  • Use any (or none!) of the following:
    • Interview your main character with fun questions. (Who is her best friend? How’d they meet? Does he like string cheese? Does she like school? Why or why not? What would she rather be doing instead? What’s his favorite food? Where’s his secret hideout? Is he the kind of kid who even likes secret hideouts?) 
    • Create a strengths & weaknesses profile about your character and/or a likes & dislikes profile.
    • Fill out a physical character profile or sketch – what does your character look like? (Your readers probably won’t need to know about the birthmark on her left foot. But you will. And that’s what is important.)
    • Surround your writing desk with objects / pictures / words that immerse you in your character’s world. This will also help you get into the writing groove each day.
    • Create more general character profiles for the secondary characters. (Extra tip: make sure to have a good idea of how the main character feels about each of the secondary characters!)

[[ Step 2 ]]

Outline your book. (Type-A folks, rejoice!) This might be the most important stage of the writing process. I’ve heard that some authors prefer to let their characters build the story as they write, but I like to know where I’m headed. Here is the method I use:

  •  Plan the climax of your story first. (The climax is the moment, the episode, the conflict, the big fireworks show your story is building toward from page 1.)
  • Next, plan the big events leading up to your climax. (Bobby won’t steal Sam’s cleats, thus preventing him from playing in the big game, if Sam doesn’t make Bobby angry first.)
  • Fill in the minor details last.  DSC_2644
  • Tools for Planning: 
    • Pencil to notebook paper. Planning the big-picture plot by hand helps me to think a little more clearly in the beginning stages.
    • A Word doc table is great for solidifying those pencil-to-paper plans.
    • Index cards – outline one chapter per card.

Start your rough draft – and have FUN with it!! So much fun!!!

  • The rough draft is like a playground for your imagination! Don’t worry about “writing something wrong.” Fear of writing the wrong thing is prime real estate for writer’s block to move right in. No, thanks! The revision stage will come, and when it does, that’s when you can buckle down, analyze, and change things around to your heart’s content. But in the meantime, have fun writing a story! Give yourself plenty of enjoyable material to work with.
  • And if you stray from that super-detailed outline you just made? Hey! Me, too!

Once you’ve finished your rough draft…put it down. (What?!)

  • I know. It’s the last thing you want to do when you’ve finished your book. You want to get this puppy out and about! But putting your manuscript down is
    worth the time.
  • Work on something else.
    • Brainstorm book 2.
    • Create new character profiles for future projects.
    • Research for another idea.
    • READ.
    • Blog.
    • Go for walks.
    • Don’t clean the oven. Not worth it, folks. 
  • After at least 3 weeks, come back to your manuscript. Give it a read-through and immediately mark anything you notice (good or bad), and also mark anything plot-wise that doesn’t seem to fit. Now is not the time to worry about grammar. (YAY!)

 

[[ Step 3 ]]

Revise! And then revise again!…and again!…and then probably….yes, again!

  • Revising your fresh piece of work can seem like a daunting task. At first, you might not want to change a thing. But you need to. I guarantee it. And going to town deconstructing and reconstructing your work is a good endeavor – it’s creating a better story for your readers! [[ Here area a few tips to help you along the way: ]]
    • Look for specific things to revise on each read-through. For example, are you reading through to find holes in your plot? Or are you reading through to make sure that all dialogue moves the story forward? On that note…
    • Make your own revision checklist! (This is another good topic to research and figure out exactly what you want to include on your own revision checklist.)
    • Read your story out loud at least once. I usually end up reading mine out loud at least three times. If something doesn’t sound right, then it needs a tweak.
    • Don’t be afraid to make the big changes. These might be the very changes that take your book from being cute to being awesome.
    • Always edit for grammar and spelling last.

Recruit some trusted beta readers.

  • A beta reader is someone who understands your specific audience and/or the craft of writing. He/she should be able to be brutally honest and tell you what works in the story or what doesn’t. This step is almost as crucial to a successful novel as the planning of the novel itself. Two brains are better than one, and three are even better than two!

Edit for grammar and spelling one last time.

  • Better yet, recruit a qualified, reputable editor to help you with this. (But before your entrust your story to someone, do a good amount of research to ensure this person is legitimate. Ask for references.) 

[[ Step 4 ]]

Research your publishing and/or literary agent options.

  • I could create an entire website devoted specifically to the process of finding an agent or publisher, but luckily, someone already did! Check out Writer’s Digest.

But most importantly, have FUN! Writing books is a job – but it’s an awesome job.

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