The statistic that around 80% of Americans want to (or feel that they could) write a book is an old one but likely still accurate. Considering far less than 1% have, this statistic suggests that a lot of people find the idea or practice of writing a book difficult.
As you might be able to guess, writing a book is not an easy process. But that does not mean it cannot happen in a few simple steps.
Like any project worth doing, it is good to have a plan in place so you know what you need to do and when. You may have a vague idea of what goes into writing a book (writing, editing, the existential crises, etc.), but vague ideas do not give you a finished paperback in your hands.
This detailed guide will show you, step by step, how to write a book so that you have the motivation to get started today.
Step 1: Put Your Best Foot Forward
You are far more likely to finish writing a book if you build yourself a good foundation first. Taking these tips is not an excuse to procrastinate from starting, but they will help in the long run.
Be an Avid Reader in Your Spare Time
This is a common piece of advice, but it holds up. If you do not read, you are unlikely to write an educational, entertaining, and/or inspirational book. You will be lacking certain skills in your writing toolbox that only come from reading.
If you are struggling to find the time, schedule a realistic number of pages to read every day. It is much easier to reach a goal when it is measurable. Reading any type of book is better than not reading at all.
It may also help to read some books on the creative process and writing mechanics before you start. Here are some great recommendations:
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- Grammatically Correct by Anne Stillman
Ensure that you have a solid literary foundation before getting started.
Invest in the Right Equipment
You do not need any special equipment to write a book. Jane Austen did it with parchment, a quill, and ink. Hunter S. Thompson used a typewriter.
But good equipment does help.
Treat yourself to a cute notebook for random scribblings and a decent computer with a word processor. You may also find value in the following writing software:
- Hemingway App
Check them out and see if extra software could help you when writing a book.
Plan the Time and Tell People
“I do not know where the day went” and “I will start when I am less busy” are sentences spoken by people who do not plan their time well. And if you want to write an 80,000+ word book, you need to plan, not find the time.
Look at your schedule. If you work a 9-5, do you have any space at the weekend or in the evenings? And if you are a parent, can you wake up an hour earlier?
As mentioned before, writing a book can be simple—but it is not easy.
If you need the motivation to stick to your plans, tell people. Telling people your intentions to write a book makes them real and you will be more likely to follow through.
Step 2: Create Your Own Lightbulb Moment
If you are waiting for a lightbulb to flash above your head with an amazing book idea, you could be waiting a long time. Instead, work to create that moment yourself.
Even if you do not have a story, you likely have an idea of what type of book you want to write. Here are some examples:
- Memoir or autobiography
- Graphic novel
- Short stories
Some books can break down further into genres. If you want to write a fictional novel, you could write horror, romantic, sci-fi, and so on. Research and read the type of novels in your chosen genre for inspiration.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my passions? e.g. sports, feminism, or interior design
- What is a book I would love to read that does not exist?
Do not stop looking for inspiration until you find it: in your own life, movies, relationships, places, and anywhere else. Keep a list of ideas in your notebook. If you look for it, you will find it.
Step 3: Research and Write an Outline
Once you have an idea, it is time to research, write, and outline. If you are writing a historical non-fiction book on the Russian monarchy, you will have a lot to research. But if you are writing a memoir, you may have very little.
You can research while you are writing a book. There are no rules which suggest you need to complete the research before you start writing.
It helps to write an outline so you have a rough idea of where the book is going. Choose a method that works for you:
- Chapter by chapter
- Beginning, middle, and end
- List of topics
- Conflict points
There is no right or wrong way to outline a book. Stephen King rarely writes an outline but J.K. Rowling sure did before starting the Harry Potter series. And you can change it at any time.
Step 4: Write Your First Draft
It is time to start writing a book! You have the tools in your toolbox, you have planned the time, and you are ready.
Do not focus on quality at this point, focus on quantity. Many writers refer to the first draft as the “trash draft” for a reason. Type “Ernest Hemingway’s first draft quote” into Google for his point of view on the matter.
Do not edit and do not ponder over themes and character names. That all comes later.
You can predict when you might finish your first draft if you keep 80,000 words in mind as the average book length. Divide that by how many words you want to write a day and you will have a rough estimate.
Then, when you have finished your “trash draft” it is a good idea to take a break. At least a couple of weeks, but six weeks if possible.
Step 5: Self-Edit Your First Draft
When you have created some distance between yourself and your first draft, the next step is to self-edit. It helps if you print it out and buy yourself a red pen so you can write notes in the margins.
There is no point in editing with external feedback at this point because you will notice so much you want to change yourself. These are things you should be looking for when you edit your first draft:
- Grammar mistakes
- Bad vocabulary choices
- Plotting problems
- Weak chapter openings and endings
- Fluff or dull sections
- Potential themes
- Bad character names
- Too many adverbs
Make a note of anything that pops into your head to address later.
Step 6: Write Your Second Draft
Armed with an annotated first draft, your second draft will focus on quality. This is where you take the time to flesh out character arcs, create callbacks to earlier events, and strengthen existing themes. Self-edit as you go where necessary.
There is no rulebook on how long it takes to write a second draft. See how many words you can write in a week and multiply that by your first draft word count to get an estimate.
If it seems like you are working too slow, you may need to schedule more time to write your second draft.
Step 7: Get Feedback From Friends and Professionals
When you finish a second draft you are proud of, now is the time to receive external feedback. Choose two or three people in your inner circle who have your best interests and will give their honest opinion.
Also, make sure to get professional feedback. If you are starting, it is worth hiring someone skilled in proofreading. A proofreader salary is fair yet affordable and is an invaluable investment for new writers.
Depending on their feedback, you may need to write a third, fourth, or even fifth draft to finish your book. Remember to embrace failure, but at the end of the day, done is better than perfect.
Step 8: Publish Your Book
You have now completed your goal of writing a book! Make sure you throw an appropriate celebration for your achievements.
There are two routes to publish a book. The first is to create a book proposal, find a literary agent, and then a publishing deal. This is the traditional route.
The second is to self-publish an eBook or paperback. There are plenty of ways to do that nowadays through services like Amazon, and you can market the book yourself.
If you go down the second route, remember that self-publishing is not a sign of failure. You did what you set out to do. You wrote a book.
Start Writing a Book in Eight Simple Steps
Writing a book is not easy, but it can be simple. Remove every worry that you cannot control and only focus on what you can.
Making the time to write is in your power. Taking or not taking on feedback is within your control.
The sooner you tune out the naysaying and focus on the task in hand, the sooner you will have a completed first book sitting in front of you.
Like this article? Check out our other creative career guides for more helpful tips.