“I want to write a book. How do I get started? Do you have any suggestions, tips or tools you could share with me?”
These are, by far, the questions I’m asked most. Most newbies start with this vision of themselves holding a published book with their name on it. They may picture themselves signing copies of their book at a book signing. Some may even visualize its back cover with their “About the Author” bios and photos. But rarely do they envision themselves putting in the consistent chair time required to get the book written. They don’t consider all of the myriad tasks involved in birthing a book. They also don’t typically attempt to find out what’s entailed until they’ve already started or finished writing.
As a book lover since age three, the first thing I’ve always done whenever I wanted to know anything is consult a book. For me it’s automatic, an instant reflex, but others tend to overlook the immense wealth of information within these resources. So that’s number one: I refer them to any of thousands of books in print on how to write a book.
#1. Consult the public library, starting with the 808.02 shelves, or the bookstore writing reference section.
Once you have a good understanding of the process of writing for publication and are ready to commit the necessary time and energy to getting your book into print, the second step is to select your tools. Another common question is what’s the best word processing software to use. The best choice is always the one with which you are most comfortable and already have, whether that’s Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Pages or LibreOffice. If you prefer to use a novel-writing software specifically, I would recommend Scrivener or Ulysses.
#2. Choose your primary writing software tool.
The next step is to clarify your goal. Determine your target word count, approximate number of chapters, target completion date, and the number of words you will need to write each day to meet that deadline. Write your target word counts on a calendar near your writing space or that you can readily access at any time. Record your progress on the same calendar daily. Write until you meet your daily word count goal at an absolute minimum. If you can keep writing past your target, then, by all means, do!
#3. Set your goals.
Writer’s block has stymied many a writer’s attempt to complete a first draft. The way to avoid writing yourself into a dead end is to outline your manuscript in its entirety prior to starting the first draft. I’m not talking about the Roman numeral outlines we were taught in grade school. You’re writing a summary outline from beginning to end so that you know before you sit down at your keyboard or tablet exactly where your writing is going next. By having outlined your book in advance, your mind will be continually processing what you’re about to write. As a result, you avoid ever having to face a blank page with dread.
The last step to getting a first draft completely written is to avoid going back and editing what you’ve written until you reach the end. It’s absolutely okay to make notes to yourself as new ideas come to you that you want to add to or change in what you’ve already written, but don’t go back through your manuscript to edit and incorporate any of these right away. Add new ideas to your outline or create a note in OneNote, Evernote or whatever note system you use. Be sure to do so in sufficient detail that you will recall it all during your rewriting phase. Take care to save it where you can find it later.
Don’t worry about typos, formatting, misspelled words, or grammatical or punctuation errors. For now, ignore anything that may distract you or slow you down while you are writing. You can fix those things during the rewriting phase or let your editor handle it. If proper manuscript formatting doesn’t come naturally to you, download a Microsoft Word manuscript template or just start typing and have it formatted by a pro when you’re done.
#5. Don’t edit while you write.
One more tip I give all writers is to make sure you back up your work regularly. Always have more than one copy of your work at all times. Save it to your hard drive, Dropbox or other cloud storage, and continue your normal Time Machine or other backups. You might also email it to yourself periodically.
Among the worst things that can happen to a new writer is to get halfway or completely done with a first manuscript only to suffer a hard drive crash. Even worse, imagine that you then find that your external hard drive containing your Time Machine backups is also inaccessible. This happened to me once with a Western Digital external hard drive. Fortunately, I happen to also be a trained digital forensics analyst and was able to retrieve my data using one of my forensics programs. Save yourself the stress and anguish and put the necessary safeguards into place so that you never lose your work.
#6. Backup, backup, backup.
Once you finish your first draft, your next task is to set it aside for a couple of days and then go back to the beginning with fresh eyes and edit yourself before you send it to me or another professional editor. How to go about editing yourself will be a future post.
About the Author
Tia Ross is a freelance editor with Tia Ross Editorial, a technical and business writer with WordWiser Ink, and an international meeting planner with Boss Meetings & Events. She plans and manages meetings and conferences (such as the upcoming Editorial Freelancers Association conference that she encourages all freelance editors to attend). She’s also the co-founder and director of Writeful Places LLC, producing writers retreats, workshops and other events domestically and in exotic destinations around the globe.