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How to Start Writing a Book

Heather Long
Writing a Book

If you've researched the process of writing a book, you've likely found that there is no cut and dried answer on how to begin. That's because not every writer gathers their thoughts or channels their creativity in the same way.

Fiction or Non-Fiction

The first step to writing is determining whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction. Different types of books require different types of research and prep work. Non-fiction books may include scheduling interviews, performing the interviews, and reviewing the interactions for useful material. Fiction novels may require understanding of expert material, whether it's researching a location or police procedure.

Choosing a Topic

The first step in planning to write a book will be to choose a topic or theme. Life around you is full of ideas for books. In fact, many creative writing prompts can help to generate fictional story ideas too. Learn to tap into that creative part of your nature. Start to keep a notebook nearby at all times to collect ideas. As you jot down the possibilities, one or more of the things you write down will revisit your mind. One thought builds upon another, and your muse gives birth to the concept for your book. Keep notes as the ideas build.

Research

Research for a non-fiction book can include fact gathering with online research or at the library, interviews in person, via email or over the phone, and fact checking. Fact checking is key to your non-fiction success. You'll also be able to develop a writing plan for your non-fiction manuscript from this information.

For fiction writers, you'll want to identify what facts you need to know before you start writing so you can make the most of your writing time including deciding whether it's the first book in a series or not.

Set Aside Time to Write

Make a plan to start writing regularly. If you don't have much time and know that your full-time job and family responsibilities take most of your time, commit to a small regular writing routine like 20 minutes, four days a week. Once you get in the habit of writing, you'll find the niche that works best for you.

Two Approaches for Organizing Your Book

One controversy among writers is whether or not an outline is needed or should be used when writing a book. In some cases, what constitutes an outline can even be challenged.

For writers who organize their thoughts in detailed outline format, what is included in their book is dictated by their outline. This outline may even incorporate extensive research. Chapter by chapter they follow a predetermined course. How much they adhere to the outline will depend on the particular writer.

Benefits of Using an Outline

For those who do follow an outline when writing a book, this tool provides an overview for their work in progress. Benefits of using an outline include the fact that it:

  • Tests the logic of your story (fiction or non-fiction) before you write
  • Allows you to strategically embed clues, a red herring, foreshadowing, and other elements that keep the story interesting
  • Can include character profiles and family trees
  • May also include maps of the fictional world

The writer who uses an outline has his ideas and information organized before he starts writing. This process can be used for non-fiction as well as fiction projects.

No Outline Approach

Writers who prefer not to use an outline may find their creative juices pumped when they approach a blank sheet of paper (or computer screen) with nothing more than a concept or basic idea. Most of these writers say outlining stifles their creativity. In their minds, putting together an outline is really a waste of time because they'd never stick to it once their characters take over and develop lives of their own.

For these creative types, creating the story is an adventure. They never know what's around the next corner until they get there. This freestyle writing approach is perfect for people who participate in National Novel Writing Month in which participants are challenged to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Once a first draft is written, the revision and editing process takes much longer.

Write Your Beginning and Ending

One way to stay on target while you're writing is to write out the beginning and ending of your book or your chapters as you go. For example, a biography relies in key points in a person's life so you'll want each chapter to begin and end on those turning points. The same is true for your fiction novel. Each chapter needs to end on a hook that invites you to turn the page as a reader, so write those hooks that invite you to keep writing as an author.

Write the Book

Once you've started the book, you have to keep writing. Books are easy to begin, but completing them takes time and dedication to your product.

Try to do all your research before you start writing. Once you are writing, focus on the writing. When you are done, edit, revise and fact check. Take your time and be deliberate to get it right, but also be consistent to make sure you get the job done.

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How to Start Writing a Book