How to write a book? A seven step guide

Word by word.

That’s the answer Stephen King gave when he was asked how he writes. And that’s the answer to the question: How to write a book?

So if you are looking for a quick answer, I’ll just say there it is and will rest my case.

But I presume you’re looking for a detailed answer. If so, read on.

You’ve long felt that you have a book in you—you have a message to convey, something important to say, perhaps a brilliant story to tell—but you don’t get the time to write. Life keeps getting in.

You have a day job to maintain, look after your family, catch-up with friends, watch the latest movies, and hence writing that book keeps getting pushed down in your To-do list.

You think you’ll write the book when you get some time but you never get that time.

I know, I know. I’ve been there.

One fine day I sat down to write my book but didn’t finish the work. I couldn’t.

I was working as a full time content writer then and the job was very demanding. The weekends were spent resting.

Although I wrote whenever I could find time, it wasn’t sufficient.

It took me around one and a half year of intermittent work just to finish the first draft! Then a further three months of full time work to redraft, re-edit, and refine it.

You can download my book Concision's PDF version for free to see how it looks.

Although I wrote non-fiction, a lot of the lessons I learned in the process and which I’ve written below, apply to fiction as well.

I understand how much work goes into the writing of a book. And if you don’t have a burning passion for it within you then you won’t finish writing it.

So before telling you how to write a book let me first give you some motivational reasons on why you should write a book in the first place.

It’s about satisfying your ego

Yes that is a motivation.

George Orwell in his essay Why I Write says one of the reasons that motivate him to write is the

[d]esire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.

Mr. Orwell has hit the nail on its head. Nothing more that I can add to that.

It’s about respect and authority

There is something in the title “Author” which commands respect.

A PhD degree is not the only way to prove your expertise on a subject. You can do the same by writing a book.

Furthermore, it’s not just about blowing your own trumpet before society.

After finishing the book you will find that you have developed a better understanding of the subject.

You’ll come across stuff you wouldn’t have considered before necessitating you to do research; you’ll begin getting new ideas to explain the points; and by the time you are finished you shall have acquired more information on the subject than you had before when you sat down to write.

It’s what the world wants

There are many people who still prefer to get all information on a topic in a nice bundled format i.e. a book. It’s much better to read a book—a long and serious piece on a subject written systematically by a single author—than to read a ton of incoherent articles on a topic all written by different authors.
I’m not decrying article writing. After all, this piece itself is one.

I’m saying when a person wants to get detailed and in-depth information on a topic he turns to books instead of articles.

So if you can deliver that, you will be giving a nice gift to the world.

Of course there are many more reasons why you should write a book but I believe these should suffice to get you started.

So below I present you with seven steps on how to write a book.

1. Do your research

When you take stuff from one writer it’s plagiarism, but when you take from many writers it’s called research.

—Wilson Mizner

All books, whether fiction or non-fiction, need research. You need to do your research thoroughly in order to write the book with authority.

Broadly speaking there are two ways you can take here.

Do comprehensive research first and then sit down to write.

Or do some basic research, begin to write, and then look up the relevant parts whenever you get stuck.

I feel the latter route makes more sense, and this is how I researched while writing my book, because then most of your research will make it into your book. So you won’t be one of those writers complaining that you wasted days or even months researching stuff which didn’t eventually become a part of your book.

2. To learn how to write a book, read books on writing

No matter what kind of book you have in mind you need to know at least the basics of the craft of writing. And don’t tell me that just because you’ve read a lot of Dickens and Austen, you know your way through the English language.

Reading good fiction helps of course but you need to read books on the craft of writing too.

Most people won’t realize that writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else.

—Katherine Anne Porter

Merely because you’ve seen a lot of movies doesn’t imply you can make one. You need a course in filmmaking first.

If you are looking for a short and sweet book on writing 101 then read Concision: A No-Grammar Guide to Good Writing by yours truly. I’m not recommending this book because I have written it. Rather I wrote it because I felt I could help aspiring writers through it.

If you are willing to read more books then here is your course in creative writing.

3. Allot a specific place to writing

For people like us, people who are trying to make money selling books, writing is not a hobby. It’s a business. It’s work, often hard. It’s our bread and butter.

So give it the respect it deserves.

I wrote my book in my home-office. It’s a room in my home on the first floor. I use it only for reading and writing purposes so that whenever I enter it, my brain gets transformed into the working mode.

You don’t necessarily need a high profile, corporate styled office. In fact to tell you the truth my office needs much renovation and I’ll repair it when I would have saved some money.

But the important thing is to have a specific space devoted exclusively and especially to writing your book. It could be something as simple as a table and a chair.

4. Write, just write the book

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the most difficult part of all. Write.

It’s very easy to talk about writing, read blog posts like this one on how to write a book, order writing books online, but the real thing is to show yourself into your specific writing place, sit down, and write. And do this with some discipline.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.

—Richard Bach

If this is your first attempt at writing you can start small. But don’t aim for less than 300 words per day.

To give you an example, adult novels, whether commercial or literary, are usually in the 80-90,000 word range. So it’ll take you 300 days or 10 months to write a 90,000 word book, assuming you work even on weekends.

However I’ve made things too simple. Here’s more …

5. Edit ruthlessly

Question: How much unnecessary fluff do bad books contain? Answer: A lot.

If there’s one thing that drives me mad when I read bad writers, it is their failure to edit.

Editing means eliminating the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.

You should ideally give sometime between writing and editing. The more the better. So that you are able to approach your work with fresh eyes.

Delete everything that comes in the way of your core material. Even if you love some sentence structures, delete them. Kill your darlings.

6. Garner feedback

When I finished writing my book I read it more than a dozen times over and over again to check for errors.

Now I’m a perfectionist. I’m the kind of person who ensures whether the correct punctuation should be a comma or a semicolon, or that the closing quotation marks should precede or follow the full stop.

I corrected all the mistakes I could find and thus I was quite sure that my book is free from all errors.

But just in case I decided to send it to beta readers.

From their feedback I was quite surprised to find that there were about a dozen mistakes that I had overlooked.

Moral of the story: Don’t consider you have finished writing the book until you have gotten feedback from others and incorporated it into the text.

And please don’t tell me that the publishing house you will send the book to will correct the errors for itself. If they had to choose between a flawed manuscript and a flawless one, they’ll choose the latter as that will be less work for them to publish it.

The best thing to do here is to hire a freelance professional editor and ask her to go through your book. If you want it done for free then get help from beta readers.

If you blog and have a good readership, ask some of them to help you out. You’ll find most of them will be willing to do so because they already like your writing style.

If not, ask some of your friends to be your beta readers.

If even that doesn’t help post a message in relevant forums and communities that you are seeking beta readers.

You may consider giving a small gift in return, like signed copies of your published book, to encourage participation.

Also, it’s always safe to make them sign an NDA to protect your manuscript from intellectual property theft.

7. Set a deadline

Some authors, particularly new ones, keep writing and editing and polishing and re-drafting the manuscript and take forever to complete it.

This relates to something known as the point of diminishing returns.

Exercising for half-an hour daily is good, for 45 minutes is better, for one hour even better. But for 10 hours? Instead of being helpful it’ll become harmful to the health.

Hiring more people in an office to get more work done, and thus attain more profits, will help only till a certain point. Hiring more people after that point will result in losses because of the limited resources and equipment. (If an office has 40 computers it shouldn’t hire more than 40 programmers.)

A thing is said to have reached the point of diminishing returns when having more of it serves no useful purpose.

So set a deadline for yourself. Work on your book only till a particular point. Then ship.

Don’t try to achieve perfection.

Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

—Neil Gaiman

It’s okay if one or two minor mistakes elude you.

Even Academy Award winning movies contain mistakes. Go to the IMDb page of any such movie and check the Goofs section and see for yourself.

So this is all that you need to know on how to write a book. If you think I’ve missed anything or if you have a question, drop in a comment below and I’ll make sure to answer.

Writing a book is a way to achieve immortality. It’s a gift to the world. Write a good one.

And when published, mail me a copy. 🙂

(Image courtesy of Florian Klauer at Unsplash)

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