#GettingStarted Series: If You Don’t Know Where to Start, E-Mail Me

Letters, I get these letters. They go something like this:

I’ve been thinking about writing a book. What should I do next?

There are variations—Everyone tells me I should write a book, say, or I’ve been writing all my life—and usually some biographical information, but that’s the gist of it. Sometimes the letters are so vague I’m not sure what the writer is asking. I’m not sure the writer knows what he’s asking.

But here’s the short answer, dear ones. If you’re thinking about writing a book, you should …

Start. Writing.

Like, sit down in front of your computer, open your word-processing program, and start typing. Honest, that’s how it works. As an editor, I can’t help you until you’ve got something on the page.

Or you could start a blog, and see what happens. Lots of books currently in print started as and are derived from blogs, like Molly Wizenberg’s lovely A Homemade Life. Or Mike Hyatt’s Platform, in which I had a small editorial hand.

But you want answers, I know you do. More specific answers than Start Writing, although I can think of no better one. (Except, perhaps: Read.) So let’s see what I can rustle up. If you haven’t started writing yet, you should …

1. Consider your writing skills. If you are confident you know how to compose paragraphs in a coherent manner, start writing. (Don’t laugh! A lot of people really can’t compose sentences and paragraphs. It’s a lot different from talking.) If you’re unsure, seek out a creative writing course, for real. You can find writing courses at community colleges, at your county extension education office, at writers’ conferences, even online (caveat emptor, of course). You’ll end up writing some of your book for this class.

2. Definitely seek out a writer’s group and/or critique partners. I need to write a blog post about this someday (UPDATE: here it is); every author I’ve edited has been in a writer’s group, and I think it’s an important part of writing, this interaction with others. Your group can give you lots of editorial advice—and it’s free, aside from the investment of time. (Note that while in-person fellowship is nice, your group could just as easily be an e-mail group.)

3. Start reading the type of book you want to write. That is, do your homework. If you’re thinking about writing a memoir, you need to read memoir. You’ll see how they’re constructed, how they need to have a story arc. You’ll get ideas. Mary Karr started the recent trend in memoir, with her book The Liar’s Club—you could start there. I highly recommend it. I can give you a list of others, of course.

4. Make an outline. I can’t stress this enough. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, start jotting down the main points you want to write about, then break those down too. You can rearrange a dozen times ’til it makes sense.

OK, there are four really important things. It’s good that you asked. Now start writing. :)

Tweet: I’ve been thinking about writing a book. What should I do next?
Tweet: As an editor, I can’t help you until you’ve got something on the page.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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One Comment

  1. On the cusp of death, with pancreatic cancer and now non-Hodgkins lymphoma, all I can suggest is, write.

    Write 75,000 words. Then edit. If there’s a book in you it will show.

    Meanwhile I keep having visions of Elvis, calling me to live with Him eternally in Graceland.

    Now there’s a story.