When new authors consider writing a book for the first time there are a couple of options open to them. They can join that elite group of people known as Pantsers, who just dive in and get writing, or they can plan what they’re going to do before they start writing their masterpiece.
Don’t get me wrong – Pantsers do exist. Among their ranks are authors like Frederick Forsyth, who wrote ‘Day Of The Jackal’ in just 35 days and pushed it into the all-time best-seller ranks for years to come. It’s rumoured that John Grisham wrote his first novel straight off, with minimal planning.
It’s worth noting that both men were sharp-thinking professional men – one an international journalist and the other a lawyer. For the rest of us, outlining the structure of a first book really is the fast track to success. It just makes so much sense. You will know your setting and characters so well that the reader will be more readily pulled into your story.
How To Start Writing a Book For The First Time – Good Advice From Brian Collins
Hello there. My name is Brian Collins and I’m an author from Ireland. In this video post I’m going to explain to you how you can write a book for the first time and in particular I’m going to focus on how you can write a nonfiction book.
But that said you can use the practical lessons from this pulse to write fiction too. So the first thing I say to you is to commit to write in your book. Writing a book is a big creative endeavour and you don’t have to spend many weeks months and even possibly years working on your book so before you set out to write one.
Ask yourself – ‘is a book the best medium to express my ideas and do I have the mental energy and the creative energy and resources to do it?’ If you do, great, because the next thing you need to do is to know what you’re writing about and this is very important.
It’s important that you know what you’re writing about because you’re going to spend a lot of time working with this particular idea. A great way to figure out what it is that you want to say is to spend an hour or two free writing about your topic.
That is put, anything you can think of onto the blank page and organizing your ideas and then try and establish what it is your book was about in one or two sentences so that it’s clear to you.
So once you know what your book is about, the next thing you need to figure out is what your audience wants. The best way to figure out what your audience wants is to look at books in your niche or your chosen genre. See what sells and see what doesn’t sell.
Then ask yourself – ‘does your book fit into what sells and what doesn’t sell?’, because what you need to do is to figure out the middle ground between what you’re passionate about and what’s selling on stores like Amazon.
I suggest to you that you look at books that have a sales ranking of under 30,000 because these books sell at least five copies a day. Meaning it is a demonstratable interest from readers that you can leverage with your book. Once you know what your audience wants how much your book is about, I’d say to you to spend a little bit of time deciding what type of writer you are.
Now there are two types of writers. There are Pantsers and Plotters. Pantsers are the type of writers who write from the seat of their pants. They sit down on the blank. They sit down in a chair in front of the blank page and they basically make it up as they go along with a connection to the muse, to God. Plotter, on the other hand, are the types of writers who spend ages organizing their ideas and planning what it is they’re going to say before they say it.
Now being a plotter is a type of writer that I am and it lends itself particularly well to non-fiction writing. So the next thing I would say to you is to spend some time researching your book. What you need to do is, you need to research and read those books in your particular niche, or genre that have sold well.
I would say to you to spend a couple of weeks. I would also look at the good reviews and bad reviews for books that’ve sold and haven’t sold, because the good reviews will tell you what works and the bad reviews will tell you what reeders disliked.
Then you could avoid the mistakes that some of these writers might have inadvertently made. Once you’ve researched your book, before you set out to write it, I would suggest that you budget for writing a book, particularly if you’re going to self publish it.
Why do I say this? Well, writing a book may be free, unless you count the cost of time, but publishing a book isn’t. Later on you’re going to have to hire a proofreader, a book designer and an editor, and all of these things really are non-negotiable if you want to create a professional book.
It can cost anywhere between 500 and $2,000 to get all of these people to help you to publish your book. so I would say to you, if you budget at the start of the process then you will have the financial resources when the time comes to hire these people to help you.
I would also say that that was a good time to be interviewing experts if you’re writing nonfiction. I actually worked as a journalist several years ago in Ireland and I interviewed business people, politicians and author, and my practical tip for you is – if you’re interviewing people for your book is to try and keep your interviews between 30 and 60 minutes in length.
If they’re any longer they become quite difficult for you to go through and if they’re any shorter you might not necessarily get the information that you need because it can take people some time to warm up to reveal interesting stories to you.
There’s a great service called Rev that you can use to get these interviews transcribed, which makes it much easier to go through them later on and believe me I’ve spent a lot of time transcribing interviews by hand and it’s not fun.
So that’s a lot of research here. After doing so I would say to you it’s important that you know when to stop researching and when to start writing. Why do I say this? Well, research is important and it’s useful but it can also turn into a form of procrastination.
There comes a time when you just need to get the ideas out of your head and onto the blank page and to organize your book that you’re going to write into a coherent structure. Besides, you can continue to research your book while you’re writing it, so if you’re a plotter that I talked about previously now is a good time to organize all those ideas from your research and your interviews.
What I do is, I get a set of index cards. Each index card corresponds to a particular chapter in my book. I write the title of the chapter on top of the index cards and then I write five to ten bullet points for each topic that I want to cover in the chapter, or for each story that I want to tell, or for each takeaway for the reader.
Then I paint out these index cards to a wall near where right we like that the whiteboard as you can see there behind me and what I like to live with that for a few weeks so that I can rearrange my IDs visually before transferring them to a digital tool like Evernote.
It’s not necessary that you use index cards or a digital tool like Evernote. I just share this process with you so hopefully it can give you some insight and you can plan your writing in advance, if that’s the type of writer that you are.
Okay, so now that you’ve outlined your book. The next thing to do is to approach it like a professional writer. Professional writers work to deadlines and I would like you to set a deadline for when you’re going to write that first draft of your book.
How can you set this deadline? Well a typical non-fiction book is between sixty and eighty thousand words in length, so if you decide to write 1,000 words every day then it’ll take you two to three months with some basic maths to produce that first draft of your book.
That’s of course presuming that you write six or even seven days a week which may not be realistic. So look at your calendar, work out when you’re going to write. When you can’t write, set yourself a hard deadline for getting that first draft out of your head.
Now when I say getting that first draft out of your head what I really mean is getting that messy first draft out of your head, because the messy first draft is really just about getting the words onto the blank page than it is about creating something that’s coherent and makes a lot of sense.
And this is why it’s important that you just have a target work count each day that you try and hit. Don’t worry too much about editing your work and if you feel like it’s not very good, that doesn’t really matter. All you need to do is simply go to your book paragraph by paragraph or sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter until you hit your target word count for that first messy draft.
Because you can fix all these problems later on. Once you’ve got that first messy draft done put your work aside, because I find that when you’ve been working on something for a while the ideas can become too hot to touch, let alone edit.
So let it sit in a drawer on your computer and go off and do something for a few days, even a week or two that has nothing to do with your book. Then when the time comes, when you’re feeling fresh, when the ideas are a little bit cooler, print out your book, get a red pen make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and sit down and read through your book in one or two sessions.
Take care to mark up the parts of your book in red pen whatever you need to change. Now when it comes to making these edits or changes in your book, the American editor Saul Stein recommends the writers treat their book like triage.
You fix the big problems in your work first before you get into the small problems. The big problems include things like removing a chapter from your book and writing a new chapter, perhaps doing some additional research or interviews, or perhaps change in the into stories or even the entire flow of the way you’ve all read in your book.
The smaller edits that you do later on include things like line edits, changing the titles and subtitles in your book and basically polishing your prose. Fix the big things first, then do the small things, then get it printed out. Repeat the process.
You can do this two or three times and if you can enlist the help of a friend or family member who can help you identify problems in your work that you may have missed. Eventually, when you need to get some professional help, when you need to hire an editor a couple of things to know.
Firstly, as I talked about previously, you need to have a budget. The second thing I would say to you is that you you need to block book time at your editor in advance because they’re busy people. If you’re looking to publish something within the next week or two that may not be released realistic.
What I would suggest to you is that you contact editors early on the process and then you give them the time they need to help turn your book into something that we just enjoy. Something that you’re proud of and something that lasts.
When you get those edits back from your editor, they may be developmental edits or it may be line by line edits, depending on the level of service that you’ve commissioned them to undertake, take the time and the care to go through all of these with your editor.
If possible, have a discussion about your book with your editor before you make these changes and of course once the proofreader has been through your book what you need to do then is to make the proofs.
You need to format your book for self publishing, and of course format your book for self publishing is a post in itself but I would say that they write in AB Scrivener makes it easier than ever for writers to self publish. It’s something I recommend that you invest time and resources into learning upfront.
Finally, know when you’re at the end of writing your book, because perfectionism is a trait that can trip up any writer and I think it’s important that you know when you’ve reached the end of your project.
When it’s time to move on to something else there will always be a gap between what it is that you want to say and what you end up producing on the blank page, and the best way to bridge that gap over time is to write and finish more great books.
When you write and finish more great books you’ll sell more books to readers and you’ll be able to advance your writing career. So if you found this post helpful, you can also visit the blog post – the link is in the video description or I’d also ask that you share this post with a friend, or another writer who you think will find this helpful. Thanks for watching.