If you’re reading this, you probably have an idea for a book you’ve been dying to write. That’s great! At the core of every successful book is a unique idea that inspired an author to take the initiative and write it into existence.
However, learning how to write a book is no easy feat for a first-time author. It takes a lot more than just a good idea to bring a story to life. You need to have dedication, support from others, the power to push through the inevitable writing blocks, and of course, plenty of time to write. A lot of time.
Writing a book can be incredibly overwhelming, but it’s mostly a rewarding experience. Every famous author you can name was once doing this for the first time, just like you. By breaking down the whole process into smaller steps, learning how to write a book becomes way more manageable and quite possible. Follow these 10 steps and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the author you want to be.
Before you start writing your book, you need to set a solid foundation of goals to abide by. The goals you set will give you something to strive for and help you form constructive working habits to keep you on track to finish your book.
Obviously, your main goal is to finish writing your book, and that’s awesome. But it’s also super overwhelming. How would you feel if you worked day after day for something and never got any reward? If you never felt any sense of accomplishment? You’d probably give up, right? This is where smaller, SMART goals come into play.
SMART goals will help you break down the monstrous goal of “writing a book” into smaller objectives that are easier to accomplish. They’ll also fuel the fire that keeps you working toward that larger end goal of finally finishing a book.
So how do you start setting SMART goals? Let’s break it down. “SMART” is an acronym for five things that EVERY goal you make for your book should be:
Specific- “Finishing your book” is not specific. "Writing 300 words per day for 12 months in order to write a 70,000-word novel" is specific.
Measurable- While you won’t be able to measure the quality of your writing, there are a number of factors you can keep track of to make sure you’re making progress, such as word count, pages or chapters written, time spent per day writing, etc.
Achievable- Is your current knowledge of the subject and type of book you want to write (biography, thriller, sci-fi novel, etc.) deep enough to be useful? If not, you might want to do a little research on your topic and style of writing you’re trying to focus on. For example, if you’re going to write a suspenseful sci-fi book, make sure your goals include all of the research you’ll need to do to make it scientifically accurate and suspenseful.
Realistic- Make sure you take into account potential obstacles such as jobs, family matters, health, and other priorities. For example, your goal to write 10,000 words per month may be hard to hit if you struggle to type more than 200 words per day.
Time-based- Don't make a goal like “write a bestselling novel” without giving yourself a deadline to work toward. Instead, give yourself a goal of writing five pages per day or 5,000 words in a week.
Learning how to write a book is not a quick, one-and-done lesson. It’s a skill that requires constant practice and tedious discipline to develop. Think of it like lifting weights; you wouldn’t lift 200 pounds on your first rep without warming up first. That’s just asking for trouble.
Likewise, focusing solely on writing your book can actually stifle progress and creativity. Instead of spending hours upon hours researching details for your story, try spending a few minutes writing something completely off-topic using a writing prompt.
The idea is to stimulate creativity by allowing your ideas to flow without overthinking it. If you spend all your focus on learning how to write a book, you’ll never let yourself get creative and actually write the book.
As you’re learning how to write a book, you’re also going to have to learn what kind of writer you are.
Are you the kind of writer who plans all the details in advance? Or are you the type of writer who flies by the seat of your pants and writes in the moment?
Why is this important to know? Consistency and structure. Again, this is all about learning how to write and finish a book.
Great story ideas can still turn into not-so-great books. A weak structure can make finishing your book more difficult, putting you in a precarious position where you’re trying to patch up plot holes with uncreative solutions. Then, you start to become disheartened in your own abilities.
An outline diminishes the chances of this happening by giving you a clean, streamlined version of your story to follow and makes it much easier to get to “The End”.
This step is fairly self-explanatory, mainly because you’re doing it already by reading this article.
To put it simply, a huge part of writing a book is knowing how to write a book. You can learn a lot just by researching and reading works by similar authors or books in the same genre you hope to write in.
As you read, pay attention to how the author writes. How did he or she portray the main character? What themes are most prominent? Study what these authors did well (and what they didn’t) and learn how to apply it to your story.
This does not mean you copy their original ideas. Instead, emulate their approach while retaining your own unique style. Learn how they wrote their book rather than what they wrote.
Another method of research you should consider (depending on your book’s topic) is factual research. If you’re writing a crime thriller, for example, you’ll need to know the basic facts of the criminal justice system, how detectives work, and how psychopaths think.
Factual research will also be incredibly important if you’re writing nonfiction. As an author, you need to be a reliable expert. Don’t rely exclusively on your own knowledge—make sure you’re getting the facts straight.
You will also need to spend time thinking about who your readers will be. In other words, who is your target audience? Knowing who your book is for can help you better communicate in your writing.
One important component of learning how to write a book is learning how to finish it.
A great way to do this is by keeping track of the progress you make, whether it be the number of words or pages you write or the number of smaller SMART goals you complete.
Log your stats in a personal journal or document that you can revisit often. Keep it close by so you can always see how far you’ve come and visualize where you need to go.
Because keeping track of your progress is so important to writing a book, we created a tool to help authors do exactly that. The Book Launch Tool helps you set SMART goals, track your progress, stay organized, and offers relevant resources to help you complete tasks as you work on your book.
Want to try it out? Start your free trial of the Author Learning Center right now.
You can never go wrong with the basic pen and paper approach. But when writing an entire book, you might want to consider using a few extra tools to help you out.
Thanks to technology, there are several tools you can use to boost your productivity and quality of writing. For example, Scrivener is software that takes on the dual role of word processor and a project management tool. This software comes with a long list of tools to help you transform your fledgling ideas into full-bodied final drafts. Grammarly is another useful writing tool to help keep your grammar and spelling in check.
There are many different types of tools and software, so make sure you do your research and find the ones that make the most sense for you before you make the investment.
Once you have a firm grasp on how to write a book, you can start experimenting. This is where the true fun of writing begins. Like an artist testing different color palettes, you should test various forms and styles of writing to find the best method for you.
Try taking a scene from your book and rewriting it from a different perspective, with a different tone, or with different descriptions. Take the time to focus on elements that you didn’t pay so much attention to before.
When you’re done, compare this scene with your original and sort through the pros and cons of both. You might discover something new to add to your story, a more unique tone for a character’s voice, or a better way of describing a scene that you didn’t think of the first time around.
The number one complaint we hear from authors struggling to figure out how to write their books is a lack of time. Time constraints such as full-time jobs, families, various daily priorities, and unexpected life events can require most of a person’s available time and energy, and leave very little left to focus on writing.
Because of our busy lives, writing can become a hassle. The activity itself becomes stressful. Eventually, we start to equate these unpleasant feelings with writing, thus creating a negative, subconscious behavior where we avoid writing altogether.
But there’s good news. Just as your brain has learned to equate writing a book with stressful emotions, you can teach it to do the opposite. The secret lies within the Pavlovian theory. Essentially, you can teach yourself to anticipate a positive feeling when you write.
To do this, set up a system to reward yourself when you accomplish a task. When you accomplish your goal to write for 10 minutes on a busy day, reward yourself with an enjoyable snack or a walk outside. When you finish a large task, like completing an entire chapter, maybe treat yourself to something more extravagant.
This reward system will act as your encouragement during stressful times. Slowly but surely, you’ll be re-training your subconscious to remember how to write a book and enjoy it.
As you’re doing research and learning all the tips and tricks for how to write a book, you’ve probably stumbled on the phrase “writer’s block” once or twice. Writers use this term to describe the experience of a creative drought where they’re struggling to figure out where to take the story next.
The important thing to remember with writer’s block is that it’s inevitable. Every writer will experience it at one point or another. The only thing you can do is to keep moving forward.
Remember: when you’re still figuring out how to write a book in the first place, it’s not about writing the perfect story. It’s about telling yourself the story for the first time and working through the process. You can always fix it later.
The last step to learning how to write a book is to connect and consult with other writers who have been through this process before.
You be might wondering: “Isn’t writing a solitary endeavor? Why do I need others?”
In some ways, writing requires you to work alone. However, the whole book-creation process involves more than locking yourself in a room until you can emerge with a finished copy.
Writers need other writers for inspiration, knowledge of the craft, and most importantly, to grow in their writing abilities.
Many authors form or join writing groups of various sizes, both in-person and online, that meet on a regular basis to talk about their stories with one another. They bounce ideas around and read each other’s writing to provide helpful feedback and constructive criticism.
At the ALC, we believe community is an essential element of completing a book. So much so that we give members a space right on the site to build them, called Author Circles.
Figuring out how to write a book can be overwhelming. However, many now-published authors have done it, so it’s not impossible.
From webinars and interviews with published authors to a vast, online writing community, the Author Learning Center (ALC) equips writers with the tools, knowledge, and skills necessary for them learn how to write, edit, publish, and market their books. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing our members succeed at finishing their books and becoming published authors.
See how the ALC works, and how we can help you write your book in 2020.
Very helpful—specific & experienced tips.
Very encouraging and to the point.
This is a very well written, helpful and insightful article. However, there were quite a few errors like 'you're' instead of 'your' and some words transposed or extras that did not belong.
This was helpful information
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