“Everyone has a book in them.”
I’ve heard this quote several times in my life—and maybe it’s true, I don’t know. But what I do know for sure is that even if everyone does have a book in them, most people don’t have a clue how to get it out of them.
Therefore, this is my attempt—feeble as it is—at answering the most difficult of all questions: How do you write a book?
- Read a book. Seriously. Read hundreds of them if you can—in all genres and all types—until you figure out the type of book you want to write. If you’re now saying, “yeah, but I don’t have time to read a bunch of books,” then I have to say, “Then how are you going to find time to write one?”
- Get some blank notebooks and pens or pencils or a laptop or a desktop or a whole bunch of old envelopes or a stack of note cards or brown paper grocery sacks or… Well, just get you something to write on.
- Start writing.
Really, truly, I could stop now. Because what comes next has no formula—no recipe. There really is no answer, but here’s how I did (and do) it.
- Write the words “Don’t get it right—get it written” on a piece of paper and hang it someplace where you’ll see it every day.
- Figure out a story to tell. Some people will outline or “storyboard” the whole plot. Some people will fly by the seat of their pants. There is no wrong or right way, only the way that will work for you, and guess what? I can’t tell you what way that is. You will only learn by doing. So do.
- Pick your main character(s) and a point of view.
- Start writing. Make tons of mistakes—you’re supposed to. It’s expected.
- Put your first draft in a drawer and don’t look at it for three months.
- Pull the first draft out and read it in one sitting. Have a pen handy to make obvious notes, but don’t do anything but read.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Start to work on your second draft.
- Repeat steps 8-11 until you can read it and be reasonably happy.
- Get someone you trust to read it and get their opinions on what works and what doesn’t.
- Rewrite again as many times as needed.
- The final step is to be really proud—most people didn’t make it past the “read lots of book” step.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, guess what: it is.
If you’ve made it through all of those steps and want to pursue having it published by a reputable, legitimate, publisher, then follow my instructions for “how do you get a book published.”
If you want more detail about the writing process, there are some very good books that talk about the craft. One is On Writing by Stephen King. The first craft book I ever owned was Screenplay by Syd Field. Almost any bookstore will have a few titles along these lines. Pick one up and read it while you’re in your reading phase—it’s not going to hurt.
Is writing something that can be taught? Are great writers born or made? I think the answer is both. Don’t tell me someone like Jonathan Lethem (author of the amazing, Motherless Brooklyn) isn’t talented. But also don’t tell me that he just rolled out of bed one day and threw that book together. It’s a masterpiece, and I know that it takes a great deal of effort to write something that reads that effortlessly.
The truth is that you will only learn to write by writing…by doing…so DO!