How to start writing your book

When you first set out to write your book, it can be overwhelming. There are so many different aspects to consider. Such things as cover design, layout, size, price – if you want to sell it, where and how to self-publish. Forget all of those and focus on getting the words out first.

Here’s my advice, based on what I’ve learned in the last 20 years:-

1 The Idea for a book
I always start with the idea. The mind is a wonderful thing because when I have a book Title, the writing underneath starts to take shape. The very obvious one that I started on recently is ‘How To Write A Book’. Make your title an obvious one if it’s a Subject Matter Book and also make it searchable on Google (aka- getting the all-important SEO for your book right). What do people search for when they are looking for information? Consider those common search terms when you write your Title
e.g. How To Write A Book, How To Answer Interview Questions, How To Pass An Exam…..for whatever job it is.

2 Chapter Titles
Once I’ve got the Title, I list out the ‘Contents’ on a page. I turn these into suitable ‘Chapter’ headings. I usually work with 12 as it’s a nice even number and if I want to write 3000 – 5000 words in every chapter, that will get me to between 36 and 60,000 words. (36,000 words is enough for a decent-sized book)

3 Story Arcs and The Heros Journey
I follow a pattern when writing a story. Think of a Whale and its backbone. It curves up and down and forms the ‘spine’ of your book with bones coming off it to form the storyline and the structure of your book. It gives a framework to your writing and helps the story, subject matter and content flow from the beginning to the ‘tale end’ of the book. Just like a Whale. If you think of your favourite adventure movie, there are usually the same set of characters. Just like a good old-fashioned Western movie. The Goody, the Baddy, the Town Sherriff, The Jailer, The Love, The Comedian. Along with the supporting characters, they all go on an adventure which takes them into life-or-death situations, they share their hopes, wishes, dreams, values, character flaws and strengths and ultimately a challenge from which they survive, die or evolve, until the next time……
Think Indian Jones, The Matrix, Star Wars, Scooby Doo, etc etc.

4 How To Write a Great Story
It sounds too simple but have a start, middle and ending. Sounds obvious but it works. A strong structure for your book is so important as this will provide the framework under which your writing will flow. Create intrigue, and tension, spark curiosity, reveal clues, entice the reader, and create interesting characters that the reader can identify with. Get plenty of practice. Writing improves with more writing. Get feedback from those who you know, like and trust. Ask them some simple, easy-to-answer questions – what did they like, what didn’t they like?
Join a writers group, attend a creative writing course and keep on going.
From my understanding of how the mind works, it likes to solve problems for you. We like to fill our minds with stuff so make it a worthwhile exercise. Ask yourself questions like ‘What would this character look like, be like, sound like, look like? Ask your mind to help you find answers to the next part of your writing journey.

5 Create a visual of your characters
Although I’m no good at drawing anything other than ‘stick men and women’, I always have a visual image, even if it’s in my own mind, of what each of the characters looks like. Avoiding stereotypes can sometimes be a challenge as generally every human being could be pigeonholed into one of the ‘boxes’ listed in the paragraph above. Always try and give each character something unique. You write from your own ‘view’ of the world and of the experiences and people you have met along the way so research, observation and making notes as and when Ideas or suggestions from those observations come to you is essential. A writer is never really ‘off duty’. We are always watching and taking things in.

6 Find The Best Place To Write – For You
What I mean by this is to set yourself up for success by creating a writing mindset and a writing habit. Consistency is king. Hemmingway said to write every morning before you do anything else! It’s so easy to get distracted. I like to write every day. I set a limit of 15 minutes, sometimes I do more, sometimes less, but I write every day. Here’s what I do and what I recommend you do.

7 Find a safe space
Somewhere you can relax, be left in peace and which makes you feel good. I like to write in my conservatory, overlooking the garden, with the birdsong in the background. I like silence so that I can concentrate. I know of others who listen to music through headphones. Whatever your ‘safe space’ is, find it and spent time in it. It will help your creative writing flow.

8 Create a Writing Habit
Even if you only write for 15 minutes a day, if you can knock out 250 words a day, that’s 7,500 words in 30 days. Spend 15 minutes a day for six months and you’ll end up with 45,000 words. That’s enough for a book. Start in January and you’ll be done by June. Find an editor, a proofreader and a typesetter or better still, David Hambling, my business partner and you’ll get all of that done, plus a book cover and ISBN included for a very reasonable price! And you’ll have your book ready for launch in good time for the Christmas buyers.

9 Feedback and building your ‘tribe/fan club’
When you start out writing, it’s important to get feedback. Is my book idea any good? That’s the first question I usually get asked. That very much depends on who your ideal audience is and what they think of your book. Search them out, invite them into your world, tell them your backstory and why you have started writing your book and share the journey with them. If you have no idea who your ‘ideal reader’ will be – consider why you want to write your book and who specifically you want to help. It may be someone like you (after all you are writing from your own experience) so start there. Having an image of who they are in your mind will help you to focus on what specific books they like to read and if it’s a subject matter book – what problems or challenges your book can answer and help them with.

10 Share your story and Market your book – build your brand while you write
I asked a PR and journalist expert how to get my book into the media. I said I’ve written a book. No word of a lie, their first response was ‘So what?’. Meaning specifically, what makes your book any better than anyone else’s and what they really mean is ‘Why are you so interesting?’. People buy from people. Yes, they buy books too but first of all, we have to like who they are and what they represent. Your book ‘Why’ is as important as your book itself. Be ready to talk about your book project as soon as you start writing. This will help build ‘brand’ loyalty for you and your book. Recommendation and word of mouth by those who are your loyal fans is a great way to get your book sold and is the oldest form of networking.

11 Have fun writing your book – otherwise, why bother?
Yes, we all talk of ‘Writer’s block’ but actually, isn’t it just our own minds protecting us from the fear of being no good, of ‘other’ people telling us they don’t like our book, our story or us? If you are going to enjoy writing your book, I’d encourage you to not think about what others think, (apart from your ideal audience of course). Take encouragement from those you know will support you on the journey and keep your book writing a secret from those who will want to ‘rain on your parade’, put you down or who would want to see you fail. They are out there, and we all have them don’t we?

Finally, if you struggle to find the time to write, join an accountability writing group. There are plenty out there. If you’d like to join a new group called ‘Write Together’ get in touch. We meet once a week via zoom for 1.5 hours every Sunday to write – no harsh criticism, no un-requested ‘constructive feedback’ – all you have to do is start writing and write for at least 30 minutes. 10 am till around 11.30 am (no later) and during that time the only commitment is to join in, write and enjoy the company of others just like you. Even if you don’t write for the rest of the week, you’ll know that for those 1.5 hours, you’ll be focussed on your writing project.

If you’d like to join us in our ‘Write Together’ sessions to give you the all-important ‘accountability’ you need to start and finish writing your book journey – e-mail me at – you’d be very welcome.

The Author’s Journey – a step by step guide to how to write and self-publish your book – due out soon – e mail to pre order your copy

The Author's Journey
A book about how to write a book - by Mandy Ward and David Hambling

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