In a famous opinion piece for the New York Times, Joseph Epstein reported that 81% of Americans wanted to write a book. He immediately advised against the very notion of doing so. And yet, it seems to be a writer’s will to rebel, even if it’s against common sense.

Joking aside, Mr. Epstein claimed very few Americans had the capacity to write a book, let alone publish one. There’s no telling if you’re one of the lucky few unless you try. The problem is, you’re not sure where to start when writing a book.

That’s okay. Professional advice can set you on the path to success.

Follow these nine key steps and learn how to write your first book

1. Muse on an Outline

I use the word muse here because some writers need an extensive outline, and others just want to take an idea and run with it. The important thing is to have a general plan in place before getting started.

As a rule, your first book idea probably isn’t your best. And since writing one can take countless hours of dedication and time, you’ll want to start out on the right foot. Brainstorm some ideas, play with some themes, and see what speaks to you the most.

2. Decide on a Central Theme

Speaking of themes, all books have them. Whether non-fiction or fiction, there’s a major conclusion you want your readers to reach from the information you provide. What is it?

Think of it as a thesis. This guiding viewpoint plays an important role in helping your readers digest the narrative. Novels tend to be multi-thematic, so take your central theme and segment it into its smaller, subtler components.

3. Establish a Deadline or Quota

What’s the hardest part about writing a book? Sticking to it. It’s not a project you’re going to finish overnight or over a few weeks.

All successful writers use either deadlines or daily quotas to break up the work into manageable pieces. Start by deciding when you’d like to have your book ready for publication. From there, divvy up the word count to ensure you don’t miss your mark.

The second day is the hardest. As you get used to meeting your daily quota, writing gets easier and easier. Eventually, it won’t even feel like you’re working.

Make a deadline. Stick to it. Writing a book is that easy.

4. Control Your Editor

You’re going to doubt yourself. That’s the symptom of being a good writer. You know something doesn’t feel right — it needs more attention.

The thing is, there isn’t enough time to constantly make corrections.

Making serious edits while you write will cause substantial slowdowns. That’s the result of switching the active hemispheres in your brain. When you find your flow, follow it.

Just promise yourself you’ll edit it later. There’s no such thing as a good first draft. Yours doesn’t have to be.

5. Get Some Air

You finished your first draft. Congratulations! Now it’s time to take a break.

Seriously, don’t start editing too soon at the end of the creative process.

Consciously or unconsciously, you have preconceived notions of your book’s success. These memories, preferences, and beliefs all prohibit you from being a successful editor.

Give it enough time, and you’ll soon realize that seen you struggled with isn’t as good as you first thought.

The general rule of thumb says you shouldn’t edit a manuscript that you remember. But writers can’t wait forever. At least give yourself a month so you can start revising with a fresh pair of eyes.

6. Erase the Wrong Words

Mark Twain said that writing is as easy as crossing out the wrong words. Of course, it was a tongue-in-cheek response. But from a fundamental standpoint, it’s not a bad way to get started.

If you aren’t in love with a scene or a sentence, get rid of it and replace it with something better.

Beginners often imagine publishers are happy to accept messy manuscripts. The reality is, they’re more willing to work with authors who send them books nearest to the final draft.

Make your book perfect and settle for nothing less.

7. Ask for Feedback

During the first, second, or 94th draft, feedback is essential. Something that works for you may not work for someone else. That’s the problem with writing — you have to anticipate an imagined audience.

But the audience doesn’t have to be imagined. Friends, family, or even professional editors can help you decipher what’s working and what isn’t. I’d suggest making your own revisions until at least the second draft.

Otherwise, you’ll embarrass yourself with the first one.

8. Proofread Once, Then Again

You could continue to revise and edit the same story for eternity. The constant revisions don’t necessarily make something better. At a certain point, you have to throw in the towel and be happy with your final product.

Proofreading is different from editing in that you’re looking for punctuation and grammar errors. Clean it up as well as you can. A publisher can help you with the small things, but you may want to seek outside assistance if you’re self-publishing.

9. Find a Publisher

Not only have you written your book, but you’ve revised it to the best of your abilities. That’s all anyone can ask for.

So what do you do with it? Well, you’ve got options. If you don’t think your book is good enough for a publisher, you can choose to self-publish.

Most people do this by placing digital copies on Amazon. But affordable book printing is available as well.

Otherwise, start searching for a publisher. There are countless choices across the country.

How to Write Your First Book Successfully

These writing tips are the bare essentials to make sure you finish your book in a timely fashion. Writing a good book — well, that’s something else entirely. But now that you know how to write your first book, you can at least finish one.

That’s more than most people can say. Prove Joseph Epstein wrong.

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