How to Write a Prescriptive Nonfiction Book

Prescriptive nonfiction is basically a how-to book that gives someone direction or information on a subject. It does not tell a story. Instead, it helps readers understand about an area of life. Readers wishing to improve a skill or educate themselves on a topic would reach for a prescriptive nonfiction book.

Should you write a prescriptive nonfiction book?

To answer that question, I’d like to ask a few more:

  • Have you developed a niche area of expertise?
  • Do you have specialized knowledge in a particular field?
  • Is your way of doing things better than the norm?
  • Would someone be able to do a task better and more efficiently by using your method?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, you should consider writing a prescriptive nonfiction book to share your knowledge with others.

Define your terms

Being an expert in your niche area, you probably are fluent in the language of the field. Remember, though, that your reader is probably a novice. Can you think of a time when you were surrounded by people speaking a language you didn’t know? If so, you probably felt left out. That’s not an enjoyable experience.

To prevent that in your book, make sure to define all the industry terms you use. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people will be impressed with your liberal sprinkling of hard-to-understand technical words throughout the manuscript. The goal is to teach; the goal is to be understood. Keep it simple, so that everyone can understand.

Start with an outline

Start with an outline. Get the key principles out of your head and onto paper. I like to bullet-point the important topics, only jotting down a few notes at this stage. This outline will later form the table of contents of your prescriptive nonfiction book.

Next, take each important point and expand on it. Don’t write out the entire chapter now, but rather, express your thoughts in a few paragraphs of prose. Create further bullet points which will serve as your subheadings.

Add personal stories 

While your readers have picked up your prescriptive nonfiction book to learn more about a subject, they still want to be entertained. No one enjoys dry text.

Your readers will want to hear your stories and anecdotes that complement the lessons. When you’re outlining, add a few lines to jog your memory about these stories. 

Include practical exercises

Very few people can absorb information without trying it out. Add in a few practical exercises for your readers. It’s a good idea to get people out of the mode of just reading and put them into action. Make the assignments simple and easy to follow. The goal should be that they can accomplish a task and feel they can do it again and again. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your reader.

Starting your first draft

When you have your detailed outline worked out, start on one chapter. This can be any chapter; you don’t need to start at the beginning of your book. I suggest starting with your favorite section, one you know very well. You’ll gain confidence that way.

Continue to write each chapter, in any order that you like. You might find it helpful to start at the beginning, now that you’ve gotten your feet wet.

Don’t edit as you write. Just let the words flow onto the pages.

As you progress through your first draft, you’ll most likely think of other things to include in other parts of your book. Simply add them into the detailed outline; don’t stop midway to write that new segment. Finish the chapter that you’re on.

Final steps

When you complete your first draft, review it all and make sure it flows. Take out any repetitions.

If you are self-publishing, your prescriptive nonfiction book can really be any length. Having said that, be sure to cover your topic thoroughly. When you’re done, I highly recommend that you hire an editor to polish your manuscript and fix any typos.

Please understand that every writer needs an editor. We all make errors, which are hard for us to see because we’re too close to the piece.

Share your knowledge in your niche area of expertise with others. You’ll feel great when people write in to thank you! And if you need some help writing your book, please email me. I’d love to help you write your prescriptive nonfiction book.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Seven Tips For Writing A Great Memoir

Why Should I Hire a Ghostwriter?

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Working With A Ghostwriter – What Steps Should You Take?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Four Common Memoir Mistakes

Memoirs are a very popular genre in literature. We all love to step into the shoes of another person and learn about their world for a few hours. Memoirs allow us to delve deeply into the lives of people who have overcome incredible odds to be successful in some facet of life, fought an illness or acted as a caregiver, or lived through an extraordinary event. Through this medium, readers can learn so much about others and themselves. However, first-time authors can sometimes fall into pitfalls and make some basic memoir mistakes. Don’t worry, they are easy to sidestep.

Error 1: Focusing on the trivial rather than the big picture

When you write your memoir, you aren’t producing a laundry list of everything that happened to you. Don’t write about your meals or share other mundane details of your life. These would be high on the list of memoir mistakes. Toss most of the trivia and focus on the big picture, which would be the themes or main messages of your book.

Before you begin writing your memoir, ask yourself, “What can the reader gain from reading about my life experiences?” You might need to dig deep and really mine for the gold that’s there. The lessons you learned will form the backbone of your book and help you develop your themes.

Some popular memoir themes you may have seen:
  • Hard work pays off
  • Self-pity gets you nowhere
  • A positive outlook helps you attain your goals
  • Change can be a good thing
  • Life is too short not to forgive

Once you’ve determined what your book’s themes are, you choose the incidents that illustrate these ideas for your readers. Of course, you wouldn’t want to come out and say, “Hey reader, you should realize that being a parent is one of the most important jobs you’ll ever have!” Instead, show them how you’ve raised your children. Chronicle the journey you took and describe the sacrifices you made. Share the blunders and the successes. They’ll get the message!

Error 2: Covering your entire life rather than focusing on a specific time period

A typical memoir mistake for new authors is to try to start with birth and move forward chronologically. Remember, you’re not writing a school essay or an autobiography. You’re writing a memoir, which should be an intimate excursion into the author’s relationships, memories, and raw emotions. A memoir is usually just a slice of life, not the whole pie. For that reason, it often focuses on a certain period, one that would fascinate readers and teach them about something new.

Now, it’s worth noting that a memoir is usually not written in diary form. Journaling can be a wonderful and beautiful expression of one’s deepest thoughts, but it usually doesn’t translate directly into a book. For one thing, the target reader of a diary is, well, you; a memoir is written for others to read. However, as a professional ghostwriter, I can tell you that diaries are an excellent source for details when I write a memoir for a client.

Error 3: Not considering the feelings of the real people mentioned in your book

I always advise authors not to use a memoir as an excuse to get back at someone. Writing a book for revenge is very sharp-edged, and can do permanent damage. Plus, you open yourself up to lawsuits.

Obviously, you can’t avoid discussing the lives of the people around you when you write a memoir. However, you can make minor changes that go a long way to conceal the true identities of the characters in your book. For instance, you can change the name of the grouchy neighbor or maybe make the schoolteacher a brunette instead of a blond.

The safest approach is to ask all your friends and relatives who are featured in your book to sign a release. You can find examples of a legal release online. If anyone refuses to sign, it might be best to leave them out of your memoir.

Error 4: Writing for every reader rather than settling on a demographic

A common memoir mistake is to write for “everyone.” You need to determine who your reader is before you even outline your book. You need to pinpoint a demographic and write to them. The more specific you can get, the better.

Some examples of specific target audiences for a book:
  • Teenage boys who are addicted to video games
  • Medical professionals who are open to holistic cures
  • Parents who have lost a child to cancer
  • Fans of Star Trek

Memoirs are an important part of the literary world. They offer a peek into the soul of another individual. Avoid the common memoir mistakes and you might just make a difference in someone’s life. Enjoy the journey!

Ask a Ghostwriter: How Do I Start Writing a Book?

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I have an amazing story to tell, but don’t know how to start writing a book now. I have so many things all jumbled up in my head and I don’t know how to get it out on paper. Help! -Art M.

Dear Art M.,

When I received your question, I did a little search on the internet: “How do you start writing a book?” I was curious to see what other writers had to say. Up popped a dozen articles that made the process seem ridiculously easy. In my opinion, these articles pain a false picture; writing a book is far from easy and you’re not the only one to have difficulties in this area! So, I don’t want to answer your question with a cookie-cutter twelve-step to-do list; instead, I would like to give you some broad-stroke advice.

Make a list

A movie is made up of hundreds of scenes. These flow together to tell the story. With a book, these scenes can be better described as incidents. Basically, think of these incidents as the things that will happen to your characters (or if you’re writing a memoir, they are the experiences that have happened to you).

Some people like to make flashcards. They write the individual incidents out onto three-by-five-inch cards and put them into the order they think will work best. I prefer to open a word doc and write out the incidents there. I don’t number them, but just get them out of my head in the simplest way possible. For example, it might look like this:

Incident: Bob discusses breaking up with Mary in a coffee shop.

Incident: Terry says good-bye to her parents before entering her new college dorm for the first time.

It just needs to have enough information to jog your memory when you create a more complete outline later on. Don’t worry about putting the incidents in any order. You’re just trying to get the information out of your head and onto the paper (or computer document). It simply is a list of what happens.

Note: Some incidents might be super short. That’s fine!

Give each incident a time stamp

Photo by Mohammed Fkriy on Unsplash

You should end up with dozens of incidents (perhaps even hundreds). Next, go through and give each incident a time stamp, which tells you when it took place. Some timestamps might be simply a month and year. For example:

Incident: Sam starts high school: September 1979.

Incident: George gets a job at Mercury, Inc.: May 1983

Sometimes, the time of the incident will be relevant. In that case, be as specific as you can. If you know the exact date, mark that down. For instance:

Incident: Bernice gives birth to her daughter: June 17, 1988, 4:30am.

Incident: Lonny graduates high school: May 25, 1999, early afternoon.

Again, these are notes for you. Don’t get bogged down. If you don’t the exact date, just put in the year.

Put the incidents in order

Now that you have the time stamps, you can put the incidents in chronological order. It’s possible that some incidents will serve as a flashback. If you know that will be the case, you can group them after the appropriate incident. For example:

Incident: Joe waits for Sally at their favorite park bench: September 2002.

Incident: Flashback: Joe and Sally share their first kiss on the bench: August 1994.

Flesh out your incidents

Now that you have all your incidents in order, it’s time to drill down and examine each one. I find it helpful to use a kind of journalistic approach with each incident.

Here are some questions you can answer:

  • Who is in the incident? (Name all the characters, even minor players.)
  • Where does it take place? (Be as specific as you can.)
  • When does it happen?
  • Describe what occurs (very briefly)
  • What is the purpose of this incident? (Why should it be included?)

You might have other points to mention, but it is important to keep it very brief. Don’t indulge in lengthy descriptions. It’s not time to start writing your book quite yet. For one thing, some of these incidents might not make the cut!

Note: The most important element on this list is the last one—the purpose. You must have a strong purpose for including this incident in your book. If you can’t come up with one, cut the incident immediately.

If you feel inspired to write a scene from this list, go for it. You might need to rewrite it later, but that’s OK. I understand the need to get the ideas/images out of your head! Sometimes I just write a few notes under the incident description. This helps me free up my attention and move on to the next incident on the list.

The next step

After you finish creating your master list of incidents, you want to make sure they flow one into the next. Once you have them all in sequential order and you’ve weeded out ones that don’t fit or have a real purpose, take a step back and review it. Read the list over a few times to make sure it works for you. This is one way to create an outline. If you want to change the format, it will be easy to do so, because you now have all the information you’ll need.

You may just find that the book is pretty much written! Yes, it’s still in your head and you’ll need to write the 50,000 (or so) words, but now you know where you’re going.

The incident list is a great tool to help you sort out the ideas that are jumbled in your head. And it will act as mile markers for you on your journey, helping you make sure that you’ve included all the important occurrences and events. It’s much easier to start writing a book if you have a well-laid plan. Enjoy the process!

As you begin your new adventure, you might find yourself hitting a few distractions. If you’d like some tips on how to avoid these, read my article on the subject. And, of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me!

Progressing as a Writer

Guest blog by Dan Sherman

Few things can match the satisfaction a writer feels at capturing, in words, their mind’s vision. Even the description of an actual place or event gives a kind of permanent record through which the author’s style and insight shines through.

For these reasons, and perhaps as many others as there are writers, a great many of us find pleasure in writing. Some will simply record daily events to keep the juices flowing, but most who partake in this endeavor have gripping stories to tell. The stories may be short or long and of any genre, fiction or non-fiction. All the same, each tale is told in the unique voice of the author.

Unfortunately, many writers never pursue their craft. Some might make an initial stab, but wind up shelving it, unsure how to proceed. How many writers have the intention to “get back to it at some point? Sadly, they can put this wonderful endeavor off until retirement, or forever.

So, how does one walk down the road as a writer? If you follow the path I give, you will both develop your craft and have a body of finished work to show for it.

Determine your medium

For some writers, determining their medium is a simple matter. They always think in terms of a grand plot that will take at least a couple hundred pages to give its due; or the reverse, of shorter and separate plots, each its own work. A specific genre, such as action or mystery, may even be preferred.

The purpose here is not to limit you. If you look over the careers of your favorite authors, very few novelists do not have at least one collection of short stories, and the best short story writers have tried their hand at full-length work. And who is to say that a novel would not also make a good theatrical play or a good screenplay, or vice versa?

No, the purpose here is to get started. Examine your ideas. Choose the vehicle that best places them on the written page. Be sure you are familiar with the medium you select – an old-fashioned trip to the library brings one to the best teachers, whether of novels, short stories, screenplays, etc.

Outline a project

Depending on your project’s length, and depending on your own style, your outline will vary in length and maybe format. At the very least, it is important that you delineate what will happen in each chapter or section of a book. This will remind you what to include as you write, as well as guide you on your path of the plot.

With short stories, treat each as you would a full-length novel, even if you wish to complete a good many. Give each one its own heading in your outline, along with any notes you think necessary.

There is no need to follow a formal structure, as the outline is a communication from you, to you. You just need to draw your road map, so that you can write your book without interruption.

Complete your writing project

This advice may seem comical in its apparent simplicity. Now, we’ve hit the pen to the paper phase. This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. There’s no way around it, you need to convert your idea into words; it’s the great make-break moment for any writer. Have no fear though. You have your outline, your vision for the course your story will take.

If you find you never have the time to complete your book or you struggle to make productive use of the time you allot, please refer my wife’s article, Writing Tips: How to Avoid Distractions. She gives a lot of good advice on how to keep on a steady path.

The bottom line is that you’ll need to sort out your own ways of handling challenges you encounter. Under what circumstances do you produce the most? When you find yourself getting stuck, what frees your mind up and gets you rolling again? Those will be your go-to strategies.

Continue with the project you have outlined until you are finished. If you must change elements of the plot as you proceed, or even find you must go back to alter some earlier portion, do so. Just limit these impulses as much as possible. Remember, the goal is to have a completed product.

Where to go next

Once you complete your first draft, you will feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Many experience a huge feeling of being unburdened. Save editing for a later time; give yourself time to enjoy the moment: you’ve completed your first book! The process you just went through of developing a plot, creating and resolving a conflict, and describing your ideas in words, has improved you as a writer. No dissertation on the subject can substitute. After a week or two, take the time to review the manuscript for edits and begin that whole process.

When you have completed your book, I’m sure you’ll have a few new projects ready to consider. Every step, from the initial spark of inspiration to the final written word, will become more grooved in with experience. You are well on the path to creating a good body of personal work.

Dan Sherman has been a ghostwriter for two decades. He specializes in fiction and memoirs. He welcomes emails from all his readers.

Help! Help! I Need Help Writing a Book!

help writing a bookMany aspiring writers need help writing a book.  For first-time authors the task of writing two hundred pages can seem mammoth. It’s always much harder than it appeared when they first started the project.

Actually, this can be true for well-educated and talented writers, as well as novices.

Writing experience is key

The process of writing a book is not really taught in school. If you talk to seasoned writers, you’ll find they uniformly say they learned their craft from experience. It comes from reading and writing and reading and writing and…(you get the picture.)

So, if you want to write your first book, what do you do?

One option is to hire a writing coach, who will charge by the hour to assist you in organizing your thoughts and ideas and getting through the mental blocks that are stopping you from making forward progress. This is a great solution for writers who are doing well overall, but just need an occasional helping hand.

Hire a friendly ghostwriter

If you are having great difficulties and it seems like you may not be up to the task of writing your book at all, consider hiring a professional writer, a friendly ghostwriter like me, to help you.  If you’re an excellent storyteller, who lacks the writing expertise to get your story into book form, your ghostwriter will get the job done.

On the other hand, if you are one of those talented writers who just needs a little help, the ghostwriter’s minor rewrites and editing skills will be invaluable in making your dream a reality.

A professional ghostwriter will help troubleshoot your book and work out the kinks.  For instance, he or she can assist you with character development and story line. You can do the majority of the writing yourself or leave most of it to your writer, depending on what your goals are for your book.

It isn’t cheating

Some feel that it’s cheating to hire someone to write a book for them. After all their name will be on the cover right? How can that be ethical to take credit, if someone else wrote the book for them? Although I understand the concern, let me assure you, it’s done all the time. It’s an accepted practice. After all, it’s your idea and really should be your book.

Having an experienced professional to help guide you through the book writing process will help you grow as a writer. It will give you an experience boost that will carry through to your second and third book. Your next literary adventure won’t be fraught with the perils of inexperience. You will have traveled these waters already.

Please feel free to reach out to me anytime. I’m here to help!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Seven Tips For Writing A Great Memoir

Hiring a ghostwriter

Should I Write and Publish My Memoirs

Four Different Ghostwriting Methods

 

Should I Fictionalize My Memoir?

cartoon my life“I’ve been told by many friends that I should write a book!”

Does this sound familiar?

Most of the ghostwriting requests I get are from people who want to share their life story. It’s definitely a good indication if many people are pushing you in that direction.

At some stage in the process a person consider writing a book will decide it’s time to pick up the phone and ask for advice from a professional.

Fictionalizing your life story

Once a person has decided to write their memoir, one of the first questions they face is, “Can I fictionalize a memoir?”

That’s a good question! And as you might guess, the answer really depends on you and your project.

I will say that it’s always more appealing to readers to learn that a story is completely true (unaltered). Readers love stepping into the author’s shoes for that brief moment of their life. However, there are reasons why you might not be able to stick to the complete truth.

When you should fictionalize a memoir?

Are you in the middle of this internal debate? If so, here are a few reasons why you might choose to fictionalize your memoir:

  1. Bluntly, your story just isn’t interesting enough. I tend to be rather straightforward, so I apologize if I’ve offended you. It’s just that there are stories that are fascinating and others which might make a good short story, or as a fellow ghostwriter and good friend of mine would say, “That sounds like a newspaper article!” If you need to add some content and pizzazz, consider turning your book into a novel that’s just based on your life story.
  2. You’d really like to add in a space ship or two. There are times when you might like to alter history a bit. Most fictionalized memoirs don’t enter the realm of science fiction, but there might be a few tales you wish to add to your story, which never really happened.
  3. Your family would never speak to you again if you aired your dirty laundry. It’s easy to disguise most people’s identities in your book by simply using an alias. It is common to change names, or even just use Dr. Q. instead of Dr. Quincy, to protect the identity of a character. However, your brother is your brother and there is no way to get around that. Your family is more than likely to know whom you’re talking about if you discuss your brother, as they know him just as well as you do.
  4. You’re a stickler for details and it’s all just overwhelming. Most people fudge the facts a bit in a memoir, not worrying if Grand Central Station was truly crowded on Christmas Eve back in 1965. It’s hard to remember such a minor detail and the small handful of people that do probably won’t make a ruckus if you get it wrong. Still, if some of these facts are important to you and you don’t want to worry about getting them all correct, why not turn your memoir into a novel?

Of course, in the end the decision to fictionalize your memoir is up to you. If you have a fascinating story, one that works as is, keep it nonfiction. When you can keep the real timeline in tact and still have a fascinating story, it’s the best course of action.

Still unsure? Feel free to give me a email me if you need a sounding board!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Seven Tips For Writing A Great Memoir

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Working With A Ghostwriter – What Steps Should You Take?

Ask a Ghostwriter: How Can You Research a Memoir?

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, Hi Laura, I am 48. I need someone to write my life story. I read your article about hiring a ghostwriter and didn’t understand when you said that I would need to prepare work and research. What sort of research would I need to do? After all, it’s my real life story? How do I research a memoir? Thanks, Vi

Dear Vi, What a great question! Let me explain what I meant. Whenever I ghostwrite a memoir, I always do a lot of research on a number of subjects in order to get the background information needed to tell the story with authenticity. To properly answer your question, I think it would be good to explore what sort of research your writer might need to write your book. And while it is helpful for an author to provide research information to their writer, the ghost will also need to do extensive research on top of that. Ideally the author and ghostwriter will work together as a team to uncover needed information on a variety of subjects.

Time periods

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Memoirs take place in the past, often in a period long gone. For that reason, I like to research the culture of that epoch to ensure I describe it accurately. For instance, cell phones wouldn’t have been used in the 1980’s, so your characters would need to find payphones or use landlines to call one another. By the same token, the internet would have been in its infancy, so there would be no “surfing the web” day and night. Of course, you’ll also need to reflect the correct clothing styles of the era. When I write a book, I find myself looking up the details surrounding the scene so that I depict them realistically.

In addition, it can be helpful to refer to the current events of the time. For instance, if I’m writing a memoir taking place mid-September 1959, most households would probably be talking about the moon landing. Or if your book centers around a key moment at the end of 1989, you might mention the Berlin Wall falling, as that would have been a hot topic. Discussing those major milestones would be a good way to help the reader orient himself to the time periods in your story.

Locations

Photo by Patrick Reichboth on Unsplash

Establishing the location is always important in any scene because it takes out the guesswork for the reader. That’s why I sometimes need to research places my characters will go. For instance, I had a client who described running down a major street near Miami. I wanted to get a feel for what the area would have looked like, so I used Google Earth and zoomed in to view the actual street. I learned it was an eight-lane highway and found there were lots of residential neighborhoods nearby. It helped me fill in the description.

Sometimes I will explore the homes I write about on the internet or through photos. Learning the layout helps me realistically put the kitchen next to the family room and the bedrooms upstairs (or not). Discovering the architectural style allows me to properly paint the picture with words. Sometimes I’ll do a search online to sneak a peek at the exterior of the home to get a feel for the front of the house. Of course, if the client has a photo of the place, that is very helpful.

When I can truly grasp the location, it helps me put myself in the space of the characters, which helps me write the story in an authentic way. I could make up details (and sometimes do), but it is wonderful when I can draw on researched facts.

Diaries, scrapbooks, and newspaper articles

When I research a memoir, some details comes in the form of firsthand recorded information. As a ghostwriter, the pages of personal diaries are like nuggets of gold. The words recorded years before provide information in a very organic way.

Likewise, newspaper clippings can help fill in missing pieces of important events, allowing me to understand more fully what happened. For instance, a wedding announcement would give the exact time and day of the event. This information allows me to look up the actual weather on that day. I’ll tell you, a wedding in the middle of a June thunderstorm is quite different from one that takes place in a heat wave.

One client had very little information about his ancestors, but wanted a story written about what could have happened. Through some online websites, I was able to determine the exact boat on which his grandfather arrived in New York in the mid 1800’s. My client had known the rough time period, so it was a joy to be able to discover the precise day, as well as the name of the ship. Then it was easy to research the boat to learn its size, crew compliment, and passenger list, all of which I could use to write faithful descriptions of the event.

So, Vi, research is an important part of any memoir. If you and I worked together, we’d be a team, tackling this vital area. So, consider collecting journal entries, newspaper clippings, photographs, and perhaps short biographies of the main players that will be featured in your book.

I’d love to hear from other writers on the subject. How did you research a memoir?

Questions for a Ghostwriter about How to Write a Book

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I’ve never hired a ghostwriter, and I have no idea how I go about any of this, but I really would like to write a book on my life. Please could you give me some advice on how I even start the process, and also, I’m not very good with writing so I’m not sure I’d be able to write it myself. – Tony

Dear Tony, Your question is very common and makes sense. I can understand why the ghostwriting process might seem to be a bit of a mystery. I’ll tell you, whenever I take on a new client, the process is unique, because the author and written content are unique. However, I can share with you a few aspects that seem to occur with every book project I’ve worked on for the last two decades.

Basically, there are three phases: research and outlining, first draft, and editing. I go over these in more detail in my article called “What to Expect When Hiring a Ghostwriter,” if you’d like to read up on them.

As a first step, your ghostwriter will need to collect all the information required to write your book. In the case of a fictional novel, that could simply be understanding your core idea (which might not be time consuming). However, with a memoir, your writer will need to know everything about your life that is relevant to the book. This takes time and can be done in different ways. One is for the writer to interview you in person or on the phone. However, I find it is far more effective for the client to send me a lot of written notes (in rough form). After I study these carefully, I can follow up with emails and phone calls if I need more information or any clarification.

Please understand, when you hire a ghostwriter, you don’t need to write the book; you just need to provide notes. All your notes will be rewritten, so don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Now, some people prefer to work with the ghostwriter and write their book alongside them. That works, too! Again, each relationship is unique, but never feel you have to be a good writer to hire a ghost.

Photo by Aubrey Rose Odom on Unsplash

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I need help and inspiration in surpassing the first eight pages of my book. I am sooo stuck… It feels as if I’m writing the same thing over and over, so I delete and delete, while continuously whittling my pages away. Also, I am constantly unsure of my grammar and punctuation. Any help is appreciated! –  Ennayt

Dear Ennayt, Stuck in the mud? You know, I hear this a lot! You’re not alone; not by a long shot. The fact is, a lot of new writers make the mistake of cutting out words, then pages, as they produce their first draft. It’s important to let yourself go and just write. I implore you not to waste any time (and words) editing in the beginning. Allow yourself the freedom to create! Trust me, once you get to the end of your first draft, you’ll be better equipped to sculpt your draft into a book.

I’d also recommend that you not worry about grammar in this phase. Just let the words pour out of your mind onto the page. If you’re interested in learning more about the English language, I’d recommend reading a simple grammar book or checking out an online source like Grammar Girl. Start by learning one rule, then applying it. Then select another and so forth. Take it step by step. You may just find the learning process fun!

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I would like to write an autobiography/screen play. This is something I have thought about for many years, but I’m extremely nervous how to approach this because of safety issues. I am not sure where to start. I would appreciate a consultation if possible. – Gen

Dear Gen, You bring up an excellent point. Honestly, I do think you have a right to be concerned. Once you put your story out there, you can’t take it back. I believe there are many instances when it just isn’t wise for someone to write their memoir. And it isn’t always safe.

Another point to consider is how a book will affect the people in your life. When writing a memoir, your characters are real people. They might not like what you have to say about them and if it isn’t handled correctly, the whole situation can blow up.

I always advise my clients to hide the people in the book as much as possible. For instance, it’s fine to change their names and physical appearances. The story will still be true even if the details are changed to protect the people involved.

Thank you all for your questions! Please feel free to write more in the comment section below or write me privately and I’ll do my best to answer!

Do You Need Help Writing a Book?

Many people have a great story idea, but need help writing a book. It takes discipline and experience to write a book that others will want to read (and can’t put down). If you’re not a professional writer, that doesn’t mean you have to abandon the idea you have of sharing your story with the world. You have options:

Improve your writing skills

You’ve decided to write the book yourself. That’s wonderful! Now it is time to gain experience. Write and write and write, and then write some more. It will probably take you a few hundred thousand words to find your own voice.

What should you write?

Anything and everything!

Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Describe objects in your home or people you know. Record family stories or funny incidents that happen to you. Write a love letter to your partner. Jot down that silly bedtime story you made up for your child. The more you write, the easier you will find it to get the ideas out of your head and down on paper.

It is a good idea to read books on how to write. These will teach you basic techniques that will allow you to bring your thoughts to life.

And definitely read the works of other authors. Notice how they tackle challenging scenes. How do they approach dialogue? How do they incorporate descriptions? When you find a passage you particularly like, dissect it and see how they were able to communicate their vision to you.

Now that you have improved your writing skills, tackle that story! For more information on how to get started writing your book, check out my Ask a Ghostwriter series.

Hire a writing coach

If you want to write your own book, but feel you don’t have the experience and skill set to do so, you can hire a writing coach. This person’s job will be to provide guidance as you navigate your project. With this option, you will still do all the writing; you’ll just have a guardian angel on your shoulder.

Find a successful writer to coach you. If she has never written a book, she is unlikely to know the process and will not be able to guide you in the right direction.

It’s a good idea to lay out your writing goals early on. Share them with your coach and ask her to keep you accountable for them.

Of course, it goes without saying that you’ll need to pay them for their time. I charge $145 per hour to coach.

Hire a Ghostwriter

If you’d rather hire someone else to completely write your book then simply make comments or edits on their work, find a good ghostwriter to help you. Of course, this is the most expensive choice, but it’s also the least time consuming one. Having said that, you’ll need to put in time providing important research information in the beginning and definitely earmark time to review the work as it is written.

If you have limited time and a low budget, you might consider hiring a ghostwriter to write a novella. A novella is a shorter book, usually about 100 pages long, and will only run $25,000.

Once you have your finished book, plan to spend a little extra money on an editor to polish it up and do your proofreading. Personally, I include editing in my pricing (and always hire an outside professional to read my book with an expert eye), but not all ghostwriters do.

So, as you see, there are options for you to get help writing your book. If you need help sorting through these choices, please don’t hesitate to email me for a consultation!

Improve Your Writing: Feedback Versus Criticism

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

As a writer, you do need proper feedback to improve your writing. However, you don’t need criticism. There’s a difference.

Advice is so vital for writers. We want to know that we’re communicating our thoughts clearly and efficiently. Personally, I have worked with a number of editors over the years and really enjoy their excellent feedback. When done correctly, it helps me grow and expand my abilities.

Yes, I’m still learning. I will always be doing so.

However, some people seem hell-bent on stamping the life out of an author. Unfortunately, artists of many ilk are criticized mercilessly. Sometimes it feels like it is open season on filmmakers, fine painters, etc. It’s tough to endure.

I’ve been quite fortunate to continually be surrounded by positive people, who share their opinion in a supportive way. I always want to know if something I write isn’t up to par, but I prefer not to be crushed in the process.

Feedback should include the good

When I am asked to give a critique on someone’s writing, I always include the good points first. What did I like about the piece? What really worked? There’s always something positive to say. It helps to reinforce their strengths.

I’ve noticed that some people only zero in on the errors, the mistakes, and the missteps. It leaves the author with the impression that their work is no good and it can cause them to quit.

If you receive such an evaluation, try asking, “Was there anything you liked about it?” Some people hold back on the compliments. Maybe that’s because their work was sliced to ribbons when they were starting out and they think that’s appropriate. Maybe it’s for another reason. However, it’s good to help these people break that cycle by getting them to notice and discuss the plusses of your piece to improve your writing.

Recognizing a nasty critic

It’s helpful to be able to spot critical people. They are the ones who love to tear a piece to shreds, leaving very little intact. Their purpose isn’t to improve the writer’s ability to write, but rather to take joy in setting a fledgling author back a few paces.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Again, these poor souls were probably criticized heavily when they were first starting out. When an artist is stretching their creative wings for the first time, they are in a very vulnerable stage. If their attempts were smashed early on, they may have just given up completely. The harsh critics of today are most likely the failed artists of yesterday. Bitter and filled with unfulfilled goals, they lash out at others.

So, how do you recognize a critic? Pay attention to how you feel after reading their comments. If you feel worthless and want to quit writing, ignore their “advice.” Trust me, they don’t have your best interest at heart.

Mentors vs Critics

So, how do you know if you’re going to be torn apart by razor-sharp teeth or if you might just get a kernel of inspiration that will nudge you forward toward great writing? It’s simply knowing the difference between a mentor and a critic.

Look for the purpose behind the advice. You can often tell if someone is trying to help or hurt by the words they use. Mentors will always point out errors in a way that makes sense and encourages at the same. They recognize every artist starts somewhere. Critics, on the other hand, have no such concern and can be rather harsh in their language.

For instance, nasty critics love to say, “Don’t quit your day job!” Boy, do I hate that invalidating phrase. What benefit does that little nugget offer? We all know we need to put food on the table, but everyone should expand their horizons and reach for the stars! Why not? Besides, if you don’t like your day job, it’s a good idea to work toward changing it, right? I mean, you should do what you enjoy doing in life!

You can also recognize good mentors, because they will read over your work and give you subtle guidance to improve your writing. They won’t overload you with dozens of problems to fix. Rather, they will focus on one common issue, guiding you toward solutions that you can discover on your own.

Take the bad feedback with the good

While encouragement is crucial to a writer’s development, it doesn’t help him or her to only get a lot of pats on the back. If you show your work exclusively to family and friends, they might not want to tell you how they really feel. They care about you and don’t want to hurt your feelings.

When I get feedback along the lines of “It’s good!” it might make me feel good, but I’m looking for more. I’ll ask a few questions like:

Why is it good?

What did you like best?

Was there anything you didn’t care for?

Did you understand everything?

These questions pour out of me.

Of course, it feels great to get rave reviews and hearty pats on the back, but in the end you need to also hear the bad with the good or it isn’t terribly helpful.

Keep in mind that the biggest way you can improve your writing is to write. Yes, that’s basic advice, I know. Any writer’s first words are an experiment in communication. Trial and error, along with research (reading good books) is the best way I know to learn the craft. Surround yourself with supportive people who will encourage you in that direction. If you find that someone’s advice makes you want to stop, just realize that they are probably a critic and find a new advisor!