Help! Help! I Need Help Writing a Book!
Do you need help writing a book?
So many people have a strong goal to write at least one book within their lifetime. Most have lived an interesting life and wish to share their story with the world; they have something to say, which might just help others. On occasion CEOs or experts in a field wish to share their knowledge with others. This is also an admirable goal. I’ve also noticed that some aspiring writers have a fictional story that has been on their mind (or on rare occasions, haunting their dreams) for decades.
When someone who has such a burning desire to publish a story reaches out to me for help writing a book, I’m moved!
If you can’t shake the desire to complete your book, and it’s all that you can think about, it’s time to take action. If you wait a week, it will turn into a month, which will turn into a year. The majority of people who contact me tell me that they have been sitting on their book project for five to ten years. It’s at that point that they realize they need to tackle it or the book never will be written.
I’m here to encourage you. Now is the time to complete your book project!
Steps required to write a book
There are various phases every author must go through to write and complete a book. The primary phases are:
- Writing the first draft
Yes, I’m simplifying things a bit. I know I am. However, truthfully, I can tell you that these are the four main steps involved in writing any book. If you are looking for help writing a book, just understanding these steps can make a difference.
Each stage tends to flow into the next. When I complete most of my research, I instinctively want to organize all the information into an outline (I recommend doing so chronologically). As I’m outlining, there often comes a point where I’m just dying to start writing. When that urge hits me, I pen a few pages for my client as a sample. This is the start of the first draft and helps to begin to establish the style and voice of the book.
The research phase
Research is crucial for any book project. Even if you are writing a memoir, you still need to do extensive research. After all, you need to provide accurate details as to time, location, appearance and historic events.
While the bulk of the research is done at the beginning of a project, I find that I continue to research as I write. Questions do come up and I need to look up the answers. This is especially true when I am writing about any period in the past. What was a popular rock song of the era? What kind of clothes were people wearing? These authentic particulars help set the tone of the story. Remember, readers will spot inaccuracies.
There are many resources for research: your relatives, the library, and, of course, internet search engines. There are so many data bases accessible by the public. For instance, when a client provides the street address of a home he lived in or a place where a significant event took place, I can easily look it up and see what it looks like from the street. Sometimes I can even find photos that give me a sneak peek inside.
The outlining phase
If you get a chance to review my blog, you’ll see that I’ve written extensively about how to write an outline. That’s because I feel it is a vital first step for writing any book. Honestly, I can’t take a writing step forward without a good detailed flight plan for my book, because I feel it’s the best way to avoid mid-air collisions. And by that I mean, wasting time on a story line that just doesn’t fit into the book.
Having said that, I know some of you might be groaning at the very thought of sketching the story out before writing. Maybe you work best on a free flow basis. That’s totally okay. We’re all different. Do what’s right for you.
The first draft phase
Once you have the outline completed, you may find that the book is pretty well written—in your mind. Now you need to get words on paper.
The biggest problem that I’ve seen new writers get into is that they try to edit as they crank out the first draft. I urge you not to do that. Please allow yourself to just get the rough draft out first. Expect that it won’t be great. That’s OK! Fine tuning your manuscript happens during the editing phase.
Set up a regular time to write each day and stick to that schedule. If you hold yourself accountable for a certain word count, you will make regular progress on your story.
If you find yourself continually discouraged when you sit down to write or you avoid writing in general, revisit your outline. There might be a flaw there. Perhaps one of the incidents not quite working for you. That can happen if it doesn’t really have a strong purpose in your book. Also, take a look at the people in your book. Does every character have a reason for being? Once you have these issues sorted out, you’ll know it because you’ll be excited to write again.
When helping a client craft his memoir, I often need to counsel him to not include certain people. While it’s fine to mention Daisy the barista in your personal journal, she might not warrant a mention in your life story. Stick to the characters that matter and move the story forward.
The editing phase
When you complete your first draft (Bravo, by the way), it’s time to edit. I’d recommend putting your manuscript down for a few days or a week before starting this phase. Give yourself a breather from the project. Fill that time slot by reading books in the same genre. For example, if you’re writing your life story, pick up 700 Sundays or a memoir you enjoy. Reading another author might give you ideas to help you sculpt your own book.
The next step is to read over your manuscript from beginning to end and see if there are any issues with continuity. Sometimes you start out with one idea and end up with another. When that happens, you need to go back and make adjustments. For example, I’ve worked with clients who will share with me a pet name for a relative halfway through the story. So, only the second half of the book will have that character’s nickname. Fortunately, it’s an easy matter to insert the new name.
You will also pick up on issues with flow as you read it through. Some scenes will flow right into the next, while other transitions will be choppy. This is the time to fix that.
Now, you’ll also spot typos. Sure, fix them, but this isn’t the right time to focus on grammar or punctuation. Instead, make sure the story sings. By the time you finish this phase, you may find that you’ve altered and rearranged the words quite a bit, so fixing typos doesn’t make sense.
Dialogue is another element to focus on. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend reading your book out loud, especially the conversations. You’ll immediately know if they ring true or fall flat. If you find you have trouble in this area, take a break and go out and listen to how people speak. Watch a few movies you enjoy and really listen to the words. It’s interesting how informal and “improper” the dialogue can be!
Once you’ve worked out the major kinks, you can review your manuscript for errors in grammar and punctuation. I’d recommend hiring one or two editors to look at your story with fresh eyes. It’s always good to have a detached person review your work. If you’d like to learn more about the different kinds of editors, check out my article Different Kinds of Editors.
When you need a little help writing a book
People reach out to me when they can’t write a book on their own. It isn’t easy to write a 200- to 300-page book. For first-time authors (as well as well-educated and talented authors) the task can seem mammoth. People sometimes start, then get caught in the middle of one of the above stages and falter. They find that writing a book is much harder than it appeared when they first started the project. If this happens to you, don’t despair. There are options, steps you can take to complete your book.
Hire a writing coach
The process of writing a book is not really taught in high school or college. If you talk to seasoned writers, you’ll find they uniformly say they learned their craft from experience. I believe that authors learn how to write a book by reading and writing and reading and writing and…(you get the picture). When you’ve written a few hundred thousand words, that’s when you will find your voice.
So, if you want to write and publish your first book this year, what do you do?
One option is to hire a writing coach. She will charge by the hour to assist you to organize your thoughts and ideas and break 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, consider hiring a professional writer, a friendly ghostwriter like me, to help you. I will get the job done for you.
On the other hand, if you are one of those talented writers who just needs a little assistance, hire someone to edit and make minor rewrites. A professional ghostwriter can act as a manuscript doctor, helping to troubleshoot your book and debug any issues. For instance, he or she can assist you with character development and story line, while keeping your voice intact.
It isn’t cheating to hire a ghostwriter
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 it 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. Hiring a ghostwriter is an accepted practice and you have the right to put your name as the author. 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 since 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: