How to write a book: Twelve essential rules for getting your book written
As you can imagine, I am often asked about books and the question most asked is how to write a book. Well, if only it were that simple. Or rather you can make it simpler to write a book if you follow certain rules.
To be honest, I hesitated using the word rules as I hate rules, but I love knowing the rules so I can decide if they are worth breaking. Don’t ask it’s a child, rebel without a clue thing. As a child, I hated being told what to do. However, I did discover that some rules work. When you come to write your book, these rules will make sense to you and I hope you decide that they too are worth following.
Rule #1 – Plan your book
That’s it. All the best books start with a plan. Once you have your plan then you can flow. The point is you are letting your unconscious know that you have the plan and it will now know that you are on a mission.
I know that when I don’t plan my book, that things do not go to plan. I once decided to do NaNoWriMo and when I got to 20,000 words I realised that I needed a plan and an outline (next rule).
Rule #2 – Outline your book
Outlines are that magical thing that map out the journey of the book and they are the start of chunking it down to make it easier.
This is one of my favourite rules and processes. When I work with my clients we do this in a number of steps which use all of the senses and all of your brain. This excites me.
Rule #3 – Create a chapter framework
Having a framework chunks your book down even further. It can be highly structured or a bit more flowing, but once again it is designed to make it easier to write and easier for your reader to read.
This is what keeps me on track. I have a problem with overwriting and going off-piste. So I keep my framework in front of me and when I do look up, I can check if I am where I am meant to be.
Rule #4 – Stay in your jim-jams until you have written 1000 words
The night before set up your teas-made (do they still exist?), make a flask or inform your slave/dogs (who will ignore you) that upon waking you want tea. Have your fully charged computer by the side of your bed. Wake up, yawn, demand tea, grab the computer and write.
This is called your writing hour, always best done first thing in the morning. Guess where and when I am writing this blog?
Rule #5 – Eat cake chocolate or have some other reward
I’m gluten-free, so this means I have to make the cake before I can eat cake. However, on lazy days I do have Lidl’s gluten-free chocolate muffins to fall back on. Reward yourself when you reach personal milestones.
I love rewards and celebrations and I know that they work. It doesn’t have to be cake, it could be new shoes… Therein lies another tale.
Rule #6 – Walk my dogs…
With three dogs I get plenty of time out. This is called reflection time. To be a good writer you need to take time out. I get loads of aha’s and find that things make more sense when I am out in Mother Nature.
I’m not sure I could live my life without fresh air. Before I had dogs, I would come home from work and walk with a friend. We were able to put the world to rights and get clarity on so many things. Try it. It works.
Rule #7 – Know that you have the right to do this
Many people freak out throughout the book journey and feel that they do not have the right to be writing and publishing a book. Yes you do. You came on this journey, you’ve lived this life, learned these lessons, gained your knowledge, skills and experiences – you more than have the right.
I am saddened when a great book is coming along and the writer falls to pieces. One of the things that I am very clear about is that books unlock our deepest feelings and when that happens you must seek support. Also remember, if your words have the power to move you, what will they do to your reader. Please allow the ‘stuff’ to come up and just keep writing.
Rule #8 – Just write the damn thing
You have the outline and chapter framework now just write. No going back over it. This is called dumping your load – get that stuff out. Let it flow. Forget being rigid, let it go. When you faff it’s a bit like being constipated, you can push and push and all you get is rabbit droppings.
When you are a control freak and want to edit everything to perfection, this can be soooo hard. I have learned that constant editing does not make a good first draft. Please believe me, just getting it out is a magical thing.
Rule #9 – Burn your manuscript
When you have had enough and writing is hard. Print that chapter. Jump on it, rip it into shreds and throw it on the fire. Ah, that feels so good, doesn’t it? This is called first drafts are usually rubbish – get over it. Remember the magic comes in the editing.
This reminds me of a time when I was making a jumpsuit (it was a long time ago). I was cursing that I couldn’t get the pattern pieces to fit properly. My mum who is a brilliant seamstress suggested calmly that I wait for her. Nooooo I screamed as I hacked my every expensive fabric to pieces. Today I have learned several things – don’t sew, how to have much more patience and that writing and burning paper is a better way to get frustrations out.
Rule #10 – Ask your dog to design your book cover
Imagine a beautiful muddy paw print, a few licks and maybe a chewed corner. Add your title and name, and ta-dah, you have a bestselling book cover. Or not! Never design your book cover, unless you are a graphic designer. Homemade covers are.. well… homemade. Write a good specification and be very clear about what is on trend and will sell.
There is something to be said for making a sample cover to motivate you. I love creating a cover and popping over an old book so that my book can motivate me. I once worked with someone who ignored my advice and asked their partner to design the cover – it was hideous. One’s naked body pixelated with fancy fonts may tickle your fancy, but as this person found out, will not get a good reception.
Rule #11 – Ask your Uncle Fred to edit your book
Family members are so helpful, aren’t they? And you can take criticism from your loved ones can’t you? I thought so – not. There is nothing worse than including a family member or well-meaning friend or your dog to proof and edit your book. Always use a professional proofreader and editor.
Once I accidentally made a book live as I wanted to order more than five proof copies for a workshop on writing and editing. In the time from the workshop and the proof coming back from the proofreader, someone purchased the book. Horror of horrors they left a horrid review. I called them and thanked them.
Rule #12 – Start marketing your book before you start to write a book
This comes back to planning your book, it doesn’t take much to start drip feeding your book and what it is about to your readers. Take a note of what others do, pop the ideas in a folder and consider if their ideas might work for you. Create a plan of where you could guest blog and as you write, write a guest blog at the same time.
That’s it twelve simple rules to keep you on track with writing your book. What might you add? If I were to add one more it would be to consider working with a coach to keep you motivated and on track.
PS: That’s me.
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