How to Write a Book from Scratch

Well, this should be fairly simple. Grab a piece of paper, a pencil, and a big eraser. Shut off all distractions – turn off the TV, the cell phone, and shut the windows if you live on a noisy street. Put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door, unless you have small children. If you have small children, the fastest, guaranteed way to be disturbed is to post a “Do not disturb” sign on the door, or to take an important phone call. So don’t do that. Alternatively, you may work well in a quiet, natural setting – say, next to a babbling brook. Or a busy diner where the coffee cup is bottomless. Plunk yourself down in a comfortable desk chair, dingy table for one, park bench, beach blanket, or tree stump, and apply the pointy end of the pencil to the paper. Move your hands to form the words that begin to tumble from your brain. It is quite all right to write like you speak; if you stutter, that’s what editing is for. Start at the beginning and keep going until you get to the end. Use the eraser as needed. Don’t be shy – the eraser is what keeps us from looking like blathering fools.

Anyone can write a book.

Not everyone can write a good book, a great book, or a bestselling book. Frankly, those labels are like the ones we apply to each other; it isn’t always in our control, what other people think of us.

Recipe for Writing a Book

Ingredients (Tools)

  • A solid grasp of the language in which you’ll be writing, because editors will never see a very poorly written manuscript and readers will not work as hard as they’d have to to read a poorly written book.
  • A compelling story or useful content that readers are hungry for.
  • Paper, pencil, and eraser – or a PC and word processing software (preferably Microsoft Word or something capable of producing .doc format files, because this is an industry standard format).
  • If you use MS Word, a grasp of how to create and use a template.
  • A plan for getting the book published: print it or convert it to PDF and give it away to your friends; self-publish it as a printed book or ebook; submit it to a traditional publisher for publication.

Instructions

Research. Daydream. Research some more. Take good notes. Daydream some more. Do not spend your life stuck on this step – at some point, the book does have to be written.

Outline or mind-map the structure, timeline, and pacing of the book.

Write the first draft. It is normal for this first draft to suck like a black hole. Just keep slogging away; writers never quit. If you really, truly have a book inside you, demanding to be written, nothing is going to stop you.

Celebrate having written. Contrary to some popular literary fantasies and urban legends, booze doesn’t boost creativity. This is the only point in the process where it’s appropriate, in my opinion – but who wants to argue with Hemingway and Poe?

Revise the first draft until you get it right. This can take weeks or years – up to you. If you think you can shortcut this step, consider using a pen name. Sure, if a publisher buys the rights to your book, they’ll edit some more. Possibly, they will edit out things you’re very attached to and change other parts so they’re not recognizable without dental records, but they won’t consider buying your book if it’s just sloppy and poorly written. Unless you’re already a celebrity – like Sarah Palin.

If submitting your manuscript to a publisher, carefully read and follow their submission guidelines to the letter. They are written to weed out amateurs and people too stubborn to do what’s asked of them. Ours is not to argue or balk or insist on doing things our way – if the publisher says “Use Courier 12pt” we use Courier 12pt. If this causes you 10 minutes of mentally railing against illogical, arbitrary rules and requirements, then self-publish.

If self publishing, learn about book design, cover art, marketing, sales… or hire a small team of professional editors, graphic artists, book designers – at which point, maybe you should also publish books written by others!

Is your book going to be an eBook, paperback, or hard cover book? What are its dimensions? A good place to learn the minimum requirements for producing your own book is CreateSpace. But before you turn that self-published book live and offer it for sale, ask yourself: Does the cover art look compelling enough to entice a reader to pick it up off the shelf for a closer look? Is the content well edited – have all the rough edges from the first draft been sanded away and polished off?

Make sure that you understand applicable copyright law – and the various rights that can be lost, assigned, or sold to others (separately or together). More importantly, be sure that nothing in your book infringes on the rights of others, or constitutes libel.

Promote your book. Sell it. This is an important step, regardless of how it’s published. Most writers just want to get on with the next book, and the idea of self-promotion is terrifying, probably because so many of us are introverts.

There are many books available on all aspects of writing. I’m going to close on that note, since this little “how to” is arguably about as useful this Wikihow article on how to run a small hotel or guesthouse.

You can see that it is both simple – or, as Tom Clancy once told me, “Just write the damned book” – and complex, if you want to write a good book and understand the process of getting it published. There are enough books to fill several library shelves on “how to write a book,” but in the end, it comes down to the (not so) simple act of writing it.

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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16 thoughts on “How to Write a Book from Scratch”

  1. Yes, I **MUST** do this! I’ve been trying to get a story written now for a few years, about an event that took place 30 years ago (as of March this year). Just have to DO it!

    1. Make that commitment to yourself, then, K., and do it. I won’t wish you luck, because luck plays no part in this – maybe a little in the publishing part, but you have to do the work and get the words out of your head before that’s even an issue. So I will just wish you well and I hope to hear soon that you’ve done it!
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Writing, Blogging, Splitting HairsMy Profile

  2. Wow, Holly..thank you. This is great. I have been wanting to see a meaningful recapitulation of a ‘how to write a book’ in an article which contains basically everything from an outset of a simple dream to its realization, written in a very concise manner (most of what I have been reading were accommodated in always more than 264 pages 🙂 )

    So this is it. Yours is what I exactly need. I am printing it now and I will tape it on my room door when I get home. I like the same with short but informative/enjoyable books, of which their wonderful brevity I esteem. This made me remember what Ford Maddox Ford said: “Brevity counts for a lot. Be bold: superfluity, whether of individual words or paragraphs, scenes or even chapters, will not help you achieve greatness. Better a slim book which leaves the reader wanting more than a fat one which is hard to get through.”

    Thanks again.
    Ron R. Lacson recently posted…Be A Freethinker this 2015… and in years to come.My Profile

    1. Ironically, the fat books sell better. Perceived value. There’s little market for short stories and poetry, although either is a better fit for the modern person’s attention span. And although I’m rarely credited with brevity or conciseness, I am a much better short story writer than I am a novelist. In publishing, there are some very firm divisions in terms of word and page count. Writing 50,000 words (the bare minimum for the work to be considered a novel) is a stretch for me. My own attention wanders; I am compelled to yank all loose ends together and tie them off – or leave that to the reader. I must have been much more influenced by the story, “The Lady or the Tiger?” than I’d imagined I ever would be, when it was assigned reading in high school.

      I am glad this is helpful to you, Ron. I like thinking of it printed and taped to your door!
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…1000 Words + a PhotoMy Profile

  3. Yes, anyone can do anything but not everyone can do the good thing, great thing or the best thing.

    I completely agree on the recipe though I need to read few books now. Lets see when I start reading the Harry Potter Series to have a better understanding of books.

    Thanks for the post, I got the first draft. Please also include the links to your books in this post. Would be helpful for many 😉

    Regards
    Neeraj Rawat recently posted…Beware Of Incoming Scam Calls from Fraudulent Tech Support CompaniesMy Profile

    1. Thank you, Neeraj – at your suggestion, I’ve added my Amazon Author page link to my bio blurb at the end of each post. You’re a good coach. 😉

      Writing does improve through diligent practice. Write every day (or as my daughter’s violin teachers liked to say, “Practice only on the days you eat.”)

  4. I never contemplate writing a book in one sitting. Instead, I afford myself an hour here an hour there (and, almost as often 14 minutes here and 11 minutes there) to get it done.
    Given my background that suits me better- but I can see how this really would work for a slew of my clients.

    BTW- if you didn’t click on Holly’s link to the use of Styles, you are missing some great background to make your lives easier.
    Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A. recently posted…We are what we eat?My Profile

    1. Oh, be still, my heart! You clicked the links. You really, really clicked the links. Bless you!

      Oh, writing a book in one sitting is a little too much Iron Man for me. I can manage one in a month, if I am very, very committed and determined. But it takes more than that to finish it, edit it, spiff it up for publication – it’s a marathon, for me, not a sprint. Honestly, A New Leaf for Lyle, which is only 42 pages, took us three years to finish. (Okay, so the illustrator and I both have day jobs and we did not set a firm deadline at the outset, and it worked out perfectly in many ways to get it done when we did.)

      It’s still a tiny little fear – the idea of writing a solid novel, selling it, and ending up with a contract to write a second book, then staring at a blank page for months… But that really only happens in the movies, right?
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…How to Write a Book from ScratchMy Profile

    1. Isn’t it a good book? I liked the fact that Brown’s Starting from Scratch didn’t tell the reader how to write – there are already so many courses and books out there, a determined writer will have put in that work already. I felt like she was giving practical advice for being a healthy, productive, well-rounded writer and human being.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…How to Write a Book from ScratchMy Profile

  5. You did NOT just throw in templates; ugh. Mitchell Allen reviewed my most recent book & he mentioned templates and I had no idea what he was talking about. Course, now that you’ve laid it out I’m probably going to have to print it into a pdf so I can peruse it in a calmer space to understand it better (because I read the first paragraph and it confused me enough to spit up my water… okay, no it didn’t…).
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…Courage; Can You Be Courageous?My Profile

  6. I switched to Scrivener a couple of years back; Word was driving me nuts.

    Then I had to go through Word briefly to create the pdfs required for POD on Createspace – and remembered why I hated Word, and why I needed it.

    And happened to look to see what Word had in its templates files for creating books: and found not a single book template. Proves they don’t mean you to use it that way.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…I can prove I talk too muchMy Profile

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