“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

How to Write a Book

This post is by our long-time contributor, Katie Axelson, who’s currently in Bolivia and leaving for Peru, travelling the world on The World Race. You can follow her adventure on her blog, Living a Story Worth Telling, and keep in touch through Facebook and Twitter (@katieaxelson).

The more you talk to people about being a writer, the more you’ll hear people share they too have a dream of writing a book. However, few of them actually get their idea onto paper.

how to write a book

Creative Commons License Photo by gualtiero (Creative Commons)

It’s not enough to want to write a book. It’s not even enough to tell people you’re going to write a book. You’ve still got to actually write the book. Here are some steps to make it happen.

1. Commit

Decide you’re going to write your book and do it. It sounds too simple but it’s where a lot of people get lost.

Don’t start the project just to start the project. Start the project to finish it.

2. Build a Game Plan

Writing a book is overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start.

Do you start with an outline? A character? A scene? A conflict? The beginning? The middle? The end?

Secret: It doesn’t matter much.

Decide which way you’re going to do it and stick to that plan. You’ve got to start somewhere so get going.

3. Look Back, not Forward, and Keep Moving

After working diligently, at some point exhaustion’s going to hit. Call it writer’s block, call it character mutiny, call it whatever you want to call it but reality’s always the same: you’ve got an unfinished project.

Instead of looking forward at how far you’ve got to go, take a moment to look back and see how far you’ve come. You’ve crafted a storyline out of nothing. It’s only a matter of time before you find yourself in the window display at Barnes and Noble.

4. Celebrate

Congratulations, you’ve made it! You’ve got a complete manuscript! Don’t look at the fact that you still need an editor, publisher, and marketing strategy. Take the day off and celebrate that you’ve completed the first step. I suggest ice cream, a nice dinner, and/or a drink.

What is your best strategy to actually finishing a writing project?

PRACTICE

Write about a writer trying to finish a project. Is he or she in the midst of a creative breakthrough or struggling with writer’s block and self-doubt? Pay special attention to their surroundings. How do they influence the writer’s work?

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to give feedback to your fellow writers.

About Katie Axelson

Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.

  • The thud thud thud from upstairs seemed to vibrate though the air and directly into his brain like his hair was a lighting rod for irritating noises. Every few words he hit backspace and corrected the letters his mind and his fingers seemed to be stumbling over. One more chapter. That was it. This manuscript would be complete. And yet the words were damming up behind a wall and couldn’t make it into his conscious thought, let alone all the way to his fingers to be put on the page.

    It had to be right. After all this time, whatever he put down had to be just right or everything else fell apart. And yet the world was colluding against him. There was a loud clatter from above and the squealing laughter of excited children.

    More back-spacing. More rewriting of words that still weren’t perfect. He had the strong urge to delete the whole, stinking lot.

    Instead he got up and stalked around the room. Suddenly the chaotic mess seemed like the cause of every problem in the world and he couldn’t stand it. He swept piles of old notes and scraps of ideas on bits of paper into the bin, clearing every surface, shoving things away in drawers and cupboards until the room was almost bare.

    Everything was shoved away. Even the upstairs neighbours had fallen quiet. Like the world was holding its breath, waiting for him to write. Waiting for him to finish.

    He sat down. And one by one the words came out.

    • That’s my fictional imagination of a writer trying to finish a manuscript. But it reflects my own struggle to get past the fear that the whole thing is terrible and I’m just wasting my time.

      My best strategy for actually finishing has been to accept that it might be awful and just write it anyway.

      I know some people don’t like the advice ‘give yourself permission to write crap’ because it seems like you don’t care about crafting something worthwhile. But to me it’s been liberating – I wouldn’t write anything for the longest time because of the fear of it not turning out well. Instead of just writing and seeing what happened, I’d edit myself before I’d even started, and decide it wasn’t worth it.

      Once I decided to just write, even if it was terrible, I’ve been writing a lot. And some of it is terrible. But some of it is not. And I never would have reached the point where the good stuff starts outweighing the bad if I never got past that fear to just start.

    • I like how you show the ‘clutter’ in the writers life. Kids, noise, neighbours, chaotic office space. And then how clearing some of that clutter created a space, some stillness waiting for him to write. It’s a great analogy of the creative process.

      Good job. 🙂

    • George McNeese

      I can relate to the character in this story. I have a hard time typing anything, whether it’s a draft or a final piece. The editor in me is always finding something wrong with a word, a sentence, a paragraph. I get nothing accomplished. I need to learn to silence the editor and critic within me and allow myself to write. Writing in a notebook allows me the freedom to do so. Afterwards, I’ll turn to the computer. And even then, it takes an enormous amount of will power to tell myself to put it out there.

  • “Darling it’s for you. Shall I say you’re busy or would you like to take it?” Stacey’s voice shrilled up the narrow staircase and hovered at the door.

    “I’m busy, for goodness sake. I already told you. Don’t disturb me.” Mick threw a stub of pencil at the cluttered pin up board. “Now you’ve interrupted me. Again! I’ll never get this bloody thing finished.”

    ” I’m sorry, he’s really terribly busy.” Stacey’s chirpy voice faded back down to the front room.

    Two ringnecked parrots pecked at nuts on the low slung branch of Marri barely scraping the window.

    “Oh will you shut up.” Mick tossed a crumpled piece of paper at the window and sunk his head into the cups of his hand.

    He laughed. He could feel it, that snarling bit of story line simmering in his stomach, prodding at his nerves, teasing to be freed. It was too intense, he didn’t have the energy or the focus required to set it free.

    The castors on his chair crackled across the plastic protector mat as he swung away from the desk and stood up to look out of the window. Autumn had arrived so quickly. The sun had slipped a notch and the shadows of the loose translucent bark peeling from the paper-bark trunks twisted and rippled into slender fingers.

    He wanted to be outside, to feel the coolness of autumn on his skin, to smell the delicate aroma of the peppy trees and the slight dampness of the ground beneath his toes. He lit another cigarette and opened the window slightly to blow the smoke out. The ringnecks in the old marri stopped their assault on the hard brown nuts and turned to look at him, blinking their coal black eyes and twitching their small black heads in unison. The smooth yellow ring that collared their necks pulled into brilliant green. And then he had it.

    It was the birds. It was the birds that had made the mess at the crime site. It was the birds that had torn apart the garbage and strewn moulding contents across the driveway.

    Mike flew back to his desk, typing fast and furious with one hand and smoking with the other, his heart pounded on his rib cage. With his wings now freed from the confines of his spine, he flew across the page and down the slide of white LCD. He couldn’t stop; not now. He placed the sucked mustard butt carefully upright next to his paper clip cup, rubbed his hands together and surged in. He could see the end. He could smell the final line and taste the snarling, teasing tale purge its way up into the world, flicking its triumphant tale.

    He was done. The ring necks pecked the window cocked their chests and unfurled their collected wings.

    “Thank you.” Mike said, but they had already flown.

    “Stacey. Staaaacey. Staaaaacey. Are you there?” His voice echoed down the empty stairs and into silence. “Stacey?”

    Mike walked down the creaking stairwell and paused at the front door. Two glistening emerald feathers slowly fluttered in the wind of his descent and came to rest at his feet.

    ” I finished the story.”

    • I love the way you described the way the answer came to him–the pacing was well done, the way it all slowed a little as he watched the birds, and then it came to him and he rushed to get it out. You did that well. And it describes the way creative answers often come, too, when we are thinking about something else!

  • Chlooee

    I slammed my hands down in frustration. The river of words quite trickling down from my pencil. I growled at the paper that that forbid me from writing my voice. A low rumble of thunder came from the sky.

    I threw my work all over the room letting out an animalistic scream. I paced the room like an beast. I muttered like a metal patient.

    I locked the door and closed the drapes shutting out the sun like my brain shut out ideas. I sat down to the search of finding a light out of the end of the tunnel.

    • Eliese

      Nice descriptions Chloee. I like the combination of beast and animalistic.

  • TheCody

    Chris wanted to write something uplifting, something happy. But every time his fingers touched the keyboard, bitterness came out. He rationalized it by saying, because he was such a positive person in real life, his brain had to let out the dark somehow. The page was like his sewer line, draining away the blackness so the rest of him would feel clean.

    But he was tired of it. Every character, no matter the intent, came out negative and cynical. He even tried to write unrealistic scenes of pure joy, but they always came out tainted. He tried telling himself he was just reflecting real life; nothing was sunshine and rainbows.

    But that wasn’t right, either. He’d read countless pages by other writers, with characters riding the perfect high. He’d lived moments that felt so perfect, he could tangibly feel happiness, like its residue had been wiped across life.

    Finally, he stood up, stretched his back, and went outside. Instead of hopping in the car, he walked to a nearby park, this time with a mission. He was going to find only the perfect in everything. It was time to put on the rose-colored glasses and see if he could smuggle them back to his desk.

    He stared with the air. It was extremely hot and dry. Already his shirt was starting to stick to his back. Closing his eyes, and still able to see the brightness through his eyelids, he noted the winter had been long. On a random trip to Wisconsin, they’d closed school simply because it was too cold. It was brutal, and, remembering this, his mind seemed to lower the temperature outside. Now his body tingled and the heat became imperceptible, like sticking a freezing finger in water, unable to decipher its real temperature.

    He heard a hummingbird nearby. He turned and watched it hovering on nothing for awhile. It looked like a magnet reversed on another – the earth – and forced away. He smiled, imagining pushing the bird down to see if the ground would refuse it.

    Then he caught a smell – marijuana smoke, wafting in from nowhere. Chris perked up, confused and excited. The pungent aroma went against his clean, middle class neighborhood. It was entirely foreign, making it the most interesting thing around.

    He started off walking several steps in each direction, to see if the smell would intensify. It didn’t, and he quickly learned tracing a smell outdoors was impossible; how many breezes were there? He’d always assumed just one but now he wasn’t sure. It was an interesting thought.

    Spinning in a circle, he located the nearby coves and corners a person could hide. The purpose was invigorating and he couldn’t help but smile as he headed to an alleyway three houses.

    When he reached the corner house, he crouched down and peeked around. Two teenagers were leaning against a fence. Sure enough, they were passing a joint back and forth. The smoke wafted up just a few feet and seemed to disappear, making him marvel at how smell traveled.

    “What the fuck you looking at, old man?”

    Chris felt his breath catch and he couldn’t let it out. One of the kids picked up a rock and threw it at him. It landed near his left foot and bounced away. He froze, like an animal too stupid to run from danger.

    Normally, fear would have finally kicked him into action, pushing him away, telling him they’d said and thrown nothing. Normally, he would have race-walked home at a very deliberate pace. Moving too fast would be giving in to fear he shouldn’t have experienced – they were just kids for God’s sake. But he couldn’t move too slowly, in case they came after him.

    This time, his mind began to swim in a different direction.

    Having no idea what he was doing, Chris smiled at the teens. He smiled at them! He didn’t know why; his mind had shrouded all purpose and he was apparently along for the ride. Then, somehow walking forward, he said, “Can I get a hit?”

    • Eliese

      I was captured into your story. The world felt alive and real. The descriptions were beautiful and slightly tinted just as the character felt. Interesting ending as well. He might finally get to see the world from a ‘happy’ point of view. Nice job.

    • Sandra

      Awesome ending!

  • Brianna Worlds

    When she first realized that the story she wrote was nothing more than a retelling of her own twisted past, she cried. Not hard, not loudly. She closed her eyes, curled up in the corner of her confinement room and cried, silent, salty tears collecting along her jawline, her chin, the tip of her nose. Could she ever escape it? Could she ever forget the miserable story of her life? Just when she thought she’d found a haven, a safety zone away from the pain, blood, and tears of her past, it turned out to be nothing more than a re-fabrication of it all.
    Images stuttered and flashed behind her eyelids: the look on Helen’s face when she realized that their sister was innocent, moments after she’d killed her; the anguished cry of James, the crack in his voice as he called desperately after her as the cops marched her away for saving them all; and most of all, the slow, measured voice of the president as he wearily explained to her his situation.
    Her volunteering to be the scapegoat, despite her having done nothing at all.
    Slowly, they shifted, changed, until she was seeing her characters. She saw them, and slowly, they separated, became different, and, just as slowly, she stopped crying. She saw a fantom of Aimee, dead for her, leaning over her and brushing her face, just lightly, with the back of her hand, whispering that it was okay. Everything was going to be okay.
    Sniffling, but determined, she got to her hands and knees, and crawled to the typewriter where it sat in the centre of the room, alone and waiting.
    She had a story to finish.
    ~~~
    I cannot even explain how horrible this is. Sorry XD

    • Eliese

      The story did have a bit to much information giving all at once in the middle, but I liked the idea. I also enjoyed the first paragraph a lot. The last paragraph could benefit from less use of the same word like “”slowly”, but I really enjoyed your ending. 🙂

      • Brianna Worlds

        Thanks XD It’s a huge overload for sure, I don’t even know what half of it means yet… Curse tumorous premises, taking over my brain like that.

    • Sandra

      I enjoyed the first paragraph a lot. So much pain there. But I did not feel ready for the information of what happened by the second paragraph. I think the telling of what actually happened was unnecessary and the story would be stronger without it. I really liked also the third paragraph where she becomes very tender with her character as though it were her sister.

      • Brianna Worlds

        Thank you! 🙂 Yeah, I realize it’s a bit of an information dump, it’s a bad habit of mine, and I’m not even good at it XD Sorry about that

  • Eliese

    A middle aged man with molasses colored hair and smooth chubby cheeks flicks opens his laptop and logs into Facebook. Pictures of his friends and family living out their smiling faced lives appear before him. Statuses tell what mundane things his people are up to. He reads the news feed and laughs at comical pictures and videos. After a good amount of wasted time he decides to check the real news.

    The world is full of tragedy. Mother Nature is fighting her daily battle against humanity while people murder and abuse each other for no good reason. The stories sour his mood so he turns on his favorite farming game. He is in the middle of feeding his recently milked cows when Ellen’s whining voice calls to him from downstairs.

    “Richard lunch is ready.” She screeches. Rich’s thick eyebrows raise in surprise at how fast the time has gone by. He stretches his hairy arms, groans, and then creaks down the old staircase to the country style kitchen.

    He finds his wife of twenty years setting plates on the cheap white table. They both sit down together to enjoy a meal of toasted BLT’s.

    “How’s is the book coming?” Ellen asks.

    “Wonderful.” He lies with a mouthful of bacon.

    • Sandra

      I love this. It is very descriptive, and I can see everything very clearly, because alas it is so relateable. I love the ending where he says everything is wonderful. Very funny.

      • Eliese

        Thank you so much. Glad you liked it 😀

    • I feel like this is very believable. Facebook is such a distraction and as writers we’ve ALL been there! I love the simple humor of the line “‘Wonderful.’ He lies with a mouthful of bacon.”

      • Eliese

        It so true. I do it too lol. Thanks 😀

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  • Sandra

    She presses on the power button, her computer hums, awakening, and lights up like new thoughts entering the mind. After a minute of its booting up she signs into Pinterest, and scrolls through pictures with a smile that outlines her cheeks and dimples, as she gingerly harvests pictures and places them into folders on her desktop under the header folder of ‘story.’ The pictures represent parts of her story that she has worked out or will work out soon. When she looks back at the pictures she ponders what Brett and Adria will do at this point and what new problem will they face.

    She starts up notepad on the computer, feeling ready to work. But as it opens she pauses like a wary animal unsure of whether danger is lurking at a nearby corner.

    She starts out painstakingly slow as though her fingers were cramped with arthritis, but soon things start to warm up and she write more freely. Half an hour later, her words now cover the page that was bare, filling it with new meaning and feeling that didn’t exist before. With a satisfied breath she stops, reading the newly created words. Feeling pleased, she presses enter with pride and hits the tab key to start the next paragraph.

    Her fingers hover over the keys, but then she drops them and jumps up and runs to the garage, opens the fridge and grabs a Dr. Pepper.

    She jumps back into her chair, popping open the lid with a clink and taking a large gulp of cool, spicy liquid, while signing back to Pinterest. She scrolls for a while but soon closes it up, saving no new pictures.

    She picks up a book from her desk, and pries it open with her fingers. Her eyes scrawl over the page for her place and then reads two plus chapters. She stops to reread a line, her mouth shapes the words on the page slowly and with precision, as she takes in the beauty of the sounds the words create in her mind.

    The book’s prose still crisp, she rereads her page. The sides of her mouth turn downward as she reads it again, examining the words carefully as a detective.

    She shakes her head with sadness and drags the cursor over the page and backspaces, wiping the page clean as a new snow, or an alzheimers patient’s stare in the final stages, as though it had always been empty. Leaving only the sterile white glow staring back at her.

    She slumps down looking at the emptiness of what had been. And then she suddenly sits back up, willing herself to bring it back, only better this time. She could fix it, she told herself. She could bring the story still bottled in her head to life, like it deserved to be. Her fingers stiffen again over the keys.

    Her body tense with excited energy, she starts to write again, but then relaxes back into a slump, laughs a sardonic sound that sounds like a ‘Hmph’, and grabs the emptied soda can in her hands, crushing it. She twists, turning her back from the moniter and gets out of the room, making her way through the house, getting as far as she can from her computer.

    Many days pass, the story continues to sit idly inside her, the characters still talking, and new adventures still happening. It still is yet to be determined if she will ever be brave enough to bring them to life.

  • I love this post! I just finished my first book and I finally felt that relief. A lot of work left to do but so worth it!

  • Young_Cougar

    This post = Me. I’m in the middle of a project and…you know the rest. Have a look at what I came up with.

    This is hopeless. Sighing, I lower my head onto the desk. I’m never going to finish this. I look up and glare at my monitor screen. Hopelessness is pathetic; and exactly what I’m feeling right now. Maybe I should just forget about it. I mean it’s not exactly editor material. Besides there’s so many good books out there, what’s to say that this’ll ever get noticed? Nothing , really.

    I should just start focusing on something that’s worth it. I’m just wasting my time; what do I even get out of this? Exactly. Getting up, I shove my computer chair in. Let’s go do something worthwhile. And what would that be?

    Maybe I should take up knitting? Or painting? I have always meant to go back to scrapbookin. I wonder if Yoland is the kind of character who would scrapbook? Well, in her time it would more like letter. Maybe I can adjust that into the story….

    ………….

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