You want to write a book. Maybe you have a great story idea. Maybe you have a big idea you want to share with the world. Maybe people have told you, “Your life should be made into a book!” But first, you have to learn how to write a book.
The problem for the first-time author is figuring out how to get started. What are the writing habits you need to finish the actual writing for an entire book? And what comes next: traditional publishing? Self-publishing? Becoming a New York Times bestselling book?
Because after coaching thousands of writers to write and finish their books, and also writing fifteen books of my own, I know exactly how much hard work it takes to finish a book.
It's not enough to want to write, you need to know how to write a book.
You need to have the right process. The write process, you might say (sorry, I had to!).
In this guide, we're going to learn everything about how to write a nonfiction book, from how to defeat procrastination and find writing time, all the way to revising and the editing process—and even to the publishing process.
If you've ever wanted to write a book, whether a memoir, a big idea book, or a self help book, you're in the right place.
If, on the other hand, you're a fiction writer and have a main character who you know is going to take the world by storm, we have a complete guide on novel writing here. For you nonfiction writers, though, read on for all our best writing tips.
Quick Tip: The Best Tool to Write a Book
Before we get started, here's a quick tip for writing a book, Microsoft Word just doesn't cut it.
My favorite writing tool is Scrivener, a book writing software used by the most successful writers. Scrivener helps you stay organized, set word count goals, and keep better track of your writing sessions. Check out our full review of Scrivener here.
How to Fail Writing a Book
In 2011, I had one of the best years of my life. That year, I wrote my first book, became a full-time writer, got my first book published, became a bestselling author, and had 80,000 people read my writing.
But it didn't happen overnight. I had dreamed about and had been working toward those goals for eight years before that: eight years of failure, of trying to write books and not being able to finish them, eight years of wanting to be a writer but not knowing how to actually do it.
Since then, I've written fifteen books, including one book that recently hit the Wall Street Journal bestsellers list.
You might be thinking, “That's cool, Joe. But you're clearly a talented writer. Writing is hard work for me.”
To be honest, it doesn't come easy to me. In fact, if I told my high school English teachers I'm a writer, they would probably be shocked.
The difference is that I found the right process. It's a step-by-step process that works every time, and it will work for you too.
In this guide, I'm going to share the process that I've used to write fifteen books, become a professional writer, and hit the bestsellers list.
But it's not just me. I've also trained thousands of people in our 100 Day Book program to finish books using this process, too.
It works, and it will work for you, if you follow it.
That being said, if you're still not sure you can actually do this alone, or if you just want some extra help along the way, check out 100 Day Book. In this program, we've helped thousands of aspiring writers turned authors to accomplish their dream of writing a book, and we'd love to help you, too. Click to learn more about 100 Day Book here.
How to Write a Book: 12 Steps to Writing a Book
Here's the process I finally learned after that decade of trying to learn how to write a book and failing, the same twelve steps that have helped me write fifteen books.
1. Come Up With a Great Book Idea
If you're here, you probably have a book idea already. Maybe you have several ideas.
And if that's true, great! Pat yourself on the back. You've made it to step one.
Here's what to do next: forget any sense accomplishment you have.
Yes, I'm serious.
Here's what George R.R. Martin said:
“Ideas are useless. Execution is everything.”
Because the thing is, an idea alone, even a great idea, is just the small step to write your book.
There are a lot more steps, and all of them are more difficult than coming up with your initial idea. (I'm sorry if that's discouraging!)
You have an idea. Great! Next, it's time to learn how to execute the way successful authors do. Let's get started with step 2.
(Don't have an idea yet? Check out this article: How to Write When You Don't Have Ideas.)
2. Write Your Book Idea In the Form of a 1-Sentence Premise
The next step to taking your idea and turning it into a book is to summarize your idea into a single-sentence premise.
But wait, what's a premise?
A premise distills your entire book idea down to a single sentence. This sentence becomes the foundation of all your writing efforts and will be helpful even into publishing process.
Your premise is also the most important part of a book proposal, so a good premise can actually help you get published.
Here’s an example of a nonfiction premise from my book The Write Structure, which got half a dozen responses from agents.
The Write Structure utilizes The Write Practice’s (thewritepractice.com) award-winning methodology to show creative writers how to write their best novels, memoirs, short stories, or screenplays by following story structure principles used and taught by writers for hundreds of years.
Each nonfiction book premise should contain the following three elements:
- A problem. The problem the book aims to solve (in this case, how to write a good novel, memoir, short story, or screenplay)
- A person. Who is the person sharing the solution to that problem, e.g. you
- A solution. What is your unique process to solve that problem
By simplifying your book down to a single sentence, you create a strong, achievable foundation to your entire book. Not only will this simple step help you during the writing process, it will also help you throughout the publishing process, too, which we'll talk about more in a bit.
Ready to write your premise? To make it easier we have a free worksheet template that will guide you through writing a publishable premise: Download the worksheet here.
3. Choose Your Publishing Path
When you're writing nonfiction, you have to choose your publishing path earlier than creative writers because most nonfiction books are picked up by publishers before they're written.
In fact, it's a red flag in the eyes of traditional publishers and agents if you've finished your book before you pitch them. They want to see a book proposal first, and have a hand in the shaping of the book.
That means, if you're writing nonfiction, and you want to get traditionally published, before you go write your own book, you must write a book proposal.
However, if you're writing a memoir, you may need to finish writing the book before you seek publishing. Memoir exists in something of a gray area in the publishing world, with more self-help focused memoirs requiring a proposal, and more creative memoirs acting more like a novel, where the writer would finish them first.
Which publishing path is right for you? Here are the two main requirements for traditional publishing for nonfiction books:
- Platform. Do you have authority within this topic? Do you have a following, via social media, speaking, podcast, YouTube, an email list, or some other platform of at least 10,000 people?
- A tested idea with mass market appeal. Does your idea line up with your platform? Does it have mass market appeal?
If you can't answer “yes” to both of these questions, then you might consider self-publishing, working with a small press, or hybrid press after you complete your book. Or taking a break from your book to build your platform and target audience, perhaps by building an author website and starting a blog. (For more on this, check out this guide on how to build a platform via a blog.)
You might be wondering, at this point too, how do you write a book proposal?
Book proposals vary across writers and publishers, but here are some of the major components:
- 1-Sentence Premise (see above)
- 2-4 paragraph synopsis
- Outline (Table of Contents)
- Tone and Writing Style
- Platform Description and Marketing Info
- 2-3 Sample Chapters
For more on this, check out Jane Friedman's excellent guide on how to write a book proposal.
Now, once you've chosen your publishing path and you're ready to begin writing a whole book, how do you actually finish it? The next steps will all but guarantee you reach The End of your book.
4. Outline Your Book
Even you if you don't decide to traditionally publish, I still recommend working through most of the elements of a book proposal listed above, especially the book outline because it will make the writing process so much easier.
Your book's outline will vary widely depending on your genre, your writing style, your book's topic, and your method.
However, there are some tried and true structures that exist in nonfiction books. Here are some suggested structures you can use:
Introduction. Most nonfiction books include a short (2,000 to 3,000 words) introduction. They usually outline the main problem you will be focusing on in the book. They may also introduce you as the author and your authority, and outline the unique solution you will be guiding readers through in your book.
8-10 Chapters. Nonfiction book chapters dive deeper into the problem and give principles or steps to solve that problem. Chapters can have a variety of different structures, but here is my personal favorite, used frequently by Malcolm Gladwell:
- Opening story
- Analysis of the story
- Universal principle
- Closing story (may be the conclusion of the opening story)
Conclusion. Conclusions usually restate the problem and show how you solved that problem, often ending with a concluding story and a call to action to encourage the reader to go out and put the ideas you've shared to use.
Easy right? Not exactly, but creating this outline will make the rest of the writing process so much easier. Even if it changes, you'll have a resource to help you get unstuck when the writing gets hard.
If you want a template for your outline, as well as a step-by-step guide through the book writing process, get a copy of our Write Plan Planner. This is the exact process that I have used to write fifteen books, and that thousands of other authors in our community have used to finish their book all in a beautiful, daily planner. Check out the planner here.
5. Set a Deadline
This one might surprise you. Because most people think that once you've got your idea ready to go, you should just start writing and not worry about the period of time it takes.
Nope. Not even close.
The next step is to set a deadline for when you're going to finish the first rough draft of your book. But you might be wondering, how long does it take to write a book in the first place?
How long should you set your deadline for?
Some people use NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, to set their deadline for them, writing 50,000 words of book in the thirty days of November. That being said, it's very challenging for most people to finish a book in thirty days.
Stephen King, on the other hand, said the first draft of a book should take no more than a season, so three months. With all due respect to Stephen King, I think that's a little fast for most people.
We give people 100 days, which seems to be just long enough to write a first draft without getting distracted by everything else the world wants you to focus on (looking at you, social media).
So for you, give yourself a week or two to prepare, then set your deadline for about 100 days after that.
There you go! You now have a deadline to finish your book!
6. Break Your Deadline Into Weekly and Daily Word Counts
You can't pull an all-nighter and finish writing a book. Trust me, I've tried!
Instead, you have to break up your deadline into smaller, weekly, and daily deadlines so you can make measured progress over your writing period. This step breaks the work into manageable pieces.
This step also requires a bit of math. Here's how to do it so you can actually stay on track:
- Figure out your book's ideal target word count goal (check out our word count guide)
- Figure out how many weeks until your deadline (e.g. 100 days = 14.5 weeks)
- Divide your book's total word count by the number of weeks (e.g. 45,000 ÷ 14.5 = 3,103 words per week)
- Next, figure out how many days per week you're going to write (e.g. 5 days a week)
- Finally, divide your weekly word count goal by the number of days you'll write to get your daily word count goal (e.g. 3,103 ÷ 5. = 621 words per day)
If you can hit all of your weekly and daily deadlines, you know you’ll make your final deadline at the end.
P.S. You're much more likely to actually meet your deadlines if you take a stand and set a consequence, which I”ll talk about next.
7. Take a Stand
Deadlines are nice, but it can be too easy to follow Douglas Adams' advice:
I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.
There are two tricks that will help you actually meet your deadline, and it's essential to do these before you start writing or you'll never finish your book.
The first one is a little scary, but will make a huge difference.
Once you've set your deadline, go tell everyone you know. Post your deadline on social media, saying something like this:
Here. We'll even make it easy for you. Just click the share button below to tweet this and fill in the blank with your deadline:
Don't have social media? That's okay. Just email five friends. These friends will become your accountability partners to ensure you finish your book.
Important: I don't recommend talking about your book idea. Talking about the idea can actually remove some of the motivation to actually work on your book.
But I highly recommend talking about your book's deadline because humans naturally avoid letting each other down. When you make a public promise to do something, you're much more likely to do it!
So go ahead. Share your deadline. You can do this right now. Don't worry, we'll be here when you get back.
Then, move on to the next trick to keep your deadline.
8. Set a Consequence
You might think, “Setting a deadline is fine, but how do I actually hit my deadline?”
The answer is you need to create a consequence. A consequence is a bad thing that happens if you don't hit your deadline.
Maybe you write a check to a charity you hate, like the society for the euthanasia of puppies, you give it to a friend, and you say, “You have to send this check if I don't hit my deadline.”
Or maybe you say you're going to give up a guilty pleasure if you don't hit your deadline, like ice cream or wine or TV or your favorite phone game.
Set a really tough consequence for your final deadline, and then set a couple of less severe consequences for your weekly deadlines.
Whatever you choose, make it really hard to not hit your deadline.
Why? Because writing is hard! If you want to write a book, you need to make not writing harder than writing.
By creating a consequence, you make not writing harder than the actual writing, and this simple trick will make you much more likely to finish.
9. Set an Intention
This is the last step before you start writing, but secretly one of the most helpful.
Set an intention.
Studies have shown that when you have a goal, like working out more or writing a book, and you imagine where, when, and how much you're going to do something, you're much more likely to actually do it.
So do this with me:
- Close your eyes, and imagine your ideal writing space, the place you're going to spend your writing time. Maybe it's a coffee shop or your home office or a chair beside your favorite window.
- Next, imagine what time it is. Is it the morning? Afternoon? Late at night after everyone's gone to bed?
- Finally, picture yourself writing, and watch yourself reach your daily word count goal. Imagine how it feels to accomplish your goal. Great? A relief?
- Then, write all of that down, locking your intention in place. Now that you have a set writing schedule, follow it!
Notice that this is the tenth step.
Most people start here, but without the groundwork you've laid in the previous nine steps, you're setting yourself up for failure.
Don't skip the first nine steps!
Once you do begin writing, keep this in mind:
First drafts are universally bad.
Don't try to write perfect sentences. Don't go back and edit endlessly.
No, instead write as fast as you're able. Get to “the end” as quickly as you can. Use writing sprints.
Try to write as imperfectly as you can, not because you want to write a bad book, but because this is how writing always is: you write a bad first draft and then revise it into a better second draft—and finally, three or five drafts later, you've written a good book.
The difference between aspiring writers and published authors is that published authors know you can't do good writing until you write a bad draft first. Get through it as quickly as you can!
If you're not a natural writer, consider dictating your book into a recorder, and transcribing it afterward. There's no reason you have to physically type out your book. Transcribing it is a perfectly viable way to create a good first draft.
11. Revise, Rewrite, and Edit
After you finish your first draft comes the real hard part.
I know what you're thinking. The first ten steps weren't hard enough?
Yes, of course they were hard. But for some reason, second drafts can be just as hard, if not harder, than first drafts. I've had some of my biggest mental and emotional breakdowns in my life while working on the second draft of a book. There's just something about second drafts that are much more mentally challenging than first drafts.
Here, it's a good idea to get an editor who can give you feedback. (Need an editor recommendation? We have a team of editors we work with here at The Write Practice. Check out our process and get a quote here.)
Once you've finished your second draft, I also recommend getting beta readers, people who can read your book and give you feedback. For more on this, check out our guide on how to find beta readers and use their feedback effectively here.
Depending on your topic, you might also consider recruiting some sensitivity readers to read your book, too.
After you've done all of this, I have one last writing tip for you to ensure you actually finish writing your book—and it might be the most important of all.
12. Don't Stop
Most people want to write a book. I hear from people all the time that think they have a book in them, who believe that they have a story that needs to be shared.
I very rarely talk to people who have finished a book.
Writing a book is hard.
It's SO easy to quit. You get a new idea. Or you read your writing and think, “This is terrible.” Or you decide, “I'd rather be catching up on Netflix, not spending my nights writing.”
Because of this, you quit.
Here's the thing though: the only way to fail at writing a book is to quit.
If you don't quit, if you just keep writing, keep following this process we've outlined above, you will finish a book.
It might not be a good book (yet). But that's what editing is for.
It will be a first draft, and a finished draft at that. You can't write a second draft and start to make your book actually good, actually publishable, until you write the first draft.
So write. Don't stop. Don't quit. If you follow these steps and don't stop, you'll finish.
We'll be here supporting you along the way.
More Resources on How to Write a Book
Still feeling stuck? Have more questions about how to write a book? We've put together a library of book-writing resources. Take a look at the articles below.
Book Writing Tools and Programs
- 100 Day Book. Get a mentor, 100+ writing lessons, deadlines, and accountability and write your book in a program that works. Thousands of authors have finished their books in 100 Day Book, and we'd love to help you too. Click to sign up for 100 Day Book here.
- The Write Plan Planner. Containing everything we've learned about how to write a book over the last 10+ years, this step-by-step guide will walk you through our proven book writing process. Click to get your daily book writing planner.
- Best Book Writing Software. A variety of the best tools for writing, publishing, formatting, and marketing your book.
How to Write a Book Fast Articles
I shared above why I believe that first drafts should be written quickly, in just a few weeks. Still not sure? In the articles below, dozens of other writers share how they wrote fast first drafts, plus you'll get all the tips and strategies they learned along the way.
- How to Write a Book in 100 Days: 10 Steps
- How to Write a Book FAST
- How to Write a Book in 100 Days
- How to Write a Novel in 6 Months
- The First 10 Steps to Write Your Book in 2020
- How to Right a Book in Nine (Not So) Easy Steps
- How to Finish a Novel With a Swim Buddy
- How to Write a Book Using Microsoft Word
How to Write a Book by Genre
Every genre comes with specific expectations that must be fulfilled. Here's how to craft an amazing story in your genre.
- How to Write a Novel
- How to Write a Memoir
- How to Write a Mystery Novel
- How to Write a Suspense Novel
- How to Write a Thriller Novel
- How to Write a Young Adult Novel
- How to Write a Self-Help Book
- How to Write a Book That's Based on a True Story
- How to Write a Book Like Stephen King
- 20 Sci-Fi Creative Writing Prompts and Story Ideas
Okay, no, Stephen King isn't a genre. But he's well worth learning from!
How to Write a Book When Writing Is Hard
Let's face it: writing is hard. Every single writer struggles at some point in their book. The important thing is not to quit. In the following articles, writers share how they persevered through the hard parts, and how you can too.
- How to Write a Book While Working Full Time
- How to Write a Book When You Don't Have Ideas
- How to Write a Book When You’ve Got Writer’s Block
- I Never Thought I Would Write a Book. Here's How I Did It Anyway
- How to Write a Book: The Everest Method
- 10 Obstacles to Writing a Book and How to Conquer Them
How to Write a Book With a Specific Style
Your book comes with its own unique quirks and challenges, especially if the story you're telling is a series, or is told from multiple perspectives. Here's how other writers have navigated these choices.
- How to Write a Book from Multiple Perspectives
- How to Write a Book Series Without Messing Things Up
- How to Write a Novel That Readers Can't Put Down
How to Write a Book and Publish It
Writing is meant to be shared! In these articles, writers break down the publishing process so you can finish your book and share it with the world.
- How to Write and Publish a Book for Free
- How to Write a Book Description That Will Captivate Readers (And Sell Books!)
Once you've finished writing a book, how do you get it published. Here are some resources to help.
- Amazon KDP. Self-publish your book on Kindle to the world's biggest book marketplace.
- Book Cover Design. Find a book cover designer among our favorite designers.
Commit to the Book Writing Process, Not Your Feelings
Are you ready to commit to finishing your book?
I don't want you to commit to a book idea. Ideas are seductive, but then you get a fresh idea and the idea you've been working on becomes much less interesting.
You probably have had inspiring moments of writing, when everything feels like it's flowing. But I don't want you to commit to a feeling. Feelings are fickle. They change by the hour.
No, instead commit to the process.
If you follow these steps, you will finish a book. It won't be easy. It will still be a challenge. But you'll do it.
Can you imagine how great it will feel to write “The End” on your own book? Think about the people you will touch because you finished that book. Let's get to it together.
Are you going to commit to writing a book? Let me know in the comments!
The first part of Step Three is to create a 1-sentence premise of your book.
Finally, after you share, make sure to give feedback to three other writers in the practice box below.
Enter your practice here: