How to Write a Book: The Complete Guide
You have a book inside of you. Perhaps you have a great story idea. Maybe people have told you, “Your life should be made into a book!” Or maybe you feel like you have an idea that’s important to share with the world. Whatever your motivations, it’s not enough to want to write, you need to know how to write a book.
In this post, we’re talking about how to write a book, including the ways not to write a book, plus the 10 steps that I’ve led hundreds of now-authors through as they finished their first books.
My Journey to Learn How to Write 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, and had 80,000 people read my writing.
But it didn’t happen over night. 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.
It took me eight years, nearly a decade, to learn how to write a book, but I did it. And it changed my life.
Since then, I’ve written seven books. My eighth, which I’m co-writing with a bestselling author, was just picked up by one of the big 5 publishers.
You might be thinking, “That’s cool, Joe. But you’re a natural. I’m not. Writing doesn’t come easy to me.”
To be honest, it didn’t come easy to me. In fact, if I told my high school English teachers I’m a writer, they would probably be surprised.
“You don’t have to be a natural to write a book. You just need the right process.Tweet thisTweet
Don’t Believe You Can Write a Book?
As someone who has coached writers for 7+ years, I talk to a lot of people who want to write books but don’t feel like they can.
I used to believe that, too.
I had wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I even studied writing in high school and then at an expensive private college. The problem was, I couldn’t finish a book.
I had tried, many times. Every time I tried, I would start out excited, disciplined, and ready to finally see my name on the cover of a NY Times Bestselling book.
But then a few days or a few weeks later, I would lose steam, cave in, and give up.
I kept trying, though. I kept practicing and learning the craft.
I became a freelance journalist. Then a travel writer. Then I got a job as a book editor.
But I still couldn’t finish a book.
It took me eight years before I finally figured it out. (And I wouldn’t have done it without a lot of help along the way.)
And the truth is that you can write a book too.
How to Write a Book: The 5 Step Process (Hint: Writing Is Just One of Them!)
Here’s the process I finally learned after that decade of trying to learn how to write a book and failing, the same five steps that have helped me write seven books (I’m working on my eighth now).
1. Build a Team
Step one is to build a team.
Most people think they can do this alone, that they can write a book without support, encouragement, or accountability.
And that’s why most people fail to finish writing a book.
I used to believe this too. In fact, I bought in to the whole myth of the solitary, genius writer, working on their book in some attic apartment in Paris or some cabin in upstate New York, churning out masterpiece after masterpiece.
I used to believe that you had to write a book without support, encouragement, or accountability if you wanted it to be any good.
But as I’ve studied the lives of great writers, I’ve found that they all had a team. None of them did it all on their own. They all had people who supported and encouraged them along the way.
A team can look like:
An editor with a publishing house
A writing group
An author mentor or coach
An online writing course or community
Whatever you find, if you want to finish your book, don’t make the mistake of believing you can do it all on your own (or that you have to do it all on your own).
Find a writing group. Take an online writing class. Or hire a developmental editor. Whatever you do, don’t keep trying to do it on your own.
“Writing a book is a team sport. Who will support you through your writing process?Tweet thisTweet
Learn more: here’s how to write your book in 100 days with the right team.
2. Set a Consequence
When I was writing my seventh book, I was stuck. I had been working on it off-and-on for two years, but I just couldn’t finish.
One day, my friend Tim Grahl asked me, “Do you really want to finish your book?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Then here’s what you need to do. Write a check for $1,000 to the political candidate you hate most (this was during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections). Then give the check to a friend with instructions to send it if you meet your deadline.”
“Nah,” I said. “I don’t need that. I’ve written six books. I have discipline.”
But a month later, when my book was still at the same place it used to be, I realized I actually need to set a consequence that I could keep.
So I set a deadline, and then I wrote a $1,000 check to the presidential candidate I disliked the most (who shall remain nameless).
Sixty-three days later, I had finished my book. It was the most focused writing experience I’ve ever had.
How to Use Consequences to Finish a Book
How can you use this in your writing? Here’s what you do:
Write a check to an organization or nonprofit you hate (for example, The Society for Euthanasia of Puppies).
Then think of two other, minor consequences (like giving up your favorite TV show for a month or having to buy ice cream for everyone at work)
Give it to a friend you trust with firm instructions to send it if you don’t meet your deadlines.
Set a final deadline that you need to have your book finished by. Make it achievable, but not too long. As Stephen King said, “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
Set smaller, weekly deadlines, e.g. 5,000 words per week.
If you miss a small, weekly deadline, you get one of your minor consequences (giving up your favorite TV show).
If you miss THREE weekly deadlines OR if you miss the final deadline, your check gets sent to the organization you hate.
Finally, write! I promise you, if you do steps 1-7 you will be incredibly focused!
Need someone to hold you accountable? Here’s an article on how to find a writers group.
3. Make a Plan
Before you write your first sentence, you should make a plan.
A plan isn’t just an outline (although an outline can really help). It’s about thinking through each step of the writing process, from the initial idea to how much you’ll write every day to the editing and even publishing process.
Here’s What Every Book Plan Should Contain
A single-sentence premise. The entire plot or idea behind your book boiled down to one sentence.
Onliness statement. One paragraph about what will be unique about your book.
Intention. When, where, and how much will you write each day?
Deadline and Consequences (see above!). When will you finish your book? What happens if you don’t?
Feedback and Editing. Who will give you feedback during the writing process? Who will give you feedback when the book is finished?
Comparable Books. At least three comparable books and how yours is similar and different.
Reader Avatar. Who will be attracted to this book? What groups are they already a part of? What other books/films/tv shows/magazines/etc?
Personal Marketing. What are you doing now to create a market for your book? What will you do when your book launches? Be specific and use numbers.
Synopsis/Overview. 500-600 words that tell the story/illustrate the principles of your book.
Outline with Chapter-By-Chapter Summaries. As detailed or brief as you want (if you’re not a planner, just share as much about the book as you know).
Get your own Book Plan Worksheet. For the first time, we’re giving away the Book Plan Worksheet we use in our premium writing courses. Click to download the Book Plan Worksheet here.
In our 100 Day Book Program, we’ve found that people who create a book plan are fifty-two percent more likely to finish their books.
People ask me all the time, “What if I don’t have time to write?”
The reality is most people don’t have a time problem. They have a focus problem.
When you’re focused, you can probably write 1,000 words in an hour or two.
The problem is that most of the time, when we sit down to write, we’re not focused. We find ourselves scrolling through Facebook or getting up to do the dishes or finding news articles that need to be read NOW or any of the other distractions that fill up our days.
But the first three steps in this process create the focus you need to write. You won’t want to scroll through Facebook if it means your $1,000 check gets sent to that organization that you hate.
Instead, you’ll write. You’ll meet your word count. And after a few weeks, you’ll find that you’ve done more writing than you have in years.
5. 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 really isn’t very good.” Or you decide, “I’d rather be catching up on Netflix, not spending my nights writing.” And you quit.
If you don’t quit, if you just keep writing, keep following the process, you’ll finish a book.
It might not be a great book. But that’s what editing is for.
It will be a first draft, and what first drafts are for is being finished. 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. I promise.
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.
How to Write a Book Fast
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 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
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 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
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 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 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.
Commit to the Process, Not Your Feelings
Are you ready to commit to finishing your book?
You probably have a book idea already, but I don’t want you to commit to a book idea. Ideas are seductive, but then you get a new one 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 hour-by-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.
And at the end, can you imagine how great it will feel to write “The End”?
If you want to finish your book, you need a plan. Get your own Book Plan Worksheet — for free! Click to download the Book Plan Worksheet here.
Are you going to commit to the process? Let me know in the comments if you’re committed to finishing your book!
The first part of Step Three is to create a 1-sentence premise of your book.
Rewrite your book idea into a single-sentence premise. Then, share your premise in the comments section.
Finally, after you share, make sure to give feedback to three other writers in the comments section.
And remember to download the Book Plan Worksheet below!
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