Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to Write a Book: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of this series! As you obviously know from having read the previous two, Part 1 dealt with the first step of the process for writing a book, which is to develop and come up with the fully formed idea for your book. Part 2 discussed the importance of writing and constantly updating your dynamic outline. This now leads, naturally, to Part 3, which is probably the most obvious step of the entire process and also the core of any writing project:


See, I told you it was obvious! Clearly, if you're going to write a book, you eventually need to get down to the actual act of writing. There are many schools of thought here: one is that you should just dive headfirst into writing and take care of the rest of the details later. The thinking behind this is that as you write, the book will take shape and you'll be able to make it up as you go along. While I certainly think there is some value in this approach, and many an established and successful writer has done it this way, I also think that it can lead to a very disorganized and jumbled project later on down the road, especially for a new writer. Recovering from the confusion can be very difficult and stressful. I speak from personal experience on this. Another school of thought is the one I've been laying out in this series, which is that with a little organization and forethought, and only two simple and relatively quick steps before you get into the writing itself, you can save yourself a lot of hassle and confusion later in the process and make the writing (which, let's face it, is the most enjoyable part of the entire process) that much easier. Plus, as you'll see as we go through this part, I recommend formatting as you go along writing, so in that regard I'm in agreement with the first school of thought I mentioned above, albeit with the benefit of a little planning ahead of time. Thus, we could really say that Part 3 is:

WRITE, WRITE, WRITE SOME MORE (and format as you go)!

Now, I've intended this series from the very beginning to be geared to writers both beginner and advanced, neither of whom have written a book before (or who have, but are looking for a different and, I hope you'll agree with me, better approach to doing so). Writing, like anything in life, is a skill that requires practice to develop and get better at. Every bit of writing you do is a chance to improve and develop your skills to become better and better at your craft, just like playing an instrument or being an athlete. As someone who is both a musician and a runner, I try to apply the same practice ethic from those pursuits to my writing. However, the challenge is that while there are more tangible results to those (ie being able to better play more complicated music, being able to run faster or further, etc), the improvement in your writing won't be quite as tangible, at least at first. The results will be more obvious to you when it becomes easier for you to articulate what you're trying to get across in your writing, when the construction of your prose becomes more sophisticated, but chiefly when you're able to develop your own writing voice. Just like our speaking voices and personalities, we all have a distinct writing voice and personality, and you won't truly find yours and develop it into something that is uniquely yours until you're good at your craft. When it comes to the writing part, PRACTICE.

As far as embarking upon the writing of your book, remember to use your outline as your road map. Some people like to start from the beginning of their book and work their way forward, while some choose to start in a particular section and fill in the gaps before and after its place in their outline at a later date. It's up to you how to proceed. But as far as the writing itself, I think it's important to sit down and just write. Whether you're only able to set aside a half-hour for your session or you have an entire morning/afternoon/evening at your disposal, write whenever you can (within reason, of course. You obviously shouldn't do it to the detriment of your family, job, personal life, etc). Also, when you write, don't worry about your spelling, your grammar, your sentence construction, your flow, etc. You will take care of that later on. Right now, it's important to just write and get everything down. Clearly, it's good to try and do the best job you can as you go along, but remember that this is only your first of many drafts and you will have to go back and clean up all of the errors later on anyway.

As you go through the writing process, it's also a good idea to start formatting your book in parallel. What I mean by formatting is how you're going to put your book together: where are the chapter breaks? Will this interlude go between chapters or in its own section within a chapter? Will I even have chapters? And so on. Again, at first this will be rough and there will be a lot of moving and changing of sections, but as you get further along in the writing it will begin to take shape and make more sense to you, and believe me when I tell you there is nothing so thrilling to a writer during the creative process than to see your book come together the further along you go. Remember to use your outline as your "skeleton," while the words you write are the "flesh" of your book. Think of the formatting as how you're putting it all together; to continue with the anatomical analogy, how will you arrange the "limbs" of your "skeleton." And since your outline is dynamic, so is your formatting. In addition to your writing, your formatting is another chance to use your creativity in how you want to lay out your book.

Writing is, along with talking, probably the oldest form of personal expression known to humanity. Before there was music or art, there was speech and writing. Your ability to convey what you want to in a clear, engaging, grammatically correct way (regardless of your native language) will only get better the more you write. For me, even though I was told by my teachers in high school that I was an good writer,  I know that I'm a MUCH better writer now than I was even a few years ago, let alone twenty years ago. Like anything you do for a long time over many weeks, months, and years, the more you write, the more you learn about it, both what to do and what not to do. This is in addition to simply learning HOW to do it to the best of your abilities, and what works for me or you won't necessarily work for anyone else in the world, but the one thing that will work is to just sit down and start writing!


(The comments section is open for discussion, so don't forget to share your progress on your writing project here while you're in the midst of writing it!)

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