Write and Organize Your First Book | Writing and Publishing 101

This article might be best titled “A Novice Writer’s Tips for Getting Started with Writing.”  My experience is admittedly limited.  I taught kindergarten, not advanced composition.  But, I learned a quite a bit in the journey of writing my first book and I’m happy to share. We don’t have to be experts to move forward with confidence in our words and story, and I’m the perfect example of that. I have plenty left to learn, but I didn’t let that hold me back from writing and independently publishing a book.  Here are my answers to your questions.

What are your tips for getting started with writing?

READ. You’ll be a better writer if you’re a reader.  Read books that are similar to those you want to write. As you read, notice the way the book is written.  How are stories woven into the writing?  What keeps your attention?  How does the author use stories to show rather than directly tell you what is happening?   

Read books about writing to learn what it means to be a writer.  My favorites include: On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle, and The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith.   

PRACTICE. Practice writing, writing, and writing to find your voice.  Start “small” with a blog, social media, or writing privately. If you do a blog, I recommend a free WordPress or Squarespace one.  There’s no need to overthink design, just get started with writing. Brainstorm a list of different topics you want to write about.  Make another list about memories or stories you want to share.  Then simply get started. 

Write first, then edit. One helpful editing tool is ProwritingAid, which is an add-on to MS Word. Write, read, and rewrite your words. 

Find someone who can read your words and provide helpful feedback to push you in the direction of improving your writing.  The more you practice, the better you’ll become.

How do you know if your story is worth writing a book about?

Here’s a very hard truth:

 “Just because it happened doesn’t make it interesting.” – Marion Roach Smith

Unless you’re famous or they know you, people won’t probably be drawn to read your story unless there is something they can glean from it.  What is the bigger picture? What is the message you’re sharing? What is the theme discovered through your story? Answer these questions for yourself first, and then you’re on your way.  In the meantime, as you discover the answers to these questions, write parts of your story.  Hone in on specific memories, especially the ones that were transformative.  Life-changing moments will always capture an important part of your story.  

Remember:  even if you don’t write a book, your story is still valuable. Write it, even if only for yourself or your family. Who knows?  What starts as blog posts or little essays may turn into a book someday. If you feel led to get the words out, just start writing. 

19 Tips on Writing Memoir: https://thewritepractice.com/19-tips-on-writing-memoir-from-the-memoir-project-by-marion-roach-smith/

3 Rules for Memoir Writing: https://thewritepractice.com/write-memoir/

How do you organize a book?  How do you map out your story in a cohesive way?

Consider what type of book you’re writing.  Fiction, non-fiction, memoir? My book is a topical non-fiction book, so I picked themes that felt important to me and then added in parts of my story within those topics. Actual memoir follows the arc of a story with its ups and downs, and teaches a larger lesson from the bigger story itself.

One first step to organizing your book might be writing bits and pieces. Identify the critical parts of your story and see what form it takes. Write about the strongest memories and most impactful moments.

It took me a long time to write the first draft of my book. Some friends, who are avid readers and skilled with English, gave me helpful critical feedback on that first draft.  Then, I took a full year to rewrite and edit it.  The rewriting was difficult, but crucial to honing my message and removing extraneous fluff.

Outlining and organizing is hard but helpful.  Continue to ask yourself about what you want to communicate through the book. If you have a lot written, you might consider putting the topics on Post It’s and creating a story map.  Move the topics or stories around until you find something that makes sense, then fill in the gaps with more writing.  

I hope these simple steps give you permission to get started on writing your story.

You can find my independently published book on Amazon: Grieve, Create, Believe: Process Your Loss with Intention and Truth

Stay tuned the next two weeks for more thoughts on writing:

Writing and Publishing 101: Finding a Writing Routine
Writing and Publishing 101: A Self-Publishing Journey

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