The Absolute Beginners Guide to Writing a Book

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There are three kinds of people in this world:

  • Those who are going to write a book.
  • Those who are not going to write a book.
  • Those who are going to fail in their attempts to write a book.

I’m an editor, and it’s my job to help turn potential failures into potential success stories.

For more than 25 years, I have helped authors through every stage of developing manuscripts on topics as diverse as children’s books to church history to short stories to first-hand accounts of Hurricane Katrina to inspirational self-help books.

In this blog post, I’m going to share what I’ve learned from a quarter century of working with writers.

The Most Common Trait Among Authors

As with most ventures in life, those who complete a manuscript are not necessarily the most talented, the best educated or the most charming. The single most common trait among people who have written a book is they didn’t give up.

If you are a quitter, you should choose something less complicated, frustrating and tedious than writing a book. Sorry.

Do you want to write a book? Great!  Go for it … but don’t give up.

Who Should Write a Book?

Anyone who wants to.  Even you.

No, you don’t have to be a grammar geek. You probably know someone who fancies himself or herself as an editor. Buy them a couple of pocket protectors and a box of red pencils. Then, flatter them with the lie that you respect their opinions. Buy them dinner and convince them that you’ll take their advice, if they’d be so kind to offer it.

You won’t of course. You’ll become so attached to your “baby” that you will treat anyone who would deign to revise your uniquely inspired writing with the same contempt as you would a person who says your mother should grow a mustache.

Learn what you can from their advice and keep going.

“Real” writers will tell you this advice is crazy, but don’t worry about grammar. Writing is an art. I could train a duck to use proper punctuation.

At the beginning, focus on the substance, not the form. Begin to write, then continue.

Note to Those Who Disagree: Pffft. Write your own dang blog post.

Where Should I Begin?

As with most ventures in life, examine your motives. If you want to write a book to become loved and adored, buy a puppy. If you want to get rich quick, buy a lottery ticket.  If you want to become famous, find a cure for cancer.

If you have a story that burns within your soul that you feel eerily compelled to share with anyone who will listen, write it down. You have the beginnings of a book.

Where Should I Not Begin?

Abandon the absurd folly that you do – or ever will – write as well as your favorite author.  Can you learn from other writers? Sure, but you’ll only be worth reading when people appreciate the way you express yourself.  In that way, you’ll be better than your favorite authors.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says the word “author” means: “One who originates or creates.”  “Copycat” means: “One who imitates or adopts the behavior or practices of another.”

I love the award-winning writing of Dave Barry. Dave follows the same pattern in his columns so consistently that one wag came up with a fill-in-the-blank “write like Dave Barry” website.

Click Here for The Automated Dave Barry Column Generator.

Being similar to someone else might be flattering, but why read a clone when you can read the original?

Develop your own style. You may write in iambic pentameter or refuse to use capital letters or write the world’s longest single sentence. That’s your business. You’re the artist.  Write any way you’d like. Nobody tells painters what to paint or singers what to sing.  As an amateur, you have the freedom to choose your own way of putting your thoughts into words.

As with most ventures in life, “be yourself.” Be original. Be brave.

What do you have to lose?

What Should I Write About?

Choosing a topic might be your most difficult choice. Whatever you choose:

  1. You must have a mastery of your subject matter.
  2. You must have a mastery of the points you want to make.
  3. You must have a mastery of how you will communicate your message.

Otherwise, readers will think:

  • You have no idea what you’re writing about.
  • You either the lack the skill, preparation or sense to communicate.
  • Your writing isn’t worth their time.

Choosing a topic, however, might be simple because there’s only one thing that you KNOW you MUST put into print.

It doesn’t matter if your book is about the way your grandmother’s house smelled, those mean kids in middle school, how to turn cornbread into gold or Nine Things You Didn’t Know About Drawknives.

Pick something that brings out your passions. Sooner or later, the joy of writing will become a tedious rut. Choose a rut you’ll enjoy being in for the long bumpy ride to your destination.

Then, write.

Write some more.

And don’t give up.

Instructor

  • Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.

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Marla Laminack

Great article Robert! I’ve wanted to write books on a couple of different subjects and never really knew where to start. Brent and I will have to take you to lunch sometime so I can pick your brain!

Sonia cuni

Hi I have just come across this article as I am searching for a blog for novices. This article seems old but I thought I would send my question anyway. I am currently living in Italy writing my first novel/memoir. A story that has been burning for a while. I am writing the first draft and it seems bland/apart from the first three chapters. I keep writing but I am wondering if this is normal for a first draft.

varun

Good luck for your beginning. Wish u all the success, But when you feel bland then change it. If you believe in your story dont change the story but simply change the narrating way. If you lack faith  in your story then stop writing it. If you yourself feeling it not that worth no one in this world will feel it worthy 

Kevin D

Very helpful article thank you, this really gave me some hope with my writing.

gareth palfrey

I have always had the ambition to write, I now feel it is essential that I learn and start doing so. What training or book would you recommend?

Omo

Hello, I feel that way too. it’s been 9 months since your post, have you found the right book/training?

lorna

Hey, i am looking for a writer who can walk me through my writing journey. i would appreciate if you can help.

daniel-pickering

Hi Lorna,
If you have a proposal I would ask you email it to @OSTraining.com">support@OSTraining.com
Thanks

Daniel

Wardell e stephens

I want to write about my life into my navy career

Ahamed

I came to Italy as and immigrant ,there I want to share my experience with the globe.But I have no idea how to write a book am please looking for guidance.Thank u.

Allen Handy

It seems like a cliche to reach a certain age and want to chronicle your life. Hoping to accomplish with pen and paper what we could not do otherwise, which was to make some kind of sense out of this existence. It is fascinating to consider that no matter how many of us spend our time believing we are victims of this and that, we still wouldn’t trade places with another human being, if given the chance. Those people, places and things in our lives that could not be made up seem to demand it. That vanity we experience thinking others would be interested can be forgiven if the story is compelling. I hope.

Vinee Yadav

Sir plz tell me what should be in the starting of book. Is it compulsory in book to write about author.

Anonymous

HI My name is Jennifer I have always wanted to become an author and i have always worried about many of the things that was mentioned in the article. Now that I am a little older and a new mom am very eager to write again its been so long and i love to write. I have recently came across a list of goals i created when i was a young teenager around preteen early teens and i found it interesting looking back and asking myself many questions i felt inspired to create a book based on off this one list i created. I was wonder what type of advice would you give me being this is my first try to writing a book.

Marie Waits

Thank you Steve! You have written the most concise, relevant, meaningful words that I needed to hear. I am an invisible writer right now, known only to myself. I have copied this article to re-read again and again. I appreciate that you ask that a person clarify their purpose for writing before beginning. It has taken some self-imposed pressure off of me. I do not want to be famous, loved and adored or expect tons of money for my efforts. I am only ready to begin, and remind myself along the way that quitting is not an option. I have a message(s) I would like to weave into fiction because sometimes they are best heard that way. Now it’s on to solving the riddle of what tools to use. Once again, thank you…your encouragement did it for me!

v

Is there a way to form dialogue properly in writing. I am currently starting a fictional book where there is a lot of dialogue between characters. I have a strong idea of who my characters are and a location, but dont know if constant quotation marks are best or to do the dialogue as separate little paragraphs

Anonymous

Very motivational, thank you!

saasha

hi there, how are you 

I’m a beginner 19 years old and want to start writing one… its come across my mind i would like to send a small chapter I’m writting . Would you take a look and tell me your thoughts ??

Neda

Could any body tell me about a good writing book for beginners? Like start from scratch, how many pages I should write, how should I create characters, how should I make a twist….
Every thing from the beginning..

mikall

@Neda, I have been in the process of writing several stories for years now and like you, went in search of resources to help me every step of the way.  What I suggest is that you pick one and forget the rest! The most important thing is to get the story out of your head then you can edit and rework it indefinitely.  Here are a few that I liked: 1) “Take Off Your Pants!” by Libbie Hawker.  2) “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby.  3) www.savannahgilbo.com – very descriptive and helpful blog that is free.  She is solid in her explanations of everything she describes including characters and genre expectations. She also has a podcast.  Hope this gives you a good starting place.

pinky pie

I just have to add that I found this article on 11/11/2021, and you wrote it on 11/11/2013. Can you say divinely guided?

mikall

That’s awesome!

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