So, naturally, you need to know your reader. Rough age? General interests? Attention span? When in doubt, look in the mirror. The surest way to please your reader is to please yourself. Write what you would want to read and trust there is a broad readership out there that agrees. Oh, it can still change if the story dictates that.
But settling on a good one will really get you off and running. Great opening lines from other classics may give you ideas for yours. In a novel, if everything is going well and everyone is agreeing, your reader will soon lose interest and find something else to do—like watch paint dry. Are two of your characters talking at the dinner table?
Have one say something that makes the other storm out. Some deep-seeded rift in their relationship has surfaced. Thrust people into conflict with each other. Check out some of the current bestselling nonfiction works to see how writers accomplish this. Tension is the secret sauce that will propel your reader through to the end. Many of us are perfectionists and find it hard to get a first draft written—fiction or nonfiction—without feeling compelled to make every sentence exactly the way we want it. Deep as I am into a long career, I still have to remind myself of this every writing day.
I cannot be both creator and editor at the same time. That slows me to a crawl, and my first draft of even one brief chapter could take days. Our job when writing that first draft is to get down the story or the message or the teaching—depending on your genre. Imagine yourself wearing different hats for different tasks , if that helps—whatever works to keep you rolling on that rough draft.
This chore is about creating. Some like to write their entire first draft before attacking the revision. As I say, whatever works.
I alternate creating and revising. The first thing I do every morning is a heavy edit and rewrite of whatever I wrote the day before. Then I switch hats, tell Perfectionist Me to take the rest of the day off, and I start producing rough pages again. Compartmentalize your writing vs. Most who fail at writing a book tell me they give up somewhere in what I like to call The Marathon of the Middle. The solution there is in the outlining stage , being sure your middle points and chapters are every bit as valuable and magnetic as the first and last. If you strategize the progression of your points or steps in a process—depending on nonfiction genre—you should be able to eliminate the strain in the middle chapters.
For novelists, know that every book becomes a challenge a few chapters in. Force yourself back to your structure, come up with a subplot if necessary, but do whatever you need to so your reader stays engaged. Fiction writer or nonfiction author, The Marathon of the Middle is when you must remember why you started this journey in the first place. You have something to say. You want to reach the masses with your message.
It still is for me—every time. Embrace the challenge of the middle as part of the process. If it were easy, anyone could do it.
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This is just as important for your nonfiction book as your novel. But even a how-to or self-help book needs to close with a resounding thud , the way a Broadway theater curtain meets the floor. Agents and editors can tell within the first two pages whether your manuscript is worthy of further consideration.
That sounds unfair, and maybe it is. Because they can almost immediately envision how much editing would be required to make those first couple of pages publishable. For my full list and how to use them, click here. Imagine engaging a mentor who can help you sidestep all the amateur pitfalls and shave years of painful trial-and-error off your learning curve.
Many masquerade as mentors and coaches but have never really succeeded themselves. Look for someone widely-published who knows how to work with agents, editors, and publishers. There are many helpful mentors online. I teach writers through this free site, as well as in my members-only Writers Guild. Want to save this definitive guide to read later? Click here or below to download a handy PDF version:. Struggling with knowing how to write a book? Tell me in the comments and feel free to ask questions.
Before you go, be sure to grab my FREE guide:. Just tell me where to send it:. Share 2K. Pin 2K. Share My goal here is to offer you that plan. Assemble your writing tools. Break the project into small pieces. Settle on your BIG idea. Construct your outline. Set a firm writing schedule.
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Establish a sacred deadline. Embrace procrastination really! Eliminate distractions. Conduct your research. Start calling yourself a writer. Think reader-first. Find your writing voice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Write a compelling opener. Fill your story with conflict and tension. Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft. Persevere through The Marathon of the Middle. Write a resounding ending. Become a ferocious self-editor. Find a mentor. Want to download this step guide so you can read it whenever you wish? Click here. Establish your writing space. What were you saying about your setup again? We do what we have to do.
And those early days on that sagging couch were among the most productive of my career. Real writers can write anywhere. Scrivener users know that taking the time to learn the basics is well worth it. So, what else do you need? Get the best computer you can afford, the latest, the one with the most capacity and speed. An old adage says that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a tim e. Try to get your mind off your book as a or-so-page monstrosity.
So keep it simple.