Happy New Year!

7 Jan

Er, did I hear you say you want to write a book?

Well, you’re in luck. I’m starting off this new year, with a once a month specific instruction for getting started and writing your own book. Originally, when I started this blog, back in 2010, it was to help me gather my thoughts together and publish a How to Write a Book Book.  I’m forever hearing the “I want to write a book” phrase from folks wherever I go. The next line is almost always, “But I don’t know how (or where) to begin.”

Listen, my children, and you shall hear, the basic rules governing what is a book, and how you, too, can write one of your own, if you’re persistent, and have at least a little bit of talent.

The first big question is: what kind of book do you want to write. Is it fiction or non-fiction?

The elements of writing a book of fiction are:  the plot (which should probably not be an actual event – although it might be a lightly disguised retelling of the event); the setting – which can be anywhere at any time, and the characters. Which comes first? Well, in my experience, they usually, all land on the poor author at the same time, with a resounding, “What if –?” Once these are established, comes the hard part: the actual writing, which includes knowing the language.

Being a good story-teller, while essential, is not sufficient by itself. A command of the language is also vital, but also not sufficient, by itself, either. If you can combine these two – ah, then you are a writer. A writer, after all, not only uses words, a writer loves words. A writer loves construing words together in a string, to form a thought, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book.

Something similar happens in non-fiction, only there is not usually a plot, and seldom any characters or setting. But there could be, depending on the type of non-fiction. A biography, obviously will have characters and setting; a how-to manual will not. Just as when baking, the recipe, or final product desired, determines the ingredients. No matter how hard you try, you cannot make a cake out of the ingredients for beef stew.

So, where does the book begin? The book begins when something happens, and someone else writes about that action. It is a common occurrence for first-time authors to include too much back­-story at the very beginning. Oh, all that information is important, no doubt about it. It just doesn’t need to be all lumped together in chapters one, two and three. Don’t discard that part, however. Keep it to scatter throughout the book. You might not use all of it, but it will be helpful to have it.  It’s all a part of getting to know your plot and your characters.

You do not need to possess your own computer to write a book, although it’s a major help! But these days, libraries and community centers have ‘computer rooms’ where you may use one of the resident machines. If this is your situation, you will need to have at least a CD-rom or a jump drive (portable media) of your own, on which you can keep your work in progress. I would also suggest that if you’re using one of these public computers while attending any sort of writing class, you should invest in a notepad (a small legal-pad type binder that measures 5” x 8” is a great size, and you can easily carry your portable media, a pen and a notepad all in one easy to carry folder. The pad will come in handy to make notes as you think of them when your computer isn’t nearby.

Should you need to write your book by hand, try to get to a ‘computer room’ at least once a week or every other week to key your work onto your portable media. Always carry your CD in a sleeve or case. One scratch on the back of it will quickly demonstrate the need for this precaution.

Now then. Don’t worry overmuch about starting your book in the beginning of the story. It’ll all make itself clear at some point. The main thing is to write. Write. WRITE!!! If you are determined, and persistent, you can have a rough draft of a book in about 13 weeks. Three months! It probably won’t be polished and ready for publication at that point, but still – you should have a workable nucleus, which is not to be sneezed at, believe me.

How does this work? It’s really very simple. A reasonable length for a book these days is 50,000 words. If you divide 50K by 13 (weeks), you get 3847. That’s the weekly goal toward your total wordcount. That’s actually only 550 words a day, or two pages of typewritten, double-spaced 8½ x 11” paper.  That’s really not all that much, if you think about it. It might take you two hours, but really it should take less. That doesn’t mean you should stop when you reach that number. If the book is really cooking, then keep with it. There’s no harm in doing two or three day’s worth of words at one time, if that’s the way your inspiration wants to work. Don’t argue with it!

To begin: Write a sentence (of 25 words or thereabouts) that describes your book. (I’m presuming you do know what constitutes a sentence. If not, it may take you a bit longer to produce a book, but it can still be done!) Once you’ve done that, expand that sentence to a paragraph. It can be more than one sentence at this point. The next step will be to write a page describing your story. If you plan to submit to a traditional/commercial publisher, you will be asked for these three things almost before anything else, so it’s a good exercise for you at the very beginning. A page is roughly 250-300 words.

(FYI — This post is 1090 words, and it took me a bit less than an hour to write it.)

Okay? Next month (Feb. 3) we’ll discuss the next step in the process as well as a brief primer on MS-Word. If you know anyone who wants to write a book, please feel free to forward this post. I can easily add new folks to the mailing list, as well.  If you have comments or questions or want more information about anything in this post, please do send me an e-mail: bookmechanicATgmail.com

 

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