Part Two — How to Write a Book

4 Feb

Where to start?

To anyone who has ever written a book, the topic of ‘how to write a book’ might seem very simplistic. But consider – what if you don’t even have a typewriter? Much less a computer or tablet of any other electronic device?

I recently had an illuminating conversation with a young woman who is really serious about writing her life story. She didn’t graduate from high school, and has not had a particularly easy life. In fact, it has been relatively tempestuous. Some folks, when hearing scattered bits and pieces of her tale, suggest it would make a great soap opera. True. Still, she has emerged, slightly bloodied but not bowed or bent, with her sanity and native sweetness intact, and is determined to put her life on paper.

She was full of questions, and I am delighted that she asked me, because she made me stop and think before I responded. I would never put down anyone for wanting to achieve something, but sometimes, the notion is a tad presumptuous, and you really wonder if it is indeed possible to achieve a particular goal. In this instance, I believe it is. She has more grit and gumption in her little finger than many of us do in our entire self.

She does read a lot, which is helpful. But her innocent questions really made me think before I opened my mouth to answer them. If she has these questions, then certainly others do as well.

Do I have to have a title for my book before I can start to write it? The simple answer is ‘no.’  You do have to know what you want to write. But you don’t need a title to begin. At some point in the writing, the title may magically appear, and you’ll clap your hands in joy when that happens. As this woman will write in longhand on a legal pad, no doubt, I began to consider her next questions.

Sure enough – Does it have to begin when I was born and go straight through to now? Again, no. To begin writing is easier if you write whatever is most insistent in your mind. It might be something that happened last week. Or last year. Or it might have been twenty years ago because of the importance of the event. What IS important is to date that episode as accurately as possible. Perhaps not the exact date but a year or a month or perhaps by an event that reminds you of it. The only exact dates you might wish to include are birthdays, weddings, graduations, deaths, and similar milestones in your life.

Once you have a good bit of your tale written, it might be time to find a way to get it typed – preferably into a computer or word processor of some sort, so that you have a editable copy of it to work with. In case you can’t afford a computer of your own, nearly all libraries have computer rooms these days, as do other community organizations. Many of these have no fees involved for the user, but they might limit your time to an hour or so, per session. Ask before you begin. Also, you will need to have a jump drive of some sort on which to store your project. Be sure you clearly understand how this works before closing out your computer after each use.

Once into the writing will also be a good time to think of the organization of your book. Certainly you can start with your birth, or the beginning of the tale, but you don’t need to. The fact that you’re alive and writing proves your existence, although I’d be willing to bet your memory of that exact date wouldn’t be as good as that of an older person. Just in case you needed the verification.

An outline might be of help – for non-fiction, while generally a synopsis is required for fiction if you plan to seek an agent or traditional publisher. But, you might find either tactic of great help during the writing process. In case you get stuck, you’ll have something to serve as a guide and get you back on track.

If you are writing a non-fiction book, such as the above-mentioned auto-biography, don’t forget the photos! They add immeasurably to such a story, and it helps to have them sorted out and handy to insert into the text when appropriate. Be sure you do not use any professional photos, unless you secure permission from the copyright holder. If you have such a photo and can’t find the photographer, it is probably best to abandon that particular photo. Better to be safe than sorry in that regard.

How will I know when it’s done?  Obviously, again there are differences between fiction and non-fiction in this regard, as well. If it’s fiction, you should know when you’ve tied up all the loose ends, and have conformed to the ‘rules’ of the fiction genre in which your book falls. For non-fiction, you can end it any old time – whatever suits your fancy. Try to end on a happy note if you can. This will be especially helpful should you decide to write a ‘part two’.

What if I’m not a very good writer? I’m not sure I really understand punctuation or spelling and all those rules for writers. Not to worry. There are editors everywhere, literally, and you should have no trouble when it comes to finding one. The very fact that you know you need additional help is a major plus for you. I say – Go for it!  Don’t wait around. Get started as soon as possible, and happy writing!

If you have questions or comments, please write to me at:



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