The easiest way to start writing a book
You’d like to write a book. The idea tickles around in your brain at odd moments.
You pass a bookstall, and, for just a breathtaking second, you see a snappy title over your name on one of those stacks of precisely trimmed, colorful paperbacks.
You’re sitting in another useless meeting, and a smart outline begins to click together in the corners of your brain that cannot be persuaded to pay attention.
You see that file folder full of notes and clippings once again, then shove it aside on the hunt for papers that seem more important, more appropriate to paying the bills, more sensible.
You’d like to write a book. And you know you’d have a good readership—it’s a useful topic that people would really benefit from if it was well written. It shouldn’t take much to carve out an hour or so a day to see some good progress. You hear that self-publishing isn’t that hard with the right approach, so it’s not like you even have to pitch it to an agent.
But you walk on by the bookstall instead of lingering to run your hands over the glossy spines, lusting for the smooth crisp pages to be your words. You drop another binder on that mess of scribbles, and your heart pinches with disappointment.
It’s too hard, you think. I have no idea how to start writing a book. All I have is ideas, just random ideas. When I think about trying to write things down, they’re all stupid and scattered and it’s just too big and hard.
Would you begin if you thought it was easy? Suppose I told you that the first step is exactly that. Even if you don’t have a thing written down, even if all your ideas are here there and everywhere.
First step: Brain dump
For this, set aside some time to just—as the term suggests—dump the things that keep rattling around in your brain and distracting you. Write things out. Settle down with your favorite mode of writing things down and do it. Your only constraint here is to write legibly enough that you can read it later. Don’t worry about anything making sense.
I like unlined 8.5 x 11 pages—the backs of scrap paper, in fact. I don’t write on both sides, because I will eventually need to cut and paste—literally. But that’s later. I also use sticky notes. There’s always a sticky note within reach.
If it feels more comfortable than writing for whatever reason, get some kind of audio recording device and talk it out. Voice-activated micro-recorder? Voice memo section of your smartphone? Turn it on, think out loud.
Or just open another page on the idea-organizing software you already use and start a new file. I don’t use any software other than the odd sticky note app that gets copied down in the right place as soon as I get home. I’ve tried a few, and there’s one I’d like to use, but so far they don’t make it for my 32 bit desktop.
Or some combination of all these options. The point is to get what you have floating around in your head down in some form that you can consult later.
Don’t try to decide whether an idea is critical to your book. Just snag it when it flits past. If you don’t, it may never come back. Better to jettison it later than not have it to consider.
Even if it’s incredibly important and you know you could never forget it, capture just enough that you can locate the resource, repeat that exact phrase, find that quote again. I’m here to witness that you aren’t guaranteed a second chance to get it down, even the really important ones. Sometimes I’ve let one go, sure I’d remember it, and later all I can remember is that it was REALLY IMPORTANT, and I never get back what IT was. Painful.
A brain dump might take twenty minutes. It might take many hours over several days. If the thoughts start flowing too quickly to capture the whole, start a list of prompts that will help you remember when you come back later.
Don’t worry about organizing it now. Your purpose now is to just capture it. Notebooks, sticky notes, café napkins, audio recordings, images, sketches—now you can dig that file folder out of your desk and place it somewhere a little more easily to hand. Everything goes in the file.
Second step: Keep capturing
Find a little notebook that you can keep with you all the time. They come in multi-packs at office supply stores. Spiral-bound, mini-journal…find something you’ll actually use. Keep it with you everywhere. In the car, by your bedside, in your pocket or purse, during your meditation time or worship service. When something occurs to you, grab it.
And write down enough that you can go back and find that source or reference again if you will need to give due credit. This is kind of a pain now, but it’s critically important later. You might not remember when you want to. Recall that REALLY IMPORTANT idea I didn’t write down because I wouldn’t forget?
As with the brain dump, your little notebook might be your pocket-sized recorder or smartphone. All these audio files will (probably) have to be transcribed, but again, we’ll worry about that later.
And that’s how to start writing your book. Not difficult at all!
Of course, doing something sensible with all those ideas is the next step, but not even that is big and scary if you have a method. I’ll share how I do it soon.
For now, capture and keep capturing. And keep lusting over those pristine stacks of lovely books in the bookstall when you stroll by on your way to the next useless meeting.