Midweek Muse: How to start writing a book

Image courtesy of typofi via stock.xchng.

So, I’m writing a book. Yeah, really. Pinch me.

(That’s me, talking to myself, convincing myself that this “writing a book” thing is for real.)

It’s for real.

Twenty-some years ago, in the last week of my senior year of college, I was having one of those terribly deep, important, meaningful, “what’s your life going to count for” conversations with five of my dearest friends. In the course of that discussion, the question was posed (the All Important Question), “Twenty years from now, what do you want people to say about you?”

I recall that my friends had very noble responses that reflected the true goodness of their souls. “She loves God.” “She is a woman of service.” “Her life has made other people’s lives better.” That sort of thing.

I felt sheepishly selfish and small-minded when it came my turn to respond and I blurted out, “She’s a published writer.”

But it was the truth. That was my big goal, and it still is. Technically, I have met that goal, since some of my pieces of poetry have been published in legitimate journals. However, when I made that half-embarrassed proclamation a quarter of a century ago, what I really meant was a book. I wanted to write a book that would be published, that could be pulled off of a bookstore shelf, purchased, brought home, read and re-read, underlined, dog-eared, and quoted.

And then I got distracted. Or rather, I got busy with the business of life, making a living, keeping a home, family, so on. The book – my book – took a backseat. Until now. I have started on what I hope will be my first of many books. It happens to be a non-fiction work, a combination of memoir and history, but you know what? It really doesn’t matter what it is. Let’s just leave it at, “I am writing a book.”

So, what useful bits have I learned worth sharing from this book-writing adventure? I used to think that to write a book, I had to “start with the end in mind.” That’s what we’ve always been told, right? Well, I can tell you right now, what we’ve always been told stinks. Especially when it comes to something as massive as a book project. Trying to envision what the thing is supposed to look like before you pick up the pen (or turn on the computer) is a surefire method to induce writer’s block.

Now if someone asks me how to start writing a book, I would say, with the authority of one who has in fact started, instead:

  1. Set a timer for thirty minutes.
  2. Open your notebook.
  3. Pick up a pen.
  4. Start writing and don’t stop until the timer goes off.
  5. When the timer goes off, reheat your coffee, then repeat first four steps.

(If you prefer writing with a keyboard, rather than with pen and paper, change the 2nd and 3rd steps to: “2. Turn on your computer/laptop/iPad.  3. Open a Word document.”)

If it helps you to make an outline first, to have some specific starting points, go for it. Whatever you do, don’t start with the end in mind. But Do, by all means, Start.

Start with a clear beginning – for today. Then let the writing tell you where to go.

What are you waiting for? Go. Now. Start writing that book.

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