How to Write a Book: 13 Steps From a Bestselling Author

so you want to write a book I know the

feeling I've been writing books for more

than 40 years now there's a lot of

people out there on the internet and

elsewhere they will try to tell you that

reading a book is easy you can do it

fast they've got five steps to writing a

best-seller I'm not promising you a

best-seller but I do have 13

foundational steps that you're going to

need to follow if you're going to write

a book

speed is not the point quality is the

point so the first thing you're going to

want to do is establish your writing

space when I first started I was a young

father and I had no space i had to take

a plank and put it between two kitchen

chairs which i set in front of the couch

in the living room and then i sat on

that couch in front of a manual

typewriter and that's how i worked at

that was my space wherever it is

established it could be in a starbucks

it could be in your car if you have to

and you should never say that you don't

have a place to write I can remember

being in the newspaper business there

were 40 of us in the same room and back

in those days people smoked in that room

so we had smoke we had noise we had

clacking typewriters a writer and write

anywhere but you want to establish what

you need so if you need solitude make

sure you find a place in your house

where you can shut the door or you can

turn off media and you can have privacy

and silence and whatever you need to

write and the more you can afford the

better you'll do as far as equipment and

space a second important step is to

assemble your writing tools and really

you don't need too many say your writing

in a restaurant all you need is your

laptop and a comfortable chair now you

may have to take whatever chair they've

got but learn how that works for you do

you need to take cushion from home so

you can sit up straight your back and

your neck are important to your writing

you're going to be spending a lot of

hours in front of that computer

so don't scrimp on your computer and

when you're home don't scrimp on your

chair and then make a list of all the

things you're going to need while you're

especially at home if you need paper

clips or a stapler or whatever make sure

you have all those within arm's length

so you don't get distracted by having to

look for things when you knew there's a

third important thing you want to do is

to break the project into small pieces

the reason that writing a book seems so

colossal is because it is writing a book

is akin to eating an elephant how do you

eat an elephant one bite at a time

so break the task into as many small

pieces as you can you have to realize

yes it's a 4 or 500 page manuscript in

the end but that's made up of sentences

paragraphs chapters just doing the one

at a time that's the way to get a handle

on it step number four is to settle on

your big idea and it needs to be a big

idea if it's book worthy it's going to

be big concept we don't have any room in

the marketplace anymore for small

concept book ideas if it's small use it

for a blog or an article but think how

to win friends and influence people if

you're thinking nonfiction think Harry

Potter if you're thinking fiction it has

to be big I can't overstate the

importance of this if you try to write a

book before and you ran into a roadblock

at the 20 or 30 day mark or maybe the 20

or 30 page mark it could be because your

idea wasn't big enough how do you know

if your idea is big enough and if it has

legs if it stays with you if you tell

your spouse or your friend what your

book is about and every time you tell

them it gets bigger that's a book that's

going to last in the marketplace too

step 5 is to construct your outline and

as you can see I've done that on my way

forward here for you now this might

sound surprising for me to talk about

outlining when I'm known as a pantser

one who writes by the seat of his pants

Stephen King is the best known writer

who's a pantser he says put interesting

characters in difficult situations and

write to find out what happened

I like to do that so people think I

don't outline at all but even we fiction

writers who are Panthers have to have

some sort of idea where we're going even

if it's on one side of one sheet of


give yourself some direction of where

you're going now some people especially

if you're a beginning writer your editor

or your agent may need to see an entire

synopsis of your novel idea so you'll

have to do more of an outline than you

might have to do later and agents and

editors demand outlines for nonfiction

there's no writing a nonfiction book

without an outline they want to know

what you're going to say how you're

going to say it where you're getting

your information and what your points

are going to be now we often talk in

fiction about the marathon of the middle

and how that stops everybody that's one

of the places that I stopped to I mean

I've written over 190 books and I every

time get to the halfway or 3/4 point and

I wonder why did I ever think I could do

this that's the marathon of the middle

and it you can't just survive it or

endure it you have to thrive in it

because the reader is right with you if

it seems boring to you your reader is

asleep so and this happens to be true of

nonfiction as well now you'll take care

of that with your outline and nonfiction

you'll know that your middle has enough

good stuff in it

in fiction especially if you're a

panther you better be sure you're saving

a lot of big setups and payoffs for that

medic marathon in the middle and you can

do the same in nonfiction that the same

structure works for nonfiction is

fiction you don't have the same number

of elements as far as tension and

conflict and dialogue and that type of

thing but you still need to set up in

the payoff make your non-fiction book

say you're writing a nonfiction book

about how to build a model ship you need

to set it up so that it looks impossible

until your specific solution comes

through that's your setup and payoff and

remember don't be intimidated by an

outline your outline serves you not the

other way around if you've got an

outline and you find yourself drifting

from it or you think the book is working

a different

better change the outline don't change

the book make your outline and work for


okay I'm back to my desk for point

number six and that is to set a firm

reading schedule that includes a firm

deadline that you keep sacred this isn't

a thing that hangs up too many beginning

writers they don't have a publishers

deadline so they have to set their own

and sometimes we tend to fudge on our

own deadlines make sure you don't do

that keep your deadline sacred now the

way you do that is you figure out

roughly how many pages you're gonna be

writing for your book if it's 300 400

500 divide that into the number of days

you're allotting yourself to right now

this may change once you get started and

realize how many or how few pages you

can write per day if you schedule

yourself for 10 pages a day in fact

you're really not comfortable with more

than four or five change your schedule

change your deadline but once you get it

locked in

keep it sacred when I was a publisher I

found that only about 1 in 100 writers

literally meet their deadlines if you

just do that you set yourself apart from

ninety nine out of a hundred writers

don't make the mistake of thinking

you're gonna find the time to write when

I have to write I have to have something

sacrificed from my schedule is that an

hour or two of sleep at night is it a

concert is it a ballgame is it a movie

is it a favorite TV show how bad do you

want this I schedule my days right on my

calendar on my computer I have a color

coded it's in pink and you've caught me

when tomorrow I have to reach the 70,000

word mark I have that target there I'm

at the sixty seven thousand five hundred

mark now so I'm gonna have to write

twenty five hundred words tomorrow and

if I do that for five more days I'm

gonna make my deadline because I keep

that deadline

sacred point number seven is to conduct

your research now everybody knows that

you need to do that automatically for

nonfiction you have to be an expert in

what you're writing in and not just

drawing their own experience but also

show that you immersed yourself and all

the writing in your field but a lot of

people miss the fact that research is

just as important for fiction in fact I

think it could be even more important if

you miss a small detail of history or

aircraft or weaponry you can be sure

readers are going to point this out

specificity lends credibility to fiction

and fiction needs to be believable now

once you've done your research you're

going to be tempted to show that off to

the reader you want to resist that urge

your research is not your main course

the story is the main course research is

the seasoning that adds that specificity

that gives you credibility and

believability I'm using a world history

chart for my current project because I'm

covering from 2000 BC to the present day

I need to know when the patriarchs were

born and when they died and how they

overlapped so make sure your research

becomes seasoning and that it's right

because readers notice step number eight

is to write a compelling reader first

opener give it the time it deserves

because if you can pull off an important

compelling first line it will set the

tone for your entire book you probably

won't write a more important line than

that first one now most first lines fall

into one of these categories surprising

dramatic statement philosophical or

poetic I'm not going to give you

examples of all of them but let me just

do that for the first two / surprising

opening in fiction George Orwell's 1984

begins it was a bright cold day in April

and the clocks were striking 13 would

that keep you reading it would me in

nonfiction Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the

last American man her first line was by

the time Eustace Conway was seven years

old he could throw a knife accurately

enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree

now for dramatic statement I'm sure

you've read Toni Morrison's paradise

remember that first line they shoot the

white girl first that's a dramatic

statement now let me read you the opener

to my work in progress I'm not putting

it in the category of these classics but

here's how I start it's your mother

Nicole Berman's father said over the

phone she rose from her desk at the

sound of his voice what happened

hopefully that'll keep you reading now

what do I mean by reader first every

decision you make in your manuscript

should go through that filter of reader

first not you first not editor first not

agent first not reviewer first not

critic first reader first whenever I

have readers tell me that they really

liked a book of mine I think back to

that motto think reader first that I

often will tack write to my screen on a

sticky note I wanted to be the best most

compelling most moving most emotional

experience they've ever had because I'm

thinking reader first not anybody else

first so think reader first last and


step number nine is to fill your story

with conflict and tension readers crave

tension and yes this applies to

nonfiction as well almost every time a

writer shows me their manuscript and

says I don't know where to go from here

it's because they got to a point where

the people on the page are agreeing with

each other too much and we like that in

real life it's nice to have Pleasant

conversations talk with your spouse over

a meal that you're talking about how

nice a day it is and what you're going

to do there's nothing more boring in

fiction than that so what you want to do

is inject that confident

have one of those characters say

something totally off-the-wall maybe

once this isn't it a beautiful day and

the other one says oh sure you would say

that all of a sudden the reader and that

character are going what was that about

where did that come from

that's conflict what's the problem in

their relationship what's the underlying

tension that caused that conflict that

will keep people turning the pages and

you want to do that on every page even

if it's just a matter of someone setting

up an appointment they need to see the

doctor tomorrow there's an implication

there that something's coming up

otherwise why would the author put it in

there now in nonfiction how do you do

that you don't want unpleasantness it

doesn't have to be something negative it

doesn't have to be a battle or a war or

a fight conflict and tension come up in

nonfiction simply by promising and then

delivering setting up and paying off

some of the best nonfiction writers and

ones who have spent the first several

chapters promising you what you're going

to get when you finish reading this book

and then they deliver step number ten is

to turn off your internal editor while

you're writing your first draft most

writers I know are perfectionist s-- I

happen to be one too and so we have that

inner critic sitting on our shoulder

telling us what's wrong with every word

we write that inner critic is just you

or me and that critic needs to be told

to shut up now is not the time to be

criticizing your own work always save

your editing until the next day at least

and the longer you can wait between when

you write it and when you headed it the

better for the end product this is the

opening pages of my work-in-progress

dead sea rising my next now

I wouldn't show this first draft my

worst enemy I don't worry about cliches

redundancies lacks of logic I need to

get the story down so turn off that

internal editor get your story down and

then tell yourself that the next day you

can put your perfectionist cap back on

and have at it

remember in point number five when I

mentioned the marathon in the middle I

want to make that point eleven and hit

that again because if there's any place

you're gonna quit it's going to be

during the marathon in the middle this

is the toughest spot for me as well I've

written over 190 books in 40 years I hit

the marathon in the middle every time

and I wonder why did I get into this

business the problem with the marathon

of the middle is we've all got great

ideas to start and we can't wait to get

to that big finish but now we've got a

couple hundred pages in the middle to

fill and if you just start patting it in

fiction with extra scenes or nonfiction

with extra points your reader is going

to drop off the page this is where you

don't just survive you thrive for

instance in my current work in progress

dead sea rising this is a long novel

eighty thousand words so the marathon in

the middle is a good stretch how I

solved the problem of not letting it

flag in the middle is to alternate from

2000 BC to present-day and even back to

Vietnam and I'm setting up my payoffs so

well in the middle that I can hardly

wait to get to the ending and the ending

will work better because I didn't just

persevere through the marathon I just


step number 12 is to write a resounding

ending you want your book to end the way

a Broadway play ends when that curtain

comes down with a satisfying thud I'm

working on my 195th book so I've got

over a hundred 90 books here that all

had to have endings that worked

two-thirds of my books are novels

one-third are nonfiction so even

nonfiction has to have that great ending

how do you make sure your ending doesn't

fizzle you give it the time it deserves

I had talked to a lot of writers who've

written their entire manuscript to get

to the end and they rush it or they say

I just don't know how to make it work

don't settle for second best if it takes

longer to write your ending than the

rest of them now we'll put together or

the nonfiction book put together do it

do whatever it takes to make it work and

if you've got several ideas for how what

might be best go for the one that is the

most emotional because readers remember

what moves them my last and most

important point step 13 is that you need

to become a ferocious self that occur

what does it mean to be ferocious you

know what it means it means to be

aggressive everything else is for naught

if you don't polish your manuscript to

the point where you're happy with every

word that doesn't mean it's going to be

perfect or that you don't need an editor

if you should place it with a publisher

but you need to polish that thing until

it sings

why because agents and editors can tell

within two minutes whether your

manuscript is going to be worth reading

or rejecting that doesn't sound fair and

maybe it isn't fair but they have so

many things to read the competition is

so vast they've learned to be able to

tell within a page or two whether this

has potential or not that puts all the

onus on you

to self-edit people said should I pay an

editor if you pay an editor

what is the publisher buying your work

or someone else's learn to edit yourself

cut to add power I have the list of 21

self editing tips you can find him at

Jerry Jenkins com

I've been so blessed in my career that I

love to pay it forward so I'm sending

out free writing tips and writing blogs

you can find all that at that website

and you'll be ready to go