How do I start a book? It’s an honest question, and one many seek answers to . . . and few find. Writers seem reluctant to divulge what drives them to write a specific book and, if the truth be told, frequently don’t know. But as a published book writer myself, I’ll cover below some dos and don’ts which should help you avoid the headaches I put up with when I first hit the keyboard in anger. (passion does help, in anything you do)
Let’s first deal in general terms. You would like to write a book, feel you have a facility with words, and enjoy writing. An excellent start. For the moment I’m assuming you haven’t decided what you wish to write about. The world’s your oyster!
Tip 1. Make some brutal decisions. The more the merrier. They will help you identify the kind of book to write. Plump for fiction or non-fiction. That’s a good beginning. Immediately you have eliminated thousands of categories. Continue this exercise until it bores you. Then move on.
Tip 2. Passion. Whatever book you end up writing, the more latent passion you have about the subject matter the better. It will come to the surface as you write and your book will be a better read as a result. Passion is hard to fake.
Tip 3. Having identified what you are passionate about, but before you give more thought to the book that might be informed by this passion, conjure up a theme that expresses your passion. An example. You are worried about the welfare of the elderly. A theme could be, how cruelly we ignore their needs. Another example. You like birds. You are passionate about robins. One theme could be, ‘Robins are not just for Christmas’. Play with these ideas and soon enough you will come up with themes to alight on.
Tip 4. Think about the people who are going to seek out and buy this book. Will they be reading it for thrills, entertainment, information, business purposes or something else entirely? Will they be academics, professionals, children or adults? What will be in your book that will make these people appreciative?
Tip 5. You now have focus. But the title escapes you. Your book’s contents are just too difficult to encapsulate. Of course they are. You haven’tstarted yet! Don’t get over excited. Just give your book a preliminary title – your best shot, even if it’s long and rambling – and when the first draft is completed, return and sort it out in an hour or two. By then your poor brain will know precisely how to summarise all the work you’ve put it through.
Tip 6. Have a skeleton structure in place for the entire book before you start. But don’t spend too long at this chore. A series of headings will do: death in the park – vicar finds body and accuses bishop, local reporter blackmails organist; or – slugs eat lettuces, the life cycle of slugs, things they hate, poisons that kill, ways to keep them at bay . . .. If you enjoy planning then you can spin out this stage. But a caution: it’s easy to become so devoted to the planning – and talking about it to the world at large – that you never get round to the actual writing of a book. This needs to start somewhere. So, let’s hit the keyboard.
Tip 7. The opening page. The first sentence or two. Critical to get these spot on . . . but not necessarily on day one of the project. Most successful writers are dissatisfied with their first attempts at giving their books a flying start and know that, once the first manuscript is completed, they can return and polish these inportant openings or rewrite them entirely. The reason is twofold: first, when the initial draft is completed the cake is baked; you know which ingredients you used, how the cake tastes and you can now tantalise in the opening paragraph about ‘joys to come’. At the outset, you are only guessing. The second point concerns getting into one’s stride. Starting any book means using different ‘mental muscles’ that have never been asked to perform these specific tricks before. But after a few thousand words you will find your writing becomes more fluent and readable. You are in harmony with your muse. So, by the end of the first draft, you can return to your early pages and write like the professional you’ve become.
How hard is it to complete a book? Not hard at all. Get on with it, I say. Don’t be too distressed if your first book isn’t a world beater. Few are. But by completing it you can say you have written a book, can have enormous fun self-editing it, and in so doing you will learn even more about the craft of book writing. Come what may, your next book will be even better. And, if you are anxious to become a published writer, then ebooks could be your first route to fame. It’s an economic one nowadays and your book could be available online in days for the world to enjoy. Make it a good one!