Seven Tips for Writing Your First Book, and Beyond

The challenge of writing your first book can be daunting. The more you think about it, the more you feel overwhelmed. No doubt, it is a big job, and you can manage it. First, break it into simple steps. Clarify the purpose of your book. Clarify the main theme, message, or conclusion that you want the reader to follow. Write the beginning of the story. Write the end of the story. Write a summary of the middle, where all the real work occurs. Write. Write. Write.

If you are writing a story featuring a protagonist, take time to develop the characters and personalities of the main players. Help your readers to identify and empathize with the protagonist, and to despise and detest the antagonists, if any. Character development is important in any story, whether fiction, non-fiction or a memoir. A compelling story easily becomes tedious if the reader feels disconnected from the characters.

Don’t take shortcuts simply to get to the conclusion sooner, or to reach some predefined page count or to publish the book by a predetermined date.  Make sure your story, and the context in which it occurs, is fully developed. Take the reader on an emotional rollercoaster in every chapter: conflict, tragedy, hope, triumph, celebration, repeat or something similar.

Write fictional fantasies and memoirs in your own natural style. Your style will become your written ‘voice’ and it will help to establish a unique and more personal relationship with your readers. A style consistent with good journalistic practices is a better choice for non-fiction works, including scientific research, politics, economics, and the like.  

Always consider the audience in your writing style and choice of grammar and vocabulary. Simple is always better. Children’s books only work in language that they use and comprehend. Communicate even advanced research in eighth-grade level language, rather than using a language that only PhDs can understand. Complex vocabulary invites ambiguity and misinterpretation, even amongst the most scholarly readers. As the complexity of your language and vocabulary increases, so the level of comprehension by your reader decreases. 

Depending on the nature of your work, conduct research to validate facts, places, technology, people, events, assumptions and to support the context of your story. You must assume that your readers have some knowledge, or they will conduct research of their own. Errors, omissions and incorrect references cause the reader to begin doubting what they are reading. More importantly, they lose trust in you that is very difficult to regain. A simple error, such as a misspelled name of a common weapon or tool, creates a mental conflict that distracts the reader from your work.       

Write it twice and edit it five times; that is not an exaggeration. Editing corrects errors, makes the work readable, improves grammar and style, corrects facts and ensures the integrity of the content and storyline. Editing makes the story work. Do it several times and do not assume you can do it alone. Independent eyes looking critically over your will help make significant improvements. Put your ego aside and accept that editors are working to help you shine.