I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a book for the last year so I thought it might be worth sharing a few tips on how I finally stopped talking about it and made a start. There used to be a sort of hushed reverence around announcing this kind of activity but in the age of self-publishing and blogging, writing a book is an achievable goal for pretty much anyone that has something to say.
From the standpoint of a novice in this area, the sheer volume of people now writing books is both encouraging and daunting. For the first time in my life I can say I personally know several people in various parts of the world with books already ‘out there’ or in progress. A distant relative of mine was a distinguished novelist but as he died before I had a chance to meet him, I don’t think that counts.
There are just so many books already in the world. Great books and awful ones too. So many words. Why would I want to add to the pile? What could I say that would be worth reading anyway?
I have discovered that this kind of thinking gets me nowhere. Whatever I write will not be like anyone else’s book because I am not like anybody else. I have decided not to get bogged down in worrying about whether my ideas are ‘worthy’ enough.
Writing and completing an extended writing project is an amazing and satisfying achievement in and of itself. There will be many frustrations and challenges along the way but overcoming the obstacles and seeing it through to the end is part of the process. Nothing worth doing is meant to be easy after all. The first challenge is to begin.
Seven ways to start writing your book
• Join a book group – words and how other writers arrange them can be both inspiring and informative. One of the first social things I did in Dubai was to join a local book group. Left to my own devices my reading would have been limited by personal taste. The great advantage of a book group is that I have been introduced to a much wider range of novels and writing styles than I would have chosen by myself. I haven’t liked everything but the discipline of reading a book every month and then debating its merits or otherwise sharpens the critical faculties – essential when creating your own work.
• Attend a literary event, workshop or short course – in Dubai the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2016 offered the best possible opportunity to hear published international authors talking about their work, their approach and their inspiration. Every genre was represented and the talks I attended on writing about real life events and family history were enlightening. Authors hailing from Palestine, Lebanon, Britain and Italy shared their starting points and helped me focus on mine.
• Seek out some practical guidance – I have found two very different books extremely helpful. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was suggested by a friend and she warned me that it was a Marmite sort of read, but I loved it. The author strips away all the precious, elitist attitudes that have grown up around the idea of creativity and basically tells you why you need to get on with it. Some of her ideas concerning inspiration are slightly off the wall but I much preferred this self-help book to her massive best seller, Eat, Pray, Love. She cites good examples to illustrate her points and highlights several interesting sounding novels that I am adding to my reading list. I enjoyed her sense of humour too. I discovered Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir by Lynn C. Miller and Lisa Lenard-Cook through an online search. This drills down to the tools and techniques used by novelists that can help shape real life into ‘creative non-fiction.’ I imagine similarly helpful resources exist for other genres too.
• Use online resources and social media – Twitter is a great place to find other writers, ask questions and to benefit from shared experience. Check out #writing, #amwriting and #writingtips for connections to experts, informative websites and blogs on everything from devising an attention grabbing opening paragraph to preparing a manuscript for consideration by a publisher.
• Write down your central idea – make brief notes on the theme and some of the content. Who are the main characters? Where is it set? What is the time frame of the story? What problems are the characters grappling with?
• Write the first 1000 words – pick your main character and place them in the story. What are they doing that will grab the reader’s attention and make them want to know more? This may not be the true beginning of your story but once written it will suggest the next direction to explore, a better idea or a different point of view. You have started. No going back, now. The only way is forward.
• Tell your friends and family you are writing a book – sharing this information, putting it out there somehow makes it real. After all, if others know about it you won’t want to disappoint them when they ask how it’s going. The last thing anyone wants to hear is that the budding author they thought they knew has thrown in the towel when the going got tough. Am I right?