How to Write a Book (Part 1)

When people find out I’ve written a book, they usually have lots of questions. How did you do that? Where do you start? How does it all come together? To those who struggle with writing, the idea of writing a book always seems miraculous. It’s the same for me when I think of how people fix car engines, paint huge canvasses or produce amazing music. What’s incredible for some comes naturally to others.

When I published my books, I got a lot of those same questions, and more. Now, having published three books and starting to write more, those questions are more relevant than ever. For those who are curious about how an author goes about the process, let me give you a peek behind the curtain. I’ll be revealing a few secrets in a short series of posts. Welcome to Author Secrets.

First off, I’ll be tackling how to write a book. In a later post I’ll move on to discuss a particular challenge that I’m currently facing: how to structure a quadrilogy. I will then finish up with a couple of posts about my writing method, both over the short-term and the long-term. If that sounds interesting, I hope you’ll stick around and read them all (please subscribe to this blog, if you haven’t already).

By way of disclaimer, I should say that these are my author secrets. Every author will be different and have their own way of working. I know something of how other authors work; some of their techniques I’ve found helpful and some seem baffling to me. There will be some divergences and common threads, but this is how I do it.

So how do you get from an idea to a finished book? The end product seems so out of reach to begin with, but you mustn’t let that daunt you, or you’ll never get it off the ground. All masterpieces start small, with just a spark of inspiration. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, perseverance and self-belief to turn the initial idea into a book worth reading. Like anything big or daunting, it’s helpful to break it down. I tackle the process in seven stages:

                                1)      Inspiration

                                2)      Imagineering

                                3)      Planning

                                4)      Writing

                                5)      Editing

                                6)      Re-writing

                                7)      Supporting material

1)      Inspiration

As I said, it starts with a spark of inspiration. An idea, a vision, however hazy or small it may be to begin with. It can come from anywhere, and it can be anything. It could come from something you read, something you watch, something you hear, experience or visit. Films, books, incredible places, people you meet, even ordinary day to day interactions. It could take the form of an image, a character, a name, anything. I’ve got many book ideas that I’ve stored up over the years, waiting for me to have the time to develop them. Some have been a vision in my mind’s eye of a mysterious place that gets me thinking – what is that place, how do you get there, and what would happen once you got there? Others have been characters, a desire to portray a particular personality and the great things they might do. Others have been inexplicable, storylines or events or fragments that seem to come from nowhere.

One thing I will say about this stage: you can’t just assume it will happen on its own. Sometimes it seems to, but there’s always a cause or a trigger, even if you can’t identify it. Inspiration isn’t just something that happens to you, it’s something you have to go looking for. Don’t be passive in this stage – be hungry, be curious. Go out and explore, both in mind and body, and you can be sure you’ll find inspiration. If you’re struggling to even get started, or can’t get any good ideas, chances are you need to do more exploring. Give yourself a better chance by putting yourself in more places where you’re exposed to fascinating things, and watch what happens.

2)      Imagineering

The next stage is what I call ‘imagineering’. That’s because it’s a bit like doing engineering in your imagination. It’s the process of constructing bigger ideas and themes out of smaller building blocks. You take the creative sparks from your inspiration stage and work them over in your mind. I find I can’t skip this stage, because it’s crucial for giving me something viable to work with. If I go straight from inspiration to planning, I won’t have a firm grasp of what I hope to achieve, or what I’m working with. But this in-between stage is a mental playground, toying around with different ideas and possibilities, while there’s still complete freedom and no fear of something seeming silly or infeasible. That’s the wonderful thing about imagineering: anything goes.

It usually happens away from the desk. I mostly do it when I’m out for walks, or on long, boring car journeys. When I have time to let my mind wander. Time when there’s no pressure from deadlines or the expectations of others. It’s just me and my imagination. There’s usually dramatic music involved, because that does for my imagination what petrol does to a fire. I turn things over in my mind, piecing bits together until I find good fits, trying things out and mentally exploring different plot-lines and twists. At the end of a walk or journey I will then jot down notes in rough form which I can then develop later. Sometimes I even have to pull over while driving and pause while I tap notes onto my phone, if a particularly good idea or elusive name has come to me.

But if I’ve done this stage well, the fundamental building blocks of my story will be etched indelibly onto my mind, ready for development. It’s definitely the most fun stage, the stage where my imagination runs riot, and hasn’t yet been saddled with questions of practicability or precise phrasing. That all comes later. The idea here isn’t to interrogate anything or sense-check things, but to get as many good story components formed as possible. They’ll get fully worked out later, with the inconsistencies and illogicalities ironed out and the rough edges smoothed off. Very often the imagineering for one part of the story will continue even after I’ve planned and started writing other parts, but the bulk of it will happen before I start in earnest.

This post will continue in Part 2, where I discuss the Planning and Writing phases. Come back next week to read the rest, or better yet, subscribe to this blog, so you never miss a post.

3 thoughts on “How to Write a Book (Part 1)

  1. Reblogged this on MJH Musings and commented:

    First in a three-part series: How to Write a Book. Peek behind the curtain with me as I reveal some author secrets.


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