Writing Your First Book: How to Successfully Capture Your Thoughts on Paper

Many thanks to my friends at Meylah for allowing me to contribute a guest post last week. Below is the article in full, for those who might be interested in this topic!

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It took me 35+ years to fulfill one of my life goals as set forth in the sixth grade– to write a book. (I’m not sure if I was anal retentive or unusually mature at age 12). And though it was my third attempt at the task, it took less than six months from the first word to securing a publisher for Finding Life’s Secret Sauce: How to Fit Good Food, Fitness and Fun into Your Crazy, Busy Schedule. Now that I’m deep into books Number Two and Three, the process has become much more formulaic and far less intimidating.

That first book, however, can seem like a monumental task! By sharing some of the tricks that helped me break down those writing barriers, I’m hoping you can get your valuable words on paper, too!

Pick a topic you feel passionate about. I have spent a career in marketing and thought very seriously about writing a book to use as a business development tool for my company. When I tried to put pen to paper, however, I was at a loss of words. Instead, I picked a topic that aligned with my personal passions in life. And guess what? The words flew fast and effortlessly. After I got into multiple rounds of editing, I was glad I picked a topic I truly loved researching, reading and laboring over.

Know your target market. Harkening back to my marketing days, the success of a product launch always depends on the target market – not only identifying who they are, but also knowing their psychographics, demographics and geographic location. Without this knowledge, it’s hard to WOW them with a product that solves a problem or makes their lives easier/better.

Likewise, the more you can visualize your potential readers, the more likely you’ll be able to entertain and/or inform them. Also, if you are interested in publishing your work the traditional route, your target readership needs to be large enough to attract the interest of an agent. In fact, prior to publishing Finding Life’s Secret Sauce, I spent months writing an extensive proposal for a book about later-in-life moms. My feedback was the audience was too “niche” to attract adequate buyers to generate money from the project.

Create an outline. Some of you may prefer detailed outlines that transform themselves miraculously into finished products. For a book, this might be overkill, or at the very least, over-thinking. When writing Finding Life’s Secret Sauce, I simply developed a table of contents so I could envision the basic flow of the book. This served as a nice guide when I started writing.

Write every day. To develop good habits, it is important to schedule a set amount of uninterrupted time each day to write. You might be surprised at how much progress you make by dedicating very little time to your endeavor. In fact, I only set aside 20 minutes/day to write the first draft of Finding Life’s Secret Sauce (editing subsequent drafts was slightly more time consuming).

Another advantage in writing every day is you learn when you’re at your best. For example, I tend to write more efficiently in the morning, but with more personality later in the day. These are good things to learn about yourself, especially as you discover your voice and discern a desired writing style.

Stop editing. This is the single most important thing that helped me finish my first book. I am my own worst critic, and I can scarcely write a sentence without re-reading it and throwing darts at every word. But if you spend all your time editing, you’ll never get your story on paper. So get it all out of your system and onto paper before you read it. There’s plenty of time to make it sound pretty later.

We all have bad writing days – even bad weeks – but we need to keep writing anyway. If you take the editing hat off, you will reduce anxiety, avoid writer’s block and be back in business in no time.

Take a writer’s workshop. I owe much of my success to completing my first book to Peggy Jordan and the workshop she led last winter. Not only did she provide many of the suggestions mentioned above, but I learned a lot from other writers in the class. By understanding their successes, challenges and approach to writing, I was better able to recognize tips and tricks that worked for me. A group of writers might also hold you accountable for deadlines and milestones.

Print it out. After you’ve made considerable progress in completing your project, print it out. Put it in a hard-bound notebook. Include your table of contents. Add dividers to make it feel like a book. This is a great time to read the first draft. Not to mention, seeing is believing!

Hire a good editor. I’ve always thought good editors are worth their weight in gold. And not just someone who will make grammatical corrections or change your sentence structure. I like working with someone who can provide sound strategic direction, including recommendations for content voids or redundancies.

An editor of this caliber can make you a better writer; and his/her contribution is worth every penny you spend. Not to mention, it will likely decrease the total amount of time you spend on the project.

If you are interested in referrals, I have used the following writers/editors over the years and can personally vow for their talent, creativity and smarts: Peggy Jordan, Deborah Wessell, Bruce Lee and Ian Smith.

About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.