Recently I received this question once again: “How did you write your books?”
So, after weeks of wondering what to say and being too intimidated to try my hand at an answer, I’ve finally decided to give it a go.
While I only have my (very limited) experience to draw from, these are the things that helped me write two books (The Insatiable Quest for Beauty and Boycrazy: And how I ended up single and mostly sane) — and I hope these things can be helpful for you as well.
This is the first thing that comes to mind, because writing a book is a process. When people ask how long it took me to write my first book, their eyes bulge out. It took six years.
Basically, I wrote the whole thing in four months. Then I waited. Then I wrote the whole thing again the following year. And waited. Then I wrote it again the following year. And so on.
That’s not to say that writing a book will take years for everyone, but I do think writing (in my experience) is like fine wine: Allowing some time for maturation makes it better.
#2: Just start.
People start in different ways. Some outline the book; others just start writing. Some jump around; others write chronologically. Whatever it means for you, just start writing. This can be the biggest hurdle to overcome.
#3: Plan time to write.
While writing my first book, I was so inspired that it felt easy to write — like the words just flew into my Word document. Some nights, I stayed up until 3am with my college roomie sound asleep and my fingers flying over my keyboard. I just couldn’t stop; the words kept coming.
That is a writer’s dream. But it’s not always reality.
When I started my second book, I thought it would be the same way; that words would flow effortlessly and inspiration would come easily.
But it wasn’t like that. I rarely felt inspired, and writing another book felt like a daunting task.
So instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, I started scheduling in time to write.
I discovered that mornings were my most creative time, so I planned to write from 9am-11am every day. If inspiration struck, I would continue longer. But either way, I would at least write for those two hours.
My second book was not written under the influence of inspiration at 3am; it was written during those scheduled morning hours. And let me tell you: more times than not, I struck gold at some point during those two hours.
#4: Know your audience and message.
Have you noticed that some books seem to have an identity crisis? They wander all over the place. One minute they’re addressing adults and the next minute teens; one minute they’re talking about dating in a healthy way and the next minute they’re all about anger management. I start to wonder what they’re even trying to say or who they’re talking to!
In order to give your book a sense of cohesiveness and a firm identity, it’s important to know your answer to this question: If your readers only take one main message away from your book, what message do you want that to be?
Let your answer to that question direct the entire framework of your book.
That doesn’t mean you repeat the same things over and over. Rather, it means that you take a hard look at everything and anything you plan to include in your book, and ask yourself: “Does this new idea compliment my main message, or will it confuse my reader? Does it make sense to include this new idea in the book, or should I save it for my next book or my blog?”
In the same way, know what audience you’re writing for, and keep that in mind throughout your whole book. You could even keep a picture of your target audience above your desk, to put a face in your mind. Write your whole book to that person, to that face.
#5: Give it some space.
Come back to your manuscript after some time has passed. Basically, I try to wait long enough that I’ve forgotten what I’ve written.
When I first write something, I’m used to how it sounds in my head. It automatically makes sense to me. Coming back to it after giving it some space allows me to read it as though I’m a stranger.
Then when I read it again, when it’s like reading a brand new story. That allows me to see mistakes, parts that are confusing, and things I couldn’t see when I’d just written it.
#6: Don’t get too attached.
This was the hardest part for me. I got so attached to certain phrases that I thought sounded poetic…but no one else seemed to think so! Even though I absolutely loved those phrases and sections, I had to leave them out of the book for the sake of my readers. But I didn’t have to delete them altogether! Instead, I saved those “deleted scenes” for my blog. (And some of them, I don’t even like anymore. Go figure.)
#7: Use a focus group.
After I’d written the final draft (or what I thought was the final draft), I got a focus group together. They were girls in my target audience demographically (in broad strokes, I wrote my books to American Christian girls in their teens and early twenties), and they agreed to read through the book and get together several times to discuss it.
Every other week we met for two hours at a coffee shop to talk through the two chapters they’d read during the previous weeks. They were brutally, wonderfully honest, sharing anything that confused them, any parts where they got bored and wanted to stop reading, and anything they thought was just “off.”
I cannot tell you how much this helped!! I scrapped and rewrote whole chapters based on their feedback, and my book became 1,000x stronger because of this focus group of amazing girls.
Honest, specific feedback (not just from family) is your best friend as a writer.
#8: Hire an editor.
Sometimes, especially when self-publishing, writers are tempted to do the editing themselves, or have a family member who’s good at writing serve as their editor.
It’s just not the same. An actual editor is going to catch many more things and notice the discrepancies in your work. An editor can take an unbiased stance and give you invaluable feedback.
It’s worth the investment to get a good editor — and that person doesn’t have to be super expensive! Here’s one of the editors I used — super affordable, but also super awesome.
(Same goes for cover design. You want your book cover to be amazing so people will want to buy it. If cover design is not your area of expertise, hire it out. That’s what I did…and I’m so glad I did!)
#9: Strive for excellence, not perfection.
After working on my first book for six years, I just started waiting around. Honestly, I was waiting for a magical moment, a word from God that said, “The book is ready; go ahead and release it.” That’s when one of my friends told me, “Tiffany, it’s ready. Get off your butt and get it out there.”
The perfectionist in me cringed. I’d done my absolute best, but it still wasn’t perfect. There were parts that were the best I could do at that point, but I knew with time I’d gain more clarity in those areas.
This is a fine line, because you want to write with excellence and give it your all…but you also don’t want to get stuck on perfection.
Nothing I write will ever be perfect. Nothing I write can ever touch every single person. My responsibility is just to faithfully tell the story God has given me and get it out there.
The important part was that I got it out there. It’s doing more good in people’s hands than it would have been while sitting on my computer waiting to be perfected.
The beautiful thing is that God can use anything to touch someone’s heart. Even my imperfections.
These are the things that helped me write my manuscripts.
I hope this can encourage you! What are some tips you’ve found helpful in writing a book? Please comment those things below — I’d love to hear and learn from your experiences! 🙂