How to Write a Book

Typewriter

New authors are given no shortage of options when it comes to deciding how to write. The sheer number of conflicting methodologies–each of them usually touted as the end all, be all, tried and true approach–boggles the mind, as one must immediately wonder why there should be so many “foolproof” formulae if any of them really help. Truth be told, none of the popular methods do anything by themselves.

Mad Hatter

`Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, `and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

However, all of the methods work. There are a thousand ways to write a book, because there are a thousand kinds of author, a thousand kinds of book. Here we begin to get into a murky area, as a writer only knows how to write once he’s written. Some find it simplest to just hammer at the keys until they have every conceivable detail on the page, then to go back and chip away at the 250,000 word monolith that is their rough draft until all that remains is a well-written novel a third of that. I call them Stonecutters.

That type of approach demands patience and care. Going from a stream-of-consciousness draft to a polished release means checking, double-checking, and triple-checking everything for accuracy and consistency while attempting to re-write the lot as you go. If you change anything halfway through the draft, you’ll need to make sure you reflect that change throughout, and we’ve all seen examples of little problems like this in classic novels.

Each to His Own

Some writers are so mortified at the thought of any flaw in their work that they must meticulously craft each line, self-editing as they go. These are usually the type to throw something out entirely if it doesn’t meet their standard ,and their proclivity to start from scratch rather than revise and edit earns them the name of Glassblowers. Then we have the Accountants, who check and tally every detail of their work. They try to go by the numbers, seeing to it that word count, chapter length, usage statistics, readability scores, and so forth, are all at acceptable levels.

Engineers try to map and plan everything out from the beginning, perhaps reasoning that a good top-down view of the project will minimize the risk of errors and inconsistencies while maximizing the efficiency of the writing process. However, they generally refuse to write anything at all until they have a comprehensive plan, and they seem to think “drafting” has something to do with schematics.

Then, of course, there are the Knights, who see the work as some mythic beast to be slain, oft opining more on the misfortunes they endure than whether or not they’ve conquered. Minstrels do quite well over a few lines, but they tend to wander off. Then we have Fishermen, who will hang a line and wait for something to strike before casting out another. I could go on, but I fear we might be at it for some time. The point, of course, is that there are as many ways to write a book as there are books to write.

Personally, I’ve always found outlining to be best. Set forth a comprehensive pseudo-outline of what you wish to see done in a specific chapter or section, then use that pseudo-outline to write a formal outline that includes notes on style. From there, it’s a small matter to begin writing a chapter and simply follow your own plan, neither too convoluted nor overly simplistic, until what you have left is a respectable sheaf of promising prose. Edit it immediately, leave it to sit, bury it for a month; once it’s written, you’ve only to see that it’s written well!

Angel Michaelangelo

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Solutions Abound

My advice would be to try using yWriter. As writing tools go, it is by far the best you are likely to find. Written and maintained by veteran programmer and author of the Hal Spacejock series of science-fiction novels, Simon Haynes, yWriter is available for free through Spacejock Software alongside many other useful tools (which are also free).

yWriter has a wealth of useful functions, ranging from storyboarding to detailed character biographies to even tracking the draft and revision status of individual scenes. For the novelist, you have the ability to easily track how often each of your characters appears throughout the book, and non-fiction writers can easily customize yWriter to suit almost any project. It also allows you to set and follow writing goals, view word usage, and even rearrange the structure of your work-in-progress with no difficulty at all. In fact, you can even run yWriter from a USB drive, which is especially useful if you work from multiple devices or, forbid, should be forced to use a friend’s computer to get a bit of work done.

All that said, I must admit that I did not use yWriter for my first title, On Virtue, although I did use it in the initial planning phase and do plan to use it for my next title, which is expected to be out later this year. Quite frankly, yWriter is a tool you should have even if you don’t use it. It easily lends itself to any writing style, so whether you are a Stonecutter or Glassblower, Accountant, Engineer, Knight, Minstrel, or just a simple Fisherman waiting for a bite, the features and functionality of yWriter will ensure that you can easily proceed from beginning to end or anything before, after, and in-between.

Try it yourself. The software is complete free, very easy to use, and even in the worst case it will at least help you to answer the most important question a new author will ever need to answer: “How do write a book?”

JC Augustus Lai Andurin

J.C. Augustus Lai Andurin is an Irish-American author and philosopher. Having spent much of his life traveling the U.S., Europe, and Asia, he has a fierce wanderlust and thirst for knowledge. Despite his adventurous spirit, he is a husband and father, first and foremost, with three wonderful children.

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