I’ve had lots of people ask me recently how to write a book and I thought my answer would make for a great blog series. So here it is.
The first thing you need to ask is: “Why do I want to write a book?”
As a ghostwriter, I usually ask my prospective clients this question at the beginning of our correspondence. It’s an important question, even if I’m going to write the book for you. You need to decide why you want to do this. Your answer(s) will immediately help you to figure out how you’re going to put it together – or how we’ll work together as we create it.
Are you wanting to write your life story – your memoir – for your kids to read one day? I have a friend who’s doing this right now and it’s a fantastic idea.
Are you wanting to write a book that will help bolster or launch your career in a specialised field? (For example, a motivational book? A book on business? A book on medicine? A book on UFO’s?)
Do you want to write a fiction story that shows how a character makes peace with their past? Or a story that makes people feel a certain way?
See, once you know why you want to write the book, you’ll have a good idea who your audience is going to be. This will be one of the first questions any publisher is going to ask you. Ultimately, they want to know who is actually going to buy your book. You can’t write a book and then only later decide who your audience is and who you think are actually going to read it.
Well, I guess you can. I mean you can do ANYTHING, really. But the likelihood of you sticking to a topic as you write will be quite low. And this is generally what most people complain about when they start writing – they find their thoughts are all over the place and after writing one chapter, they have no idea where to take it next.
Knowing the “why” you want to write the book immediately allows you to start brainstorming its contents without losing focus on the central topic. For example, I might say I want to write a book “on business.” Well, why do I want to write a book on a subject that already has a zillion titles available? Ah, well, let’s think. Well, I want to help people enjoy the work they do. Excellent, now with this I now can start brainstorming the book’s contents. For instance, I would probably want to cover why I think business is intrinsically good, what I think the main purpose of business is, and probably some stuff to do with the doctrine of vocation. Knowing this will avoid me adding in anything that isn’t entirely relevant, such as freelancing on Elance, because although it’s business-related it’s not entirely within the scope of helping people enjoy the work they do. That’s more to do with my own ghostwriting business anyway.
When approaching fiction, the same question applies. You might say, “I want to write a fantasy book,” but as you know there are a zillion of those around. Why do you want to write a fantasy book? Well, your answers might be, “I want to build a world like Tolkien did,” or, “I want to write a story that makes people feel a certain way,” or “I want to write a fantasy story where the hero is a mouse from outer space…” As you can see, you’re already now starting to get ideas for what your book will be about, characters in the story, and your book’s general feel.
Ryan Peter is a writer, journalist and ghostwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes fantasy, sci-fi, inspirational fiction, and on faith. Ryan is also part of the New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) translocal team.