Writing a Book For the First Time? 9 Top Tips

Discover what you must know about writing a book for the first time from a self-published author

I’ve self-published several non-fiction books about writing, creativity, business, and parenting. Anyone can write a book, but far fewer will sit down to do it. While learning the craft of self-publishing books, I made many time-consuming mistakes while writing my books

I’ve self-published several non-fiction books about writing, creativity, business, and parenting. Anyone can write a book, but fewer will take that first draft and turn it into a published work. While learning the craft of self-publishing books, I made many time-consuming mistakes. Here’s what I figured out after I started writing a book for the first time.

How Do I Write a Book with No Experience?

Writing a book with no prior experience can feel daunting, yet it’s an adventure that every author goes through. You don’t need experience to write a book. Instead, it takes an idea, determination, and hard work.

I felt the same way when I wrote my first book. That was over half a dozen books ago! When starting to write a book for the first time, ask yourself: “What do I want to convey through my story or content? Who is my target audience?” 

Don’t underestimate the power of persistence. Writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be moments of doubt and frustration, but remember every word you write is a step closer to achieving your dream of becoming an author.

1. Set a Goal to Write a Book

If you’re starting to write a book for the first time you must set a goal

Setting a goal to write a book involves committing to the process of creating a manuscript, defining clear objectives for its completion, and establishing a structured plan for becoming an author.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve got this great book idea”? Then, they never actually do anything about starting to write a book. I first tried writing a book when I was 19 but couldn’t get past page five. I didn’t understand how to keep a story moving or sit in a chair for over 30 minutes and write about one thing.

That didn’t stop me from boring friends to death in the pub about my ideas for short stories, novellas, and non-fiction books. It’s much easier to discuss becoming a bestselling author than writing a book. If you’re starting to write a book for the first time, take these steps:

  • Set a word count for your book
  • Break it into smaller goals for each chapter
  • Calculate a target word count for your daily writing sessions
  • Track your daily output in a spreadsheet or a word-count tracker

2. Refine The Big Idea For Your Book

When considering the big idea for your book, reflect on what drives your passion and connects with your intended audience. Your book’s central concept should be something you are deeply interested in and also offer your readers value or a new perspective. You could start writing a book using a unique story, an innovative approach to a common problem, or a fresh insight into a well-known subject. 

Consider the books that influenced or caught your attention. Consider jotting down the themes that excite you, and narrow them down to the one that resonates most deeply with you and your potential readers. For example, my last book I Can’t Believe I’m a Dad!I wrote a story-driven parenting book for new Dads about what to expect after their son or daughter is born based on my experiences as a parent to three kids.

3. Create an Outline for Your Book

A good outline can save most authors dozens of hours and avoid painful rewrites. If you’re a plotter, break your book into three acts. Usually, Act One sets up what’s about to happen, Act Two is the meat of your book, and Act Three is the denouement or conclusion. 

Next, break down each act into subsequent chapters and break those down into key points or sections to write about. You can use a notepad, create a mind map, or use one of these outliner apps.

Some literary authors consider themselves painters and prefer sitting down and writing about whatever is on their minds. You’ll only know what works best after experimenting with both approaches. If you’d like to try both plotting and pantsing, enter the Snowflake method. It combines elements of creative writing with planning. Learn how to use the Snowflake method.

4. Write Regularly, Every Day

Many new aspiring authors complain about having no good ideas or not feeling inspired. They complain about writer’s block and say they can only write once a good idea arrives from heaven or the muse.

An electrician doesn’t avoid a job because he has no great ideas for the task. A doctor doesn’t skip operating on a patient because she’s not feeling it today. It’s no different for aspiring authors, despite some myths people claim about the creative process. You can beat writer’s block by turning up and writing even if you don’t feel like it. A great writing habit is key to finishing your first book. Read our guide profiling some great habits of writers.

Professional authors turn up every day. They keep a consistent writing schedule, even if they’re not inspired. They work towards their daily word count and accept they can fix messy mistakes while editing.

5. Write a Lousy First Draft Fast

The first draft allows for creative freedom without the pressure of immediate perfection. The job of a first draft is to exist. Many call it the vomit the vomit draft. You can fix common grammar, spelling, and clunky creative writing ideas while editing and revising.

It took me a long time to learn the job of a first draft is to exist… and it’s ok if the writing is lousy. It’s good that my first drafts are for me alone, and yours should be too. When you write the first draft, you may lack confidence or feel uninspired by what you’re about to do. 

You may feel like you’re writing with a crayon in your mouth, but successful authors rarely experience white-hot inspiration and perfect prose while working on their first drafts. Many would-be authors doubt themselves and think about pressing delete, too.

Instead, there’s a determined (and over-caffeinated) soul plugging away at their manuscript one sentence at a time, looking at their word count or the clock and all the while thinking:

‘It’ll do for now,’ ‘I’m almost there,’ ‘I can fix this later.’ You can fix it later, too, but you’ve got to finish your first draft first. You’ve got to reach The End. If you need help, check out our list of first-draft examples.

6. Read Widely Across Genres

Anyone who wants to write a book loves to read. The best way to figure out what you want to write about is by reading the works of authors you admire and the best books outside your comfort zone. We can help you find a book to read.

When I started writing a book, I didn’t spend much time reading non-fiction subjects outside my comfort zone.

Reading an easy book is okay for somebody whose career doesn’t involve moving around words and creative writing ideas, but it’s poison for an ASPIRING AUTHOR.

If you’re going to become an author, reading and research is part of your job. Spend time reading outside your comfort zone, reading the work of authors you admire and those you detest. It counts as writing time. Take notes, write down, and learn to arrange your ideas before starting your book.

If you fail to feed your mind, don’t expect it to serve you quality creative writing ideas when you next sit down in front of the blank page.

7. Create A Solid Writing Routine

Create a solid writing routine
Creating a designated writing space, free from distractions, can help you focus on the job

Write at the same time every day, in the same place for the same duration, in a quiet room in your house, the library, or a coffee shop. This space should be comfortable and conducive to concentration; that way, it’s more likely to become a daily habit you follow without thinking.

I like to put things off and procrastinate. Like many authors, I’ve often woken up, checked email, bought books on Amazon, phoned the cable company about my bill, arranged meetings, and done everything else but write 500–1000 words. More often than not, when I put creative writing last, it’s unlikely to happen at all.

Consistency is critical, even on days when you feel stuck or blocked while starting to write a book. Creating a designated writing space, free from distractions, can help you focus on the job. Pick one or two writing tools or writing apps and stick them. 

Regular breaks help avoid burnout and keep your mind fresh, while reflection time can be used to assess your progress and adjust your routine or writing approach as needed.

Finally, include time for related activities such as reading, research, and editing, which are vital to writing. Check out my book about productivity for writers if you need help.

8. Separate Writing and Editing

Don’t make the mistake of writing and editing at the same time. They’re different parts of the creative process.

It takes self-discipline and good writing habits to sit down every day and work on a first draft until it’s done. However, more work lies ahead when you hit your target word count for a book.

A great book only emerges from subsequence drafts. So, take a deep breath… and then get started. Now, you have a chance to refine your writing style and fix all of those messy mistakes.

Revising your book draft without help is challenging, so use the best grammar checker you can afford and hire an editor. Good writers work with structural editors who fix the structure of their books. They collaborate with line editors and copy editors who improve sentence structure. And they hire proofreaders and fact-checkers to check their books for typos and other mistakes.

Writing and self-publishing an entire book is a big project. You might not earn a return as a full-time published author for a few years. But keep at it until you improve your craft and determine what readers want.

9. Accept Critical Feedback

Being open to feedback means welcoming constructive criticism and suggestions from editors and beta readers of your book. This openness to external perspectives can enhance the quality of your writing by providing new insights and opportunities for improvement.

The same mindset applies after you press publish. Perhaps a top Amazon reviewer left a negative rating, and a reader emailed to say they didn’t like it, or your editor rejected the book in question. Rejection is part of the creative process. I used to show my early drafts of my book to friends and family, and they’d give me well-meaning feedback that I couldn’t act on. 

The first time I sent a piece of writing to a professional editor, she emailed me back a Word document with dozens of annotations and almost all of my drafts rewritten or crossed out. Even today, getting editorial feedback is difficult. So, don’t let it overwhelm you because it’s also part of the job and key to becoming an author.

Author

  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.

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