How to write a fiction, nonfiction or memoir book

There are as many ways to write a book as there are people to write them. And if you are determined to write a book, one way or another you’re going to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. But after writing over a dozen books and coaching countless clients on how they can write their own books, I’ve learned a few things along the way that should be useful to pretty much anyone setting out to write one.

First, know that it will take time and hard work—but that time will pass whether you write one or not, and it’s hard work just to stay alive, so there’s no reason to let time and work stop you from achieving your dream.

I wrote my doctoral dissertation right after my mother had died, I had a newborn to take care of and my relationship was crumbling. I didn’t have a lot of time nor energy, but I knew if I didn’t finish my dissertation soon, it would never be finished—and I had a child to support. So every morning, dead tired and with a head full of mud, I’d wake up at 4:00 a.m. and write until the baby woke up. Then when she’d take a nap, I’d write in fifteen minute increments. It was no way to focus, but it was the only way I had, so I did it.

When I wrote my first book, I was a single mom starting out as a professor with classes to teach and a toddler to take care of, but I had a contract and if I didn’t meet my deadline I’d be in breach of contract—and could potentially lose my job because in the academic world, it’s publish or perish. So every night when she’d go to sleep, after a long day’s work and papers to grade, I’d drag my dead-tired eyes to the computer and start writing. It wasn’t the best book I could possibly write, but it was the best book I could possibly write under the circumstances, and it did get published and was nominated for awards and the toddler still got fed. Hard? Yes. Time consuming? Yes. But so’s raising a kid, and that doesn’t stop most of us from having them. So if you can browse the internet for an hour a night, write up your day’s events on Facebook and send emails or text messages in your spare time, you can use that same time and energy to write a book.

Second, when it comes to writing, know what you’re talking about.

A lot of people want to write a book, but they don’t have the first clue to what it is they want to write. Others have a very good idea, but they haven’t really spent any time thinking about what it is that makes their book worth reading or what makes them the one to write it.

Do your homework. How many other books are out there that are similar to yours? This is a question a literary agent will expect you to answer if you publish your book through a traditional publisher, and it’s a question you are going to need to answer if you publish independently and have to market it yourself. So start browsing around and see what books are out there that are similar to yours.

  • In what way does your stand out from these other titles?
  • How does it build on what’s gone before, or depart from them?
  • Do you have a unique story or perspective?
  • Are you the first to write on your topic or the first to write on it in a long time?
  • If you are writing a memoir about your abusive past, do you have any idea how many other memoirs of abuse are out there?

Let me tell you—a gazillion. That certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write your story, but you should give some serious thought to how your book will be distinctive. And the only way to really know is to start reading those other books. Read the comparable books and you will not only gain insight into how memoirs are structured and stories told, but you’ll have a better sense of what your book has to offer that others don’t.

Similarly, what if you want to write a book on a nonfiction topic, such as how to succeed in business. There are also a gazillion books on that topic—but it does not mean you don’t have something to say and readers won’t want to read it. See what’s out there, read as many of those books as you can, and ask yourself how your book will be different. What is the unique perspective and skill set that you can bring to the table?

Answering these questions and doing some homework are the first steps to gaining a clear understanding of what your book will be about and how it will stand out from the crowd. It will also take you far in being able to talk to others about your book, and elicit interest and excitement in your dream.

Anyone can write a book, but not everyone can write a good book, and even fewer can write a book that sells. But if you are serious about your dream of writing a book, you will find that with the time it takes to binge watch a few series on Netflix and the energy it takes to shop online and boast about your life on Facebook, you can write a book. And if you are willing to acknowledge that there’s a lot you don’t know about book writing—no matter how many books you’ve already written—then you will become a better writer. Because writing is both a craft and an art. The craft you can learn, and the art you can inspire once you set your sights on bringing your book to life.

There’s no better time and place to start than now, because now is the only time you’re guaranteed. So pour yourself a glass of wine or cup of tea and get to work—see what other books are out there like the one you want to write. Don’t get discouraged if there are a lot or a little.

The first step is just knowing the competition.

The next step will be organizing your thoughts. And for that you’ll need caffeine….