Here’s how this conversation went:
Me: God, what do you want me to share this week?
God: How to start writing a book.
Me: But I am not qualified to talk about that. I haven’t written perfect books, and I made such imperfect progress in writing both of them, and I DON’T KNOW ENOUGH.
God: You’re right. But, when you wrote your books I was always with you. Tell people your story and how to get started when they too feel imperfect and unqualified.
Me: Okay. But I’m afraid.
God: I am with you! Do it anyway.
I am unqualified to write this post. If you are looking for advice from someone who has written perfect words and made perfect progress in writing books, that someone isn’t me. Writing both of my books was a miracle (more of my story is in the video at the end of this post!)–something done not by my own strength, but His. Writing books is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, childbirth included. I don’t say that in jest. I haven’t written a post about this till now because that sounds dramatic if you’ve never experienced it. For me, putting my story into words–all the messy parts included–has been an act of surrender. Maybe some people find great joy in the process of writing books. I am not one of them.
Notes I posted on my wall while I was writing Cultivate.
Now, having said that, let me tell you why these experiences have changed me in powerful ways, and why great joy–greater than I ever imagined–came through writing Make It Happen andCultivate (releases June 27th!). How often do you get the opportunity to wrestle with your thoughts, and talk to God all day about them? As I struggled to put words on the page, there was a constant inner dialogue with God–sometimes complaining that the right words weren’t coming, sometimes crying as I relived the hardest parts of my journey, often worrying that my words weren’t perfect (and God reminding me that He didn’t call me to write perfect words!), yet in it all, drawing closer to Him. That is a gift I would never trade for easier experiences. Like spring flowers growing through the soil of winter, good things grow through hard things! I am so grateful!
I often get asked about this book writing thing, and where to start. Like I said, I’m no expert, and my book writing experiences may be totally unique to me. But, if I were to give myself advice before starting, this is it!
Here are 10 tips to get started on writing your book:
1. Start by answering these questions:
– Why do you want to write a book? Why book format specifically versus blogging, or some other medium? Book format may seem glamorous in many ways–you may envision your book on the shelves at a bookstore, or getting to add “author” to your bio (and there’s nothing wrong with those things!), but choose the format for your message intentionally. It’s entirely possible that your message will reach more people–or more of the right people–in a different format.
– What is your message? What do you hope to communicate in your book? This may seem like a basic question, but this question is everything. I struggled to answer this question about Cultivate in the early stages of writing because it wasn’t clear to me yet. I started over on the book completely for several reasons, but one of those was because my message finally became clear. I’m so grateful I started over!
– Who are you writing this book for? I wrote Make It Happen to one specific person. Yes, I hoped it would help a variety of women in various life stages, but God kept bringing one person to mind and I wrote the majority of the book to her. It helped me to make the book a conversation, and helped motivate me to get this message out!
– Are you willing to sacrifice your time and heart and resources and pride for this message? Because, for me, that’s what it took. Writing books, just like doing anything meaningful, comes at a cost. It’s not like writing a blog post. Writing a book is an all-consuming experience from start to finish. Are you ready to dig in?
2. Learn from other writers. Reading great books is helpful to learn how to be a better writer and communicator, and many writers have excellent training resources! My friend Lysa started Compel Training, and I used it when writing both of my books. Registration is currently closed, but get on their email list and you’ll know when registration opens again. You can also read this collection of advice I contributed to through Proverbs 31 for first-time writers. There are far wiser writers in there than I who contributed, and their advice is golden! Another resource that was recommended to me is Jerry Jenkins’ post about how to write a book in 20 steps.
3. Sketch out your book. Make a detailed and clear outline of your entire book, and the key points you hope to deliver. There are millions of ways to do this, but the point here isn’t do make a perfect outline, it’s to just make an outline! I wrote the key points I wanted to deliver on paper first and brainstormed stories I wanted to tell to illustrate each point. Then, I put all those points and stories on PostIts above my desk and tried to put them in an order that made sense. This was so helpful for me! (Thanks to my friend and author Renee for helping me with this!) Later on, I typed up an outline on my laptop, and it changed a ton as I went! A note of freedom: you have permission to change your mind, start over, and re-do your outline as you go. In fact, it’s inevitable that you will. The chapters of both of my books were re-ordered at least four times. The chapter titles changed a dozen times. And the outline I started with is nothing like the one I finished with!
4. Don’t start writing with a blank page. A tip I learned from Lysa! Once you have a working outline and you open up that blank document to get started, start with something on the page. Try adding your outline text for that chapter to the page before you begin. This helps to keep you focused on what needs to be communicated, and gives you a starting point. Staring at a blank page is no fun, and doesn’t help you to get the words flowing.
5. Capture your thoughts. When you are in the thick of writing a book, it is like doing an all-consuming puzzle. Pieces may come together in the middle of the night, in the shower, on a walk, or while you’re cooking dinner (speaking from experience here). So, be prepared with something to capture your thoughts! I found it helpful to keep notes in a little notebook, and when that notebook wasn’t around, I’d jot them down on my phone or on any scrap piece of paper in sight. Evidence below.
6. Use helpful writing software. Most publishers want your files in Word format, but writing in Word is not ideal when crafting a 60,000-word manuscript. That can be challenging to navigate between chapters. I used Scrivener to write both of my books and LOVED it. Definitely worth the $45 investment. When I was done, I reformatted everything into my publisher’s desired Word format. Everyone’s process is different, though! My friend Hannah writes her books longhand on yellow legal pads, then transfers them to type.
A screenshot from my Scrivener file (which has drastically changed since I captured this–most of those chapter titles have been changed!). But, you can see how easy this is to navigate. Love this software!
7. Compose your words in good form. Whether you go the traditional publishing route or choose to self-publish, you will likely still have (need!) a copyeditor and proofreader. Learning to compose your thoughts in good form from the start is very helpful, though! I’ve had many editing rounds where words were changed into proper grammar, and they lost my voice in the change. So, I had to go back and change entire paragraphs to communicate my message authentically and naturally–in proper grammar. A great resource: Grammarly.com has been a great help to me in this arena. You can sign up for a free account and it checks your writing as you go.
8. Clear the clutter. I have learned to be a better writer over time by learning how to communicate thoughts more clearly–and avoid words that clutter.Here are some words to avoid. And these too. There are always exceptions to these suggestions but wow these have been helpful for me!
Have you ever used the word sagacious? ; )
9. Stop typing. : ) Yep! Try voice typing. I have used Dragon dictation software, the free voice plugin on Google Docs, and the voice-to-text feature on Scrivener. When you are working through a challenging section, this can be a great alternative to get the words out, and go back and edit them later.
10. Read your words out loud. This has been huge for me! When I read my words out loud (or use the speaking feature on Scrivener), I can hear what needs to be changed to make my message clearer. It can be helpful to read your words aloud to someone else too!
One final bonus tip: just do it. If God has told you to write a book, get to it. Don’t wait till you are “qualified,” or your circumstances are perfect, or you have it all together. As I wrote in Make It Happen, God does not need you to be a superhero in order to use you for His great purposes. He just needs your humble, willing heart. He will help you.
Here’s my writing story and more tips from Facebook live today!
P.S. Thanks to my friend Amy for encouraging me to write this post! Go write that book, my friend. (And you too, dear reader!)
P.P.S. Have you considered writing a book? What has been holding you back? I’d love to hear from you. I’ll choose a few people who comment to win copies of Make It Happen (for you or a friend!). I loved hearing your thoughts here too!
Pre-order my upcoming book, Cultivate, here!