Something really fascinating has been happening since I started talking about writing a book. Turns out that people? They all have an idea for a book.
Like, every single person.
When you walk into a bookstore, it’s easy to see how ideas become things. For as long as man could grab a tool, he’s been writing in some form, creating worlds, recording facts and figures and then birthing stories that we covet, honor and remember for years to come.
So, what if you have a killer idea, but you’re not a writer?
Have you ever written an email or letter? Journaled? Typed out a long, ranty Facebook post? Can you construct a sentence? Congratulations! You’re writing!
What if you are a master at crafting ideas in your head, but when you sit down, it’s nothing but crickets?
One of the most helpful ways to combat this is to start talking about your idea. Out loud. In complete sentences, even to yourself.
Sidenote: I am terrible at this.
The moment someone asks, “What’s your book about?” I refrain from saying what I really want to say, which goes something like, “Just read the effing book and then you’ll know!” Instead, I start stumbling all over myself with extra details and ridiculous information and averted eyes and flapping limbs.
Note to self: Practice is key.
What if you don’t know what to do after you write the book, and you become so discouraged because the writing world is this big, scary place and the publishing industry has changed so much, so you figure, “What’s the point?”
Don’t worry about the after. There’s plenty of options for the after. Amazing things can happen once a book is written. But not before.
The point is that if you have an idea, and you don’t want to forget it, you better write it down. Without worrying about what form that it takes, or if it’s in order or even any good.
Okay, great. But where to start?
While I know writers who spend eight hours everyday on the craft, outlining every last plot detail, soaking up knowledge and inspiration from other writers, author events or reading, there’s not one right way to reach productivity or efficiency.
Everyone’s process is different.
For instance, I’ve never outlined a book, except to write down prospective chapters for nonfiction proposals.
With fiction, I usually write in order, the story taking me on a sequential journal.
I still have a process. I will only read nonfiction when I’m writing fiction, as I don’t want to be influenced by another author’s tone or voice or lovely use of adjectives or plot details. I write in the mornings with a huge mug of coffee splashed with pumpkin seed milk. I take a break around lunch to go workout, I bitch and moan about my messy house, my stiff joints, the stack of mail, wobbling on the edge of my desk, the dishes, the laundry, but I ignore it, then write again until I have to pick my daughter up from school. Once she is in my possession, we do after school activities, dinner, nighttime routine and then I will write down scenes I want to hit tomorrow in a little journal I keep by my bed.
Luckily, I recently found a trick that has changed my thoughts about outlining and is genius for giving non-writers and those with big ideas a little bit of structure.
About a month ago, I was reading Jen Sincero’s book, You Are a Badass, and she provided some invaluable advice that has really helped me organize and look at a story’s plot in a more streamlined way.
It goes a little something like this:
Step 1: Go buy some index cards.
Step 2: Open them. Throw that annoying clingy plastic wrap away.
Step 3: Get a good pen, one that won’t leave your middle finger looking as though it was attacked by blueberries.
Step 4: Start writing down scenes you know you want in your book. (This applies to characters as well.)
Step 5: Write only one scene per card. (Write the scene on the front and bullet point details within that scene on the back.)
Step 6: Keep doing this as ideas come to you. Don’t worry about the order.
Step 7: Once you feel you are done, spread them out and read them.
Step 8: Pick one scene at random that really speaks to you and write it. If you finish, move onto the next one. (Or play your own card game where you shuffle them up and choose the one on top.)
Step 9: Give yourself a deadline, such as writing one scene a day for thirty days.
Step 10: Look at what you’ve written. See where you might be able to fill in holes, edit or shift plotlines or story elements.
Step 11: Do not show your work to anyone.
Step 12: I repeat: Do not show your work to anyone until you feel it’s in a place to get feedback. (And feedback doesn’t include your mom or brother. Find writers, writing groups, an editor or an avid reader of your genre.)
When you spread out all of the index cards, you can see the shape of your story, where to add, edit or fill in gaps. Focusing on one card at a time versus an entire story breaks it into digestible, doable chunks and allows you to spend time on scenes you are really called to, instead of ones you feel you should write first.
And when you’re not writing? Read the type of books you want to write.
Study their plots, how they develop characters, how the pacing moves. See what you like, what you don’t like and then dive into your own voice, creating something that is yours and yours alone.
But the most important part? Start today. Start right now, even if you write a paragraph, a page or ten pages. Consistency is the way books get written.
So whatever your idea, help it become a thing; help turn it into something real.