book with blank page

Every author has to make a start and each writer has different experiences of getting their book out of their head and into a manuscript.  Even if you find writing easy, organising and developing a whole book can be daunting.  If you have lots of great ideas, but writing isn’t your thing then it’s probably like looking at climbing Everest in trainers and jeans.

I’m a bit of a systems freak – well, quite a lot of one really!  I love a good process and I’ve created a step-by-step process for getting your book out of your head and into MS format.  The system below is aimed at non-fiction authors.  Fiction is a different animal and, while some of these things will help, it’s a somewhat different process.

Step 1 – Allocate time in your diary

If you are serious about writing a book, then allocate time to work on it.  If you don’t and think you’ll do a bit ‘when you have time’, it will either never happen or will take much, much longer than you thought it would.

Block out time for planning – steps 2-6 – and for writing – step 7.  When you’ve completed steps 2-6 and written the first chapter, you should have an idea of how long a chapter takes to write and can adjust your time allocation to ensure you have allowed enough to finish the book.

Step 2 – Who is it for?

If you know exactly who you’re writing the book for you can keep them in mind while you develop it, so the tone and approach are consistent.

Step 3 – What is your overall goal/purpose for the book?

Another key thing to keep in mind to keep you on track. 

NOTE: I recommend writing both these pieces of information down and pinning them up somewhere you can see them while you write.

Step 4 – Create your chapter plan

This is where you identify what each chapter will be about.  At this stage you’re looking at overall subject, rather than the nitty gritty – that will come next. 

NOTE: I find using mind mapping techniques is a useful way to do this – I do one map for the whole book and then one for each chapter.

Step 5 – Develop your chapter recipe

What is a chapter recipe?  It’s a format that you use for every chapter.  For instance, if you start Chapter 1 with a quotation, then every chapter following should also start with a quotation.  If you have a summary at the end of a chapter, then all chapters should also have this.

Why is this important?  Because your reader will subconsciously ‘learn’ your format in chapter 1 and if chapter 2 looks a lot different, some people will stop ‘to get a coffee’ and never pick the book up again!  Your subconscious is a big fan of familiarity and likes things that follow a pattern.

Step 6 – Develop your chapters’ content

Now you’re getting down to the nitty-gritty!  This is where you map out each chapter:

  • List all the things you want to cover in relation to that chapter’s main subject matter
  • Find the quotations you want to use
  • Develop any anecdotes or case studies you’ll be including
  • Research or clarify models, charts, graphs, etc.
  • Check sources for data

Step 7 – Write your manuscript

With a clear plan for each chapter, putting it together will be much easier than looking at a blank screen and waiting for inspiration.  Writing will take less time because you know where you’re going, effectively you’re just fleshing out the skeleton plan.

Remember that this is not the end of the process – your manuscript will need editing and, eventually, proof-reading before it goes to be published.  However, you will have scaled the first big obstacle, which means you can celebrate!