“I have an idea for a book I want to write. Where do I start?”
This is, by far, the number one question about writing that I get asked. My answer has two parts.
The first part is very simple: write down everything you already know about the story. Whether that means details about characters, freewriting about story elements or direction, snippets of scenes or (if you’re lucky) entire scenes, whatever you have in your mind, get it all down. Don’t edit. Don’t censor. For now, just dig and discover. Commit every. single. thing. you can think of to the page. Push to find all of the tidbits you possibly can. You’re not writing the story now; you’re just brainstorming, so you can’t do anything wrong at this point as long as you keep going. When there’s nothing left, push again. Look for more.
When you’ve exhausted all you already know and all you’ve discovered about the story, put it aside for a while. Designate a set amount of time (longer than you think is comfortable) during which you absolutely cannot write anything relating to your idea. This will achieve one of two things. It will either give you some peace because the idea is as developed as you can currently make it, or it will generate more tidbits about the idea. Repeat this process until nothing else springs up.
It is very important that you do as much as you can with this discovery process before you do anything else. This is because everything else is hard work, and is often accompanied by lots of doubt and misgiving, so you want to get the original idea down as purely and as completely as you can imagine it for those moments when you can’t seem to find which way is up. This does not mean your idea won’t change. Expect it to grow and develop as you go through the rest of the process. But completing this step before any other will help you remember why you wanted to write in the first place.
The rest of my answer is not so simple and will require a lot of focused effort and time. I’m giving you a list today, but each step is nuanced and layered. If all goes as planned, I will go into detail about each of these steps in future posts. For today, however, here’s the list. Keeping in mind that what I’ve already told you counts as step one, then:
2. When you’re not writing, work on your social media platform. Develop your on-line presence authentically, in a way that is genuine.
3. Go back to your idea. Organize everything you wrote in step one into something with structure and shape. Turn that collection of ideas into a plan and begin your first draft.
4. Start a website. A blog is good because it gives readers a taste of your writing, but if you feel that you can’t commit to a blog, then you need to have a website at the very least.
5. Edit your first draft. Complete this step as often as necessary.
6. Start an e-mail list.
7. Enlist alpha readers who will give you story feedback.
8. Once your book is as polished as you can get it, enlist someone else to edit it.
9. Decide how you want to publish (indie or traditional) and study the process. Learning the necessary details will save you a lot of time and, potentially, a lot of money in the long run.
10. Start the next story!
If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is, but don’t worry… you're up to it! All you need to do is take one step at a time. Start with step one… get your fabulous idea down on paper, then tune in for the next installment in this series to find out how to proceed with step two.
For those of you who are already knee-deep in any part of this cycle, I’d love to hear which parts you find easiest and/or most difficult and why. Let me know in the comments!