Baby Steps to Writing a Book

Beach_clouds_wind_244169_lI've been having some issues with my left knee, which sometimes makes it difficult to walk.  Now, I've been a walker for 30 years, so this is not a happy thing for me.  But I put a brace on and perservere as best I can. 

My favorite walking routine begins with a hill.  My knee doesn't like hills or stairs much.  And, probably if this hill were further along my route, it wouldn't be such a big deal.  But the hill is at the start of my journey and the knee is still stiff and resistant.  So the hill looms large.

The other day as I walked up it, I had an epiphany: I don't have to do the damn hill at my usual long, fast stride.   I can do it slowly.  I can take baby steps.

And guess what?  Slowing down and taking smaller steps is all that is necessary to get up the hill without bothering my knee. 

The same thing is true in writing.   Take writing a book, for example.  The thought of it is daunting to many people.  All those pages!  All those sentences!  All those words! How do you go from idea in your head to finished manuscript?

You do it with baby steps, that's how.

Books get written one word at a time.  I know, duh.  But we forget this. 

So, how can you create some baby steps for your book?  What follows are some suggestions for a loose path to follow. (My creative muse demands that everything be somewhat loose.  He doesn't like being boxed in by routine or rigidity).

1.  Brainstorm Topics.  Make a list of potential topics.  If you're writing fiction, make a list of potential scenes, characters, and settings.  This list doesn't have to be organized or in order.  It's just a starting point.

2. Freewrite.  Now that you've got a list, you can start writing from it. Don't overthink it, don't have an emotional reaction to the topics on your list, just write to them.  Set a timer and write for 20 minutes without stopping.  By the way, this process will likely create more topics.  Add them to your list.

3.  Stay Organized.  You can be organized without being rigid.  Keep your writing in a folder or binder or file on your computer, categorized in a way that makes sense to you. 

4. Start to Shape.  Now that you've developed some material, you might want to start shaping the flow of the book.  You can make piles of finished free writes on the floor, or write topics on index cards and shuffle them about.  Again, this process will generate more ideas because you'll see where the holes are.

5.  Put it All Together.  When you've exhausted your list of topics, and filled in all the missing pieces that #4 revealed, see if you can't make yourself an outline of how you think it goes together.

6.  Rewrite.  Now its time to make it pretty.  Or have it make sense–remember that first drafts can be crazy, wild and free.  In this step you think more of the reader and how best to present it to her. Bear in mind that this step is often multiple steps, because most books get revised several times before heading into the world.

7.  Submit.  Now it's time to send your baby out!  Which means you have to quit clutching it to your chest and let go of it.  Yes, you really do.  Research agents and editors, write yourself a kick-ass query letter and start sending it out.

I know, I know.  I make it all sound so simple.  Obviously, writing a book is a bit more complex than this.  But, in truth, this process I've outlined is the bottom line of how a book gets written using baby steps.

So what are you waiting for?  Go write!

How do you take baby steps to write?

Image by mailsparky.

14 Responses to Baby Steps to Writing a Book

  1. Zan Marie 10/11/2012 at 05:56 #

    Anne Lamott calls baby steps the one-inch frame. Write what you can see and trust that tomorrow you’ll see something different in the frame. Between you two, I should know how not to get dazed by the size of the mountian. ; )

  2. Charlotte Dixon 10/11/2012 at 07:13 #

    Yes, I've used her example a lot, too.  In my own writing life, I'm re-learning how writing even for only a few minutes every day can have a huge impact.  I get up in the morning and write long-hand (don't ask why, I don't know, it's just how it's coming out) and bit by bit, I'm piling up the pages!

  3. Charlotte Dixon 10/11/2012 at 09:36 #

    Thanks you for commenting.

  4. Sandy 10/11/2012 at 10:28 #

    I love writing long-hand. I find I can see the story more clearly in mind this way. Don’t know why, just a writer’s quirk, I guess. :)

  5. Charlotte Dixon 10/11/2012 at 10:34 #

    Gotta love those writer's quirks!  And, as I'm finding, you've got to just not ask questions and go with them as well.  I'm making steady progress on my novel writing long-hand, and that's what I'm focusing on. 

  6. Sandy 10/11/2012 at 10:36 #

    This is such a great list. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m following it on my current WIP and didn’t realize it until now. *palm-slaps forehead*

  7. Charlotte Dixon 10/11/2012 at 10:46 #

    You're so funny.  It really is what we writers do to write a book, isn't it?  And yet sometimes we over think it or forget.  So I like to remind people.  (And it's also helpful for those who have not yet undertaken to write a book.)

  8. Online GED Diploma 10/11/2012 at 07:43 #

    This is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand

  9. Jessica Baverstock 10/11/2012 at 19:33 #

    Love the tips!

    I’m working my way back into my writing routine and find that freewriting is helping immensely!

    I’ve recently found a trick which helps me when I need to brainstorm something from nothing. I start with an A5 piece of paper (half the size of regular paper so half as scary) and work on filling that page with brainstorming words/phrases. I also use coloured pens because coloured pens are fun. I write normal size so the page fills up faster and if I run out of room I just move onto the other side.

    By the end of it I have a cute page full of interesting words and I’m itching to move on to another page. I also find it helps not to have lines so I can doodle and scribble as the mood takes me.

    Now I just need to find a file of some kind where I can keep all my little pages together…

  10. Charlotte Dixon 10/12/2012 at 07:30 #

    I love that suggestion, Jessica.  That's a more fun way to brainstorm and develop things to write to.  Great stuff! And it is so good to have you back!

  11. Sandra / Always Well Within 10/14/2012 at 21:09 #

    So sorry you are having these knee troubles! This is exactly what I needed to hear though as I enter into my next project: baby steps. Thanks for the outline. This helps. Sending some loving, healing energy to that knee.

  12. Charlotte Dixon 10/15/2012 at 08:18 #

    I can feel that loving energy, Sandra, thanks! We're having rain here for the first time in months, so its keeping me inside and not walking–which I feel is another baby step towards healing.  So glad this was helpful to you.

  13. DYoung 10/21/2012 at 07:01 #

    Staying organized is my hang up. I have so much going thru my head of what I want to get down on paper. Yet I cannot for the life of me keep it all straight. Oh, it’s straight in my head. But on paper, organization is futile. Starting to get back at some of my older ideas on a book. Life has given me a couple of curveballs, of which I thought at first would delay the process indefinitely. Come to find out, it’s only added fuel to the fire! :)

  14. Charlotte Dixon 10/21/2012 at 08:09 #

    That's the best thing about being a writer.  No matter what happens to you, good or bad, it gives you something to write about!  I organize things with notes and notebooks but there are some great organizational products online that might help you.  I think the most important thing is to have separate files or notebooks for each project, and then at the very least write clear notes to yourself so you know what's what.  Thanks for commenting!

Leave a Reply