How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

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by Jerry Jenkins
(Serialized)

Part One: Before You Begin

You’ll never regret—in fact, you’ll thank yourself later for—investing the time necessary to prepare for such a monumental task.

You wouldn’t set out to cut down a huge grove of trees with only an axe. You’d need a chain saw—perhaps more than one. Something to keep them sharp. Enough fuel to keep them running.

You get the picture. Don’t shortcut this foundational part of the process.

Establish your writing space

To write your book, you don’t need a sanctuary. In fact, I started my career on my couch facing a typewriter perched on a plank of wood suspended by two kitchen chairs.

What were you saying about your setup again? We do what we have to do.
And those early days on that sagging couch were among the most productive of my career.

Naturally, the nicer and more comfortable and private you can make your writing lair (I call mine “my cave”), the better.

If you dedicate a room solely to your writing, you can even write off a portion of your home mortgage, taxes, and insurance, proportionate to that space.

Real writers can write anywhere

Some write in restaurants and coffee shops. My first full-time job was at a newspaper where 40 of us clacked away on manual typewriters in one big room—no cubicles, no partitions, conversations hollered over the din, most of my colleagues smoking, teletype machines clattering.

Cut your writing teeth in an environment like that, and anywhere else that seems glorious.

Assemble your writing tools

In the newspaper business there was no time to hand-write our stuff and then type it for the layout guys. So I have always written at a keyboard.

Most authors do, though some hand-write their first drafts then type it on a computer or pay someone to do that.

No publisher I know would even consider a typewritten manuscript, let alone one submitted in handwriting.

The publishing industry runs on Microsoft Word, so you’ll need to submit Word document files. Whether you prefer a Mac or a PC, both will produce the kind of file you need.

And if you’re looking for a muscle-bound electronic organizing system, you can’t do better than Scrivener. It works well on both PCs and Macs, and it nicely interacts with Word files.

Be advised that Scrivener has a steep learning curve, so familiarize yourself with it before you start writing. Scrivener users know that taking the time to learn the basics is well worth it.

So, what else do you need?

If you are one who hand-writes your first drafts, don’t scrimp on paper, pencils, or erasers.

Don’t short-change yourself on a computer, either. Even if someone else is typing for you, you’ll need a computer for research and for communicating with potential agents, editors, publishers.

Get the best computer you can afford, the latest, the one with the most capacity and speed.

Try to imagine everything you’re going to need in addition to your desk or table, so you can equip yourself in advance and don’t have to keep interrupting your work to find things like:

  • Stapler
  • Paper clips
  • Ruler
  • Pencil holder
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Note pad
  • Printing paper
  • Paperweight
  • Tape dispenser
  • Cork or bulletin board
  • Clock
  • Bookends
  • Reference works
  • Space heater
  • Fan
  • Lamp
  • Beverage mugs
  • Napkins
  • Tissues
  • You name it

Last, but most crucial, get the best, most ergonomic chair you can afford.

If I were to start my career again with that typewriter on a plank, I would not sit on that couch. I’d grab another straight-backed kitchen chair or something similar and be proactive about my posture and maintaining a healthy spine.

There’s nothing worse than trying to be creative and immerse yourself in writing while you’re in agony. The chair I work in today cost more than my first car!

If you’ve never used some of the items I listed above and can’t imagine needing them, fine. But make a list of everything you know you’ll need so when the actual writing begins, you’re already equipped.

As you grow as a writer and actually start making money at it, you can keep upgrading your writing space.

Where I work now is light years from where I started. But the point is, I didn’t wait to start writing until I could have a great spot in which to do it.

Break the project into small pieces

Writing a book feels like a colossal project, because it is! But your manuscript will be made up of many small parts.

An old adage says that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Try to get your mind off your book as a 400-or-so-page monstrosity.

It can’t be written all at once any more than that proverbial elephant can be eaten in a single sitting.

See your book for what it is: a manuscript made up of sentences, paragraphs, pages. Those pages will begin to add up, and though after a week you may have barely accumulated double digits, a few months down the road you’ll be into your second hundred pages.

So keep it simple

Start by distilling your big book idea from a page or so to a single sentence—your premise. The more specific that one-sentence premise, the more it will keep you focused while you’re writing.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can turn your big idea into one sentence, which can then be expanded to an outline, you have to settle on exactly what that big idea is.


Jerry Jenkins is the author of more than 186 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.

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