Steps to Writing a Book

Instructor: Diedra Taylor

Diedra has taught college English and worked as a university writing center consultant. She has a master's degree in English.

Are you ready to write a book? Then follow these steps to writing a book in order to make the project easier to complete. Breaking down the writing process into manageable tasks means you'll finish what you start and have a work to be proud of.


Have you ever planned a party? If so, then you know how much work and planning can go into pulling it off. For instance, you have to plan a menu, plan a music playlist, and determine who's invited. Even if you were only a guest at a party, you may have noticed all the details attended to by the host. Writing a book is similar. Reading a favorite book is a great experience, but someone had to put that incredible experience together for you. Now, you are about to learn what goes into creating a satisfying reading experience.

Writing a book can seem like a huge undertaking. You may be considering writing a novel, a biography, a handbook regarding your area of expertise, a non-fiction book based on your research or observations, or any number of other types of books. Regardless of the kind of book you are endeavoring to complete, one part of the process remains the same: writing a book is easier when you break down the steps into manageable tasks.

Steps to Writing a Book

Writing materials

1. Determine the type of book you are writing.

It may seem obvious, but you need to know exactly what kind of book you are taking on. Will this be part of a series or a standalone work? Who is your audience? Is it fiction or non-fiction? Will it be written as a guide, a resource, or a piece of entertainment? The book type is your big picture overview to keep you on track. While you're writing, make sure the content (i.e. your ideas and subject matter) fits into the chosen genre of your work.

2. Narrow down your topic.

Determine exactly what subject matter your book is addressing. If it's fiction, this is part of figuring out your plot, setting, and characters. In the case of non-fiction, you may want to do this step first because the subject matter may guide the format you choose. Although you are writing a long-form book, you don't want to go too broad with your topic; people may not be interested if it's too general.

One way to focus your work is to ask reporting questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how. You can also ask yourself about problems with the topic or problems that have already been solved, or look at which groups contribute to or are affected by the topic.

3. Brainstorm subtopics/details.

Brainstorming is the part where you just write down or type everything you can think of about your topic. It may involve some research in order to uncover details you weren't aware of. Don't worry yet about how it all fits together. You just need to gather information that may be relevant. Also, record any ideas of your own that you would like to include.

4. Outline the sections.

Once you have a good list of subtopics and details, it's time to outline. Everyone does this differently, but the old fashioned Roman numeral outline is simple and works. You can easily set up the Roman numeral outline in a word processing document.

Here's an example of how it works:

I. Introduction--History of the City Parade

a. Who started the parade

b. Where the first parade was held

c. Why we continue the tradition today

II. Chapter 1--Greatest Moments in Our Town's Parade History

a. Best floats

i. The motorized shopping cart

ii. Live flower float

b. Proud high school band tradition

i. West side band

ii. East side band

c. Amazing guests

i. Famous artists

ii. Famous authors

iii. Generous fundraisers

You would then continue with Roman numerals III, IV, V, and so on, using as many subsections as you need. Each section of the outline provides a specific area for you to discuss in your book.

Alternately, some people find outlining in a spreadsheet to be useful since you can set up columns and rows for subtopics in each chapter. Either way, the point is to take all the ideas from your brainstorm, weed out the ones that don't work, and put the rest in the order it will be in your book. Don't get nervous about setting up the organization--you can always move chapters around as you work. All books need some revision, so just go into it knowing that you will likely change some things as you go.

5. Make a schedule for your writing.

Now that you have an outline showing each section you need to tackle, make a schedule for yourself. You may think you don't need to follow this step, but just do it anyway. Having deadlines will push you to finish your book on time. Without a schedule, your book could take years to finish when it could have been done in nine months with the right discipline and scheduling.

Set up the schedule in whatever way works for you. Write it on a calendar; put reminders on an app; create a checklist so you can check off each task as it's accomplished. Whatever helps you to stay focused.

6. Start a rough draft for the first section.

Typing a book on computer

Think of your first draft as the draft that no one else sees. Worrying what people will think or worrying about perfect punctuation often stifles the writing process. Instead, just challenge yourself to keep writing. Don't pause and think. Write and write and write some more. You can go back and cross things out later.

I should note here that the first section does not necessarily mean the introduction or first chapter. When you finalize your outline, you determine the order in which your book will be laid out for the reader, but that does not mean you have to write it in that order. Start with whichever section makes sense for you. If you're intimidated about beginning, choose the section you think will be easiest to write. That early success will make the more difficult sections less daunting to tackle later.

7. Continue with rough drafts for each section.

Once you're started, this is the really fun part of writing. You're finally putting your words and ideas on the page! Enjoy the process. You are creating something that shows the world your dedication to your topic.

8. Revise and develop each section, one at a time.

Congratulations! You wrote a book! Now, after you do something to celebrate (may I suggest chocolate or a trip to the movies?), get back to work. For most people, a piece of writing doesn't turn out exactly how they want it on the first go-round. Let's talk for a minute about what revision is not. It is not proofreading. This is not the time to check for spelling errors or stray commas; that comes later.

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