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Tips for 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.

Now that you've decided to write a book, you may need a bit of advice. Read on to discover some helpful hints on how to get over writer's block and get your book completed on time.

Gathering Confidence

Writing a book, especially your first one, can be nerve wracking. It's like final exams. You know that you paid attention all semester, but when it comes time to actually show that knowledge, will you flounder? Even worse, if you publish your book, it's available for nearly anyone to read and critique! Take a breath. You will survive writing your book. Try out these tips to keep your self-doubts in check and get your book completed.

Tips for Writing a Book

Photo of book and flowers

Be confident and don't worry. For many writers, the biggest setback to writing a book is lack of confidence. You worry about how the book will turn out or what people will think of it. What if no one likes it? What if you write something that sounds dumb? Well, if you're going to write, you have to forget about all that. Find a way to cope with your anxiety, like conjuring the image of a wookie eating ice cream when you start to feel like you don't know what to put on the page. Something silly might just break the tension. You are writing for an audience, but sometimes you have to forget about your readers in order to work.

Know that you can revise. This goes hand-in-hand with the above advice. You can always go back to revise later, and an editor can help to catch embarrassing errors (hey, we all make them occasionally!). When you feel like what you are writing should never see the light of day, just keep on going with the knowledge that anything you write can be changed. But, if you don't at least write something down, you may lose a valuable thought or get stuck.

Hire an editor. An editor puts your mind at ease. Even if you have impeccable spelling and grammar, everyone makes an occasional typo, and it's hard to catch your own errors because you know what you meant to say. Never, ever trust your book to a spell-check or grammar-check program. They are not perfect, and they do not understand language as well as a trained editor. Editors provide more than just damage control; they can also offer valuable suggestions for improving word flow and meaning in your text.

Only write if you're dedicated to your topic. Writing a book takes dedication. You're probably going to put months into this project. Do you really want to spend months of your life devoted to a topic that you can't stand? Even if you're just neutral about the topic, it will make the writing process take longer. The best books are written by people who are committed to the topic or genre. Choose your area of expertise based on your own interests and experience, not what someone else thinks you should write.

Read a lot. Reading is important no matter what kind of book you want to write. If you write non-fiction or academic work, you'll likely want to read any research related to your area. Also, don't exclude reading materials outside your topic or genre; they may surprise you with information or writing techniques that are useful for your own project. For fiction writers, it's important to read other people's stories to understand fiction conventions (whether you choose to follow them or break them).

Read Peter Elbow. Who is Peter Elbow you ask? He just happens to be an academic researcher on the writing process, and he has excellent advice for anyone wanting to write. Elbow particularly focuses on voice, which is, in part, getting your personality across on the page. Per Elbow, the only way to acquire your writer voice is to keep writing until you develop a style that is unique to you. When you master voice, someone can read your work and know that you are the author. Elbow also contributed top-notch advice on freewriting, which can be helpful at any stage of the writing process. If you are facing writing anxiety, aka writer's block, you can use freewriting to break free. You simply keep writing without stopping, even if you have to write the same word over and over. Focus on your topic, and write anything that comes to mind. It will help your writing muscles to warm up--after all, you don't want to sprain your brain.

Photo of young man writing

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