How to write a book

There’s no correct way to write a book. I’ve been asked dozens of times about how to best write a book. If you ask 10 authors how they do it, you’ll get several different answers.

In terms of planning, some people meticulously plan out the book – chapter by chapter – before they put pen to paper. Then they start with chapter 1. I admire that. I do it a wee bit in that I sketch a rough outline of what I’d like to cover. But personally, when it comes to it, I sort of start in the middle, with the chapter / section I feel most inspired with at that time. 

That way, it’s easy to keep your motivation. I find that if I start with introductory chapters, since they’re not the juicy bits I really want to be writing, my writing is slow, or I just put it off. So I dive right in with the juicy stuff, then write my early chapters later, as a ‘how to get to the juicy stuff’.

I’ll give you an example. My first book was, ‘It’s the Thought that Counts’. It’s composed of 14 chapters. I started with what eventually became chapter 6. It was on research around the scientific evidence for prayer. It was the subject that I felt was most calling to me then. I think if I’d sat down with chapter 1, I’d never have written it. Chapter 1 was actually one of the last chapters I wrote.

And I say this for another reason too. Some people have easy structured time segments to write, but most don’t, especially when it’s a first book. We have to fit it into our lives. If you’re starting with a chapter that inspires you, then you’ll find the time, no matter how busy you are.

I wrote the bulk of my first book between midnight and 3am about 3 nights a week, not because it was the best time for me, but because it was the only time I could find to write, given other commitments I had at the time. I was teaching and tutoring chemistry at a college and university and those commitments were very time consuming. I had also recently begun a new relationship and wanted to invest in that. So midnight to 3am it was! 

I would light a candle, some incense, make some coffee, put soft music on, open my laptop and write. I still have very fond memories of that experience. It was helped by the fact that I was working first on the chapters that really inspired me.

I tried the same thing with my second book, but it didn’t work. The structure of my life was different. I didn’t have the same need to write through the night and kept falling asleep on my computer. It was then I discovered that I actually write better in the mornings (7.30am-12noon) while sitting in coffee shops. I’ve written most of my books in this way since.

Yet, I’m just finishing my 11th book (out in September) and, due to the pandemic, I couldn’t visit coffee shops. I struggled at first to work at home because I’ve so enjoyed the atmosphere (and nice coffee) for years. But I soon adapted, and my new book is my highest quality writing so far. 

I think the common thread for me has been writing about stuff that excites and inspires me, coupled with a desire to communicate my ideas. I can do this regardless of the context.

Anyway, I hope that helps if you’ve ever harboured thoughts about writing a book. There’s no right way. Just your way.

And don’t let a lack of confidence get in your way. I failed my English exam at high school. In my prelim exam, I got 22% for paper 1 and 36% for paper 2! I was firmly at the bottom of the class. I just didn’t get writing. I was into maths and science. The understanding of how to write just didn’t sink in for me at that time.

I taught myself to write in the process of writing. Often in life, that’s the way we learn. Most of what we learn is ‘on the job’. Ask any first time parent. If you read a dozen books on how to write, or go on a dozen courses, you might never begin because you’ll always be looking for that one more extra insight that will help you. Allow yourself to learn from the inside out! 

You don’t need to get it right. You just need to start. Don’t pressure yourself to write at a high standard either. Some people labour over a single sentence or paragraph to get it just right. Again, if you do that, you might get bored and not make much progress.

I just get the words down, even if the style and language needs (a lot of!) editing. But it’s a start. Editing comes later.

Once I’ve got a whole first draft done this way, that’s when I tidy up the writing. I print it out and take a pen, and go through the book, scoring out some sentences and paragraphs, rewriting others in tiny writing in the margin, and circling sections that need to move to other places. I enjoy this bit. It feels like creating a sculpture. 

You’re slowly beginning to reveal the image that’s contained within the granite or marble block.

Then I type in all my corrections and go through the same process again – print, make corrections in pen, type it in, print, make corrections in pen, type it in, print, make corrections in pen, type it in. For my first book, I probably did this about 20 times. No joke! I’d never written before, and my English hadn’t progressed much since High School.

Now I make about 4 iterations like this from first to final draft, but that speed only comes with experience. I say this while on the 4th and final iteration of my new book, of which I have a final deadline in a few days. I just decided to take a half hour out to write this blog since it’s World Book Day.

I hope you find this helpful. Happy World Book Day!

If you’ve ever dreamt of writing a book, make a start today, even if you only write a paragraph that will go somewhere near the middle (or end) of the book.

Oh, and the above image is of my book, ‘I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love’. To celebrate World Book Day, my publisher have the e-book version on sale for 71p (yes, £0.71) in the UK and 99 cents all around the world where it is available (US, Australia, Canada, Europe, etc) for the whole of March. 🙂

2 thoughts on “How to write a book

  1. Lena

    Thanks dr DH!
    Maybe I’ll start writing that book now and maybe I buy your newest book too.

  2. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Good luck with your book. 🙂

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