5 Essential Tips For Writing A Book

The creative process may be mysterious at times, but when it comes to writing, there are certain tried and true tactics for putting together a significant work, as one soon-to-be author recently found out.

Steve Silberman, a well-known science writer for several national publications including Wired, is about to write his first book on autism, and to help make the transition from feature writing to a non-fiction book, he solicited advice from friends and peers (many of whom are leading writers in their own right) on the essentials of putting together a book. He then posted the dozens of tips he received onto his personal website.

Each and every point mentioned on his blog is absolutely worth a read, but Opening Lines picked out a few key pieces of advice that should serve not only as a guideline for writing a work of non-fiction, but arguably for writing in general.

Make Writing A Routine

“Write every day. Anything you do every day gets easier,” suggests Cory Doctorow, a popular science fiction author. “If you’re insanely busy, make the amount that you write every day small (100 words? 250 words?) but do it every day.”

If you’re wondering how other successful writers scheduled their creative time, just check out the now-defunct but still priceless blog Daily Routines, which collects tidbits on the writing habits of everyone from Saul Bellow to Barack Obama.

Be Loose With Your First Draft

Several of the writers who responded to Silberman noted that one must suppress the urge to be a perfectionist on their first draft, and focus instead on getting words down on the page in the beginning.

“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft,” said Joshua Wolf Shenk, the renowned author behind Lincoln’s Melancholy. “Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.”

Indeed, one of the more common pieces of advice we’ve heard from writers on Opening Lines, most recently Mona Simpson, is the need to push away the sense of shame from writing badly, and just get the words out. There will be plenty of time for perfectionism later.

Stay Focused on Your Book’s Main Message

Amid all the drafts and revisions, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the narrative and the main point behind your piece. To keep it all straight, it may be useful to keep a brief summary or mission statement of sorts for your work.

“I usually try to have a single sentence that describes the primary message of the book,” wrote Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer prize winning science journalist. “This turns out to be really useful when your editor asks you for the one sentence the sales force can use to persuade book sellers to buy your book. but, again, it’s also a useful organizing principle.”

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

Don’t take the term “starving artist” too literally. At the end of the day, it’s essential for every writer to divert some of their attention away from their work and back to their physical well-being.

“You’re going to spend a lot of time in your head. Take care of your physical self too.,” wrote Maryn McKenna, an author who writes about public health. “Be just as committed to that as you are to getting your writing done every day. If you don’t care about your health, think your vanity — there’s an author video and a lot of public appearances in your future.”

Write the Book You Want to Read

Finally, perhaps the most importance piece of advice comes from Mark Frauenfelder, a prominent writer who runs Make Magazine and BoingBoing.net.

“Don’t forget to write the book that you want to read,” he writes.

For more tips from these and other writers, check out Silberman’s blog post here.

One Response to “5 Essential Tips For Writing A Book”
  1. Thanks for this post, Seth! Just one correction: I’m not writing a novel. I’m writing non-fiction. But thanks!

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