John Biggs

@johnbiggs

How to write a book

Please don’t be insufferable and romanticize writing.

Writing is easy! For most writers all it takes is to sit in a chair for 20 years staring at a blank screen until someone finally pays you. For you, however, I’d like to offer a few quick tips on how to write your own book quickly and painlessly. Ready?

  1. Have an idea. Duh. Also make sure the idea is interesting to someone besides you. If you’re going to write a space opera about robots and men who work together to defeat the evil Dorth Vorder or if you want to write a book about how to hack your life so you only work 2 hours a year then just stop right now. Ask your friends what they want to read and work through a few ideas before you hit on the perfect one. Or don’t and just write blind and hope that someone else cares about how CrossFit changed your life.
  2. Outline. You cannot go on a journey unless you have a map. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. You must outline all of your chapters, be it a non-fiction or fiction book. You don’t have to know exactly what each chapter will contain, but you do have to have a general path. Below is an “outline” for a novel I’m working on. I use an app called Scrivener which lets your create books in a very unique way. Before you whine about how you don’t want to learn another program please shut up for a minute.

Take a look at this. This is a novel.

There is a main “Manuscript” folder that holds little subfolders. Those are the chapters. The subfolders in this image have little flags on them. This probably confuses you. Don’t worry.

Those little flags I added myself by right clicking and changing the icon. I know that if I showed you these flags you would be confused so now I need to explain them. You can make chapters look like almost anything:

I used flags to identify who the main characters were in each chapter. This is helpful if you’re a visual learner or you like icons. Inside those chapter folders are scenes.

Each scene is a text file. If you click on the chapter folder you’ll see a little notecard representation of the scenes inside. Guess what that means? You can create a chapter folder, call it “Welcome To My Amazing Brain,” and add a scene that says “Introduce my brain to the reader.” Do that many times and you’ll have a book. Most books should be about 50,000 words so you’ll want 12–15 chapters total with a few thousand words per chapter. Prepare for this in advance and you won’t write a 500,000 word opus nobody wants to read nor will you write a pamphlet.

Scrivener lets you drag chapters and scenes around and finally compile your book into an ebook format. Buy the software. It’s really good.

Can you outline on paper in a beautiful Moleskine notebook using a delicate Blackwing pencil while looking out over the water in Phuket during your sabbatical from your startup? Yeah, but you won’t get anything done. Go ahead and keep doing you and stop reading this post so you can let the serious people do some work.

Please don’t do this, you hipster dingus.

2. Talk to yourself. You are not a good writer. You’re probably a good talker. I’m barely OK as a writer and I’ve been writing for 20 years. So don’t write. Talk.

Record yourself dictating each scene inside each chapter. Talk out exactly what you want to say, warts and all. Talk for a few minutes or a few hours. Doesn’t matter. Get it all out. Then transcribe it. I have a service I use that I can connect you with or you can go online and do it somehow with robots or whatever. Regardless, this will cost a little money. The result is that you have pages and pages of text to make up that 50,000 word book without having to sit and think about whether you should use “decisive” or “determined” in the first line of your first chapter. In short, I’ve saved you from being a writer. Thank me later.

3. “Write” 1,000 words a day. This is the hard part. You need to produce at least 1,000 words a day, every day, for about 60 days. This means you have to take a little time every day and record a chapter or a section of a chapter. You should also be sure that you’ve wrapped your brain around each chapter so you can stop and start at will. Keep doing this until you have at least 80,000 words of transcribed text.

4. Hire two or three editors. If you don’t think you can turn your vocal ramblings into readable text you’re going to need a ghostwriter. This should cost about $1,500 or so if you find someone who is fresh out of school and doesn’t mind working for peanuts. This person will turn your ramblings into paragraphs and work with you on the text. If you can do this yourself without hitting some kind of vapor lock then go for it. Next you need a developmental editor. Developmental editors are like coaches. They will move things around and help make things make sense. They ensure you have a consistent thread and turn your mumblings into a real book. Expect to pay about $1,000 for this pleasure. Finally you need a copy editor. This will cost anywhere between $500 and $2,000, depending on who you get. Copy editing is what a lot of people think of as writing. It’s the process of ensuring that you sound like you speak English (or French or whatever). These folks are integral and expensive because nobody wants to copy edit. Even if you refuse to hire anyone else in this list, pay a copy editor. This is obviously self-serving because I can source all these people for you but heck this is 2018 and content has been denigrated to below fish wrapper so why not plug my own crap in a Medium post. You can also go online and ask around but good luck finding someone sane.

5. Be lucky. Here’s the sad truth: even if you do all this you probably won’t be published. I love you, broham/etta, but listen: publishers have something to protect and they don’t want weirdos like you horning in on their territory. My advice? Self-pub and use the book as a really thick business card. Hire a cover designer and flow that text into an InDesign template and call it a day and upload it to Amazon. If you think it’s so good that you must sell it in Hudson Newses around the world then you’re going to need to find a literary agent — which isn’t that hard if your book is good but is really hard if you book is meh — and then convince publishers to publish it. I’m going to warn you: publishers don’t care about advanced blockchain factoring techniques in modern data warehouse discovery or whatever you decided to write a book about so you’re better off just self publishing. If you wrote a fiction book about the moon or BDSM, however, you’re probably golden.

6. Repeat. That’s right: you’re going to write another book. And another. And another. If you think you have only one book in you then thank the lord and go back to your programming or marketing or whatever. If you think you have more to say then you should repeat this for about a decade until you’re really good at it. By this time you will be fat and bitter like me but man if they won’t want you to write (for free) for the Forbes and Inc.contributor network, an honor only bestowed on the best and brightest online marketing scammers and peppy HR managers in the Scranton area. Further, you’ll be able to create multiple calling cards and share your experience and skill with a wide audience and you’ll feel great.

I lied. Writing is hard. I just made it easier for you. The key, ultimately, is to figure out what you want to say, figure out who you want to say it to, and say it. If it’s a big enough idea for a book this is how to go about creating it. If it can fit in a Tweet we all might be better off. Either way, good luck!

Incidentally I have a giant team of editors and writers waiting to help you. Visit typewriter.plus for a quote or just email me at john @ typewriter. plus. You can also read my token sale newsletter here.

Main photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash.

Dingus photo by Matthew Payne on Unsplash

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