How to Write a Book: A Ghostwriter’s Perspective

A portion of my collection of penguin classics that I should spend more time reading than I actually do!

With yet another lockdown upon us, it seems that more people than ever are deciding to finally write their own book. There’s an age-old adage that says everybody has one book within them dying to be written. With our social lives stilted, now might be the best time to put pen to paper, or your fingers on the keyboard, and write the book you’ve always wanted to. As a ghostwriter, I’ve written over fifteen fiction books, and countless non-fiction books, on behalf of my clients. And so the process of writing a book, or at the very least writing a manuscript, has become something I’m very familiar with. The only difference between writing a book for myself, and writing one for somebody else, is that the process starts with an idea that isn’t mine. It’s the brainchild of a client and it is my job to nurture it into fruition. Or, in less frilly language, it is my job to materialise their idea. So, if you’re thinking about writing your own book, but you’re not sure where to begin, this one is for you.

You start with an idea. This idea could be anything in the world. It could be something close to your own heart or something entirely abstract and surreal. There are no rules when it comes to your idea. Finding the inspiration for your book can be a tricky business, I know that first-hand, and so it can take a while to come to you. Often, you’ll have to play around with the idea and tease it into the shape you envisage. For example, you might start with a character. This is your starting point, and a great starting point it is. The rest of your ideas will stem from this character, allowing you to fill out the setting, plot, and other characters later. Instead, maybe your idea is that you want to write an unrequited love story based in the Yorkshire Dales. There you have a genre and setting ready to go and you can flesh out the story from there.

Something I’ve been doing recently is helping clients to develop their storylines. I’ve had clients that have written half of their book, and written it beautifully, but they’re not sure where to go next. By reaching out to me, they have somebody impartial to bounce ideas off and to take suggestions from. They might even ask me to write a chapter or two to get them going again. At the very heart of everything, is the idea.

Encourage the idea to grow. This is the part of the process where you might start to play with different parts of your storyline. Research often comes in here (but you’ll still find yourself researching throughout the whole project) and this can help your ideas to grow and develop into something more tangible. The simple act of sitting quietly and considering the idea you have and where you want it to go can lead to a whole range of new and exciting prospects for your book. You don’t need to know every single little detail that happens, but it can be good to develop a rough idea of what you want to write about.

If you’re writing non-fiction, this is very similar. You have an idea in mind. For example, you want to write a book for parents about nature vs nurture (or anything else you have in mind!). You need to consider what you hope the parents will get out of the book, what information you want to share with them, and by doing so you allow your idea to develop into something solid that you can work with.

Writing an outline. This is something that some people prefer to do and others don’t. You do you. There’s no right way to write your own book and that’s what gives us such a range of books to read! If everybody did the exact same things, then the variety of books available would be a lot slimmer. For me, writing an outline is absolutely key. Particularly in fiction books. It doesn’t have to be super, super detailed and go over every single little thing you wish to happen in the book, but having a map of the story that you can refer to can help keep you on track and can even make the process of writing much quicker. It takes a little extra time to write an outline, but this time is saved when you put pen to paper. Writing outlines for non-fiction books is much simpler, in my opinion. You can bullet point everything you wish to talk about in your book. You’ll likely be an expert on what you’re writing and so bullet points should be enough to keep you on track.

As part of my services, I am able to write an outline for you, or support you in writing your own outline. Whether you need help fleshing out ideas you already have, or need help deciding what to include in your story, we can work through this together either over the phone or via email. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to helping people plan out their stories and I can throw out a few twists and turns that can help you fall back in love with writing. A recent client said that by enlisting me to help with the outline I had, You have given me the spark back to get writing this book and now I can’t wait to get writing again.” Something to bear in mind. As you write your outline, you’ll likely find yourself researching aspects of your book that you hadn’t considered. This is all part of the process. On the surface, your idea for the book might seem simple but as you delve deeper and deeper into the premise, you’ll find it births new ideas like branches on a tree.

Time to begin writing. The first thing I want to say here is that you don’t have to start at the beginning. Although The Sound of Music might teach us that the beginning is a very good place to start, this isn’t necessarily true with writing. My advice to you would be to write the scene or section you want to write and go from there. Whether this is the epilogue or a random section in the middle of the book, starting with the bit that you feel excited about writing will help ignite that spark within you. From then on, the ball is in your court. You have everything you need to start writing the book and all that’s left to do is write. That sounds daunting, doesn’t it? But there’s no need for it to be that way. Think of it a segment at a time, chapter by chapter, page by page, and it will all start to add up. When I’m writing books for clients, I set myself a minimum word count to write each day and that is all I focus on. If I write any more than my target, that’s a bonus for me! This could help you out too.

Something I also like to do is to keep the outline close to hand so that I can edit it as I go. That’s the thing when you’re writing a book, even with the most meticulous planning, the story or structure will change as you begin to write. It will evolve and change shape, becoming what it is meant to be. That might sound like some hippy-dippy philosophy, but I’ve found it to be true. As you begin writing the book your mind will spurn ideas you’d never anticipated and I think that’s an incredible thing!

Reaching a writer’s block. Writer’s block is something that is almost inevitable as you write a book. You might reach a part of the book and not know where else to go, or you might feel as though you have nothing else to contribute. If you reach this stage, there are a few things you can do. You can reach out to somebody like me, who can support you to develop your ideas and work through the blockage, or you can take a break and come back to it at a later date. Whatever you do, do not delete your work! Even if you’ve fallen out of love with it, allow it to rest awhile and return to it when your feelings of anguish have subsided. We attach a lot of emotion to our words and our stories and that is a bit of a double-edged sword – it can make the work so much more meaningful, but it can also mean when it doesn’t look like we envisaged, it can feel all the more terrible. If you don’t want to reach out to a ghostwriter or editor, then maybe reach out to a friend and ask for their advice on where you could go next, our friends and family can be invaluable resources for us. I like to call them my Happy Little Helpers when they help me out.

A finished manuscript. Congratulations! You’ve finished your manuscript. Now it’s time to decide what to do with it. There are two main routes you might go down now – either self-publishing or traditional publishing. I will explore these two avenues in more detail in my next blog post, outlining the advantages and disadvantages of each, and sharing with you what you can do to help the process run smoothly. But for now, give your finished manuscript a proof-read and edit. The first port of call is to do this yourself. You’ll probably find loads of things you want to change and so now is the chance for you to go ahead and do that.

Nobody ever said that writing a book was easy. A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach. If in doubt, just put the pen to the paper and start writing, see what happens. Create a habit of writing every single day, no matter what, and work hard. If writing a successful book was easy, everybody and their mothers would be doing it. But let me tell you this, everybody has it in them to be a writer. Everybody has the ability to write a book and there’s no greater disservice to yourself than giving up before you’ve even tried.

I’d love to hear your stories about writing your own books. Please also feel free to share with me other blog topics you’d like me to cover!

As always, wishing you love and books that make your heart skip a beat,

Sarah Jules x

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