Writing a Book: Where to Start

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If you want to write a book, you must start writing.

That sounds simplistic, but I’ve known several people who never got their book written because they never actually started writing. Oh, they did all the precursors to writing. They researched. They outlined. They interviewed. They planned. They just didn’t write anything.

If you’re going to write a book, you must write it and you have to start someplace. Here are some ways that have worked for other people.

Write A Zero Draft

This is an idea I learned about from Peter Drucker, who used this technique when he wrote his books. Just sit down and write the book. Start at the beginning. Write until you get to the end.

There will be things you don’t know. Note them, then keep going. There will be things you will want to find out more about. Note them, and keep going. Don’t pause to find just the right phrasing. Keep going. Stop when you’re done.

This is one of the best ways to get a book started because you wind up at the end of the zero draft knowing what you have to add, take out, and fix. So, why don’t more people do a zero draft? I think there are two reasons.

One reason is that it violates everything they’ve ever been taught. Most of the people who teach writing fall prey to the “plan the error out of it” fallacy. Because authors have learned that they need to plan first and then write, they’re super-rash-inducing uncomfortable just writing with no clear plan.

The second reason is connected to the first. Because they’re uncomfortable writing, a zero draft becomes hard work. It shouldn’t be. You should be able to flow right through it.

A zero draft is a great way to start writing. It gets you into the flow of things, helps you identify weak points and opportunities, and becomes proof that you really can do this book thing. But if a zero draft doesn’t work for you, there are other ways to start writing your book.

Write from A Major Scene Draft

Screenwriters do this. They block out what their script will be about in big pieces. If you’re writing a business book, you can pick the key stories you want to tell or the key points you want to make. Then put them in order. Then start writing.

In some ways, this is like the zero draft, but it feels much more comfortable. You’re still going to find a lot of gaps to be filled, and you’ll spot opportunities to make your book better. But you’ve got a plan and that feels better than not having one.

The zero draft has you writing from the beginning to the end, following the natural flow of your thought. Major scene draft lets you start writing after planning either the most important points or the stories you want to tell. Another way to start is to think like a movie director.

Write Your Book Like They Make a Movie

When you see a movie, you see it in the order that makes sense in terms of presentation. But that’s not how they make a movie.

A director sets up a shooting schedule based on something other than the storyline. In other words, the movie is shot out of sequence.

That makes sense for a movie. When you’ve got to be concerned with budgets, and moving equipment from one place to another and renting other expensive equipment, you pay attention to those things. A movie director might shoot all the scenes related to a one site and then move on to a different site. He or she will put the scenes in presentation order later.

You can do the same thing when you write a book. Instead of starting at the beginning and writing through to the end, start somewhere else. The two most common places to start are with whatever you think is the most interesting thing, or the thing you know the most about.

After you’re done writing, put the bits in order. You may find that you need more or that you need to delete some. That’s OK.

No Matter Where You Start

No matter where you start, you will change, and even throw out big chunks of your first work. That’s the way it goes. Whoever first said that “great writing is rewriting” was right.

Your objective in the beginning is to get that book out of your head and into a file so you can start the important part. That’s the rewriting and revisions.

Bottom Line

If you’re going to write a great book, you’re going to do a lot of rewriting. To get to that as fast as possible, you need to write something first and then improve it. You can do that with a zero draft, writing from a major scene draft, or writing your book out of order, the way they make movies.

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