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The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Book

Chapters of Storytelling

Gabrielle Lopez



Authors have a story, too. Ours is one of sitting on the couch or a specifically assigned desk, typing away the day, staying up at late hours of the night, pouring endless cups of tea or coffee, staring into space while our minds run wild.


Authors experience plot twists, too. Sometimes, we stare at the screen for hours only to erase that one sentence we have accomplished so far. We get a word or a phrase stuck in our minds like a catchy love song, but then we cannot find the rest of the words.



Prologue


We want to be writers, but sometimes, we do not even want to write. And on other times, we really just can’t.


Don’t worry, you are not alone in this.


We share a common dream of writing a book. So now, we share this guide on exactly how to.



Chapter One: Getting Ready to Write


Before we get on with writing, we have to prepare ourselves so the whole process will be smoother, less stressful, and more effective for us.


Step One: Make Space


This does not mean we need to get our hands on one of those vintage writing desks.


It is simply about making a personal space that will cultivate our creativity. We need to be somewhere we are comfortable to process and express our ideas into writing, somewhere free of distractions.


If you prefer to be somewhere quiet, then setting up a mini writing corner (if not a room) at home would suffice. It does not need to be anything fancy; just work with what you already have to establish that little space as yours. If it is not peaceful enough at home, either, then try the library.


If it motivates you more to be around people and to hear human noise while you write, then coffee shops and parks are your best bet.


It is just as important to craft a virtual space that enhances our writing since we are exposed to online distractions.


Try turning off some notifications whenever you write; there also Focus Mode features in our gadgets nowadays that minimize our virtual interactions.


Step Two: Make Time


My counselor once asked me how my writing was going—and I said it wasn’t going at all because I had yet to find the time. Do you know what she said?


“Don’t find the time—make the time.”


Be it school, work, home, church, or relationship responsibilities, we will always have reasons not to write.


So, the point of it is to make writing as much of a priority as these other things in our lives. If we keep seeing it as a small thing to do “some other time”, then we can say au revoir to our dreams of writing a book.



Set a goal of how much time you are willing to give and when. Will you write an hour every day? Or maybe three hours on Saturdays and Sundays?


You can also set it in terms of how much you will write. Do you want to write two poems a day? Twenty pages in one sitting?


You decide. Start small and build from there. But remember that as much as you make time for writing, make time to rest from it, too. Otherwise, you might drain yourself of your “ink-spirations.”


Step Three: Know Your Motivations and Styles


Speaking of inspirations, it is inevitable that somewhere along our writing journeys, we experience a setback, or we come to that dreaded writer’s block.


Be it posters of inspirational writing quotes, an energizing playlist, a cup of coffee, a film and a blanket, or even a scented candle, we have to find the thing that gives us back our energy and keep it close.


As early as before the pre-writing stage, we also have to figure out our preferred writing style so we can effectively apply it as we go through the whole process of making our masterpieces.


Step Four: Choose Your Tools


If you prefer to write your first drafts on paper before transferring them to the computer, then make sure you have the basics: some paper, notebooks, binders or folders, pens and pencils, sharpeners, erasers, paper clips, staplers and punchers, rulers, tape, and scissors.


Either way, you are going to need a gadget since manuscripts—in both traditional and self-publishing—are processed digitally, especially through Microsoft Word. So, whether you are using your phone, tablet, laptop, or computer for writing, make sure to have this app. You can also try out other writing software like Google Docs, Grammarly, Evernote, Scrivener, and Freedom.


Don’t be afraid to personalize these things; remember that writing is an individual process, so do whatever makes you comfortable enough to express your ideas.


No matter which materials you use for the writing process itself, always keep a notebook or a notes app for ideas on the go. This way, even if you are in the middle of doing other things, you can save ideas as they come, and you can go back to them later. This makes a lot of difference because things have a certain way about them when said or written in the moment.



Chapter Two: Coming Up with the Story


Now, this is where the actual writing process begins.


Step One: Come up with Your Big Idea


There are two things that our story idea needs to be: 1) it must excite us and 2) it must excite people.

It helps to write what we want to read.


Also, what are we trying to say through our story? What is our central theme? Do we impart that love takes commitment? Do we show that history repeats itself? Do we point out that power poisons minds? Do we remind people of the significance of spirituality?


What is the point of our story? We must know the core message and let the rest of the story contribute to it later.


It is no secret that more people are becoming writers, which means more competition for the same idea. So, we need to set our work apart from others somehow. The idea does not have to be bizarre, but it has to draw people in with a new experience.


Before you write, try telling your loved ones and mentors about your idea. See how they react. If you see their eyes light up at the thought—and remember, if it lights you up as much—, then go for it.



Step Two: Promise a Premise


Once we have our big idea, we can sum it up in one page or even one sentence. This serves as our premise, and this will be the very foundation and essence of our outlines and stories.


From this one line or so, we can start to write our book. How?


Keep in mind that one word has the potential to become one sentence, which then turns into one paragraph, into one chapter, and eventually into a book.


Step Three: Outline the Story


This next step depends on our writing style, as we determined earlier on.


However, whether we are Plotters (people who love to plan in detail) or Pantsers (people who do little to no outlining), it is best to have a “backbone” outline where we list down the major events in our story first.


If we are Plotters, we can expand on each part until we are satisfied and confident with our outlines. If we are Pantsers, then we can rely on that base outline enough already as we write our stories and figure out the rest of what happens.


Also included in our outline is the characterization. Here, we start to build the core personalities of our characters and how they will develop over the book.


Being a Plotter, we can give characters backstories and spend more time figuring them out. Being a Pantser, we might just have a base idea of them and figure out the rest of who they are once we write them into various situations, especially difficult ones.


For outlining gripping story experiences, we can consider writing through “The Box” idea or through the structure below.


Step Four: Research


The most compelling stories are often the ones that are true to life.


This goes for both non-fiction and fiction. Our stories may be born out of imagination, but even so, we must make sure that they make sense and that they are logical somehow. Otherwise, our readers will lose interest and trust.


Research is the key to achieve authenticity in our stories, especially if we are writing on topics like science, history, and culture and society.


No matter what we write, though, we research to add depth to our outlines, to fill in the gaps of what we do not yet know, and to help us develop the story further.


Step Five: Set a Deadline


They say the best motivator is a deadline.


So, once we have an idea already of how the story will go and how much time it will take to write—depending on the plot and our established styles and habits—, it will benefit us to determine a strict deadline for finishing the book.


With a date marked on our calendars, we will be able to give ourselves that additional push we need to see our stories through.


Step Six: Believe in Yourself


We can do this, there is no doubt about that.


The bestselling authors whose names we see on bookstores, our favorite writers, the classical scribes whose literature we study until today—they were all once where we are now: on the precipice of something new, something scary, but something great.


We just have to take things poco a poco—little by little.


With a lot of passion, as much commitment, and enough faith in ourselves, we will get there. We will write our book.



Chapter Three: Writing It Down


It’s time to write and roll!


Remember: you can do this. Step by step.


Step One: Establish a Perspective and a Voice


As we talked about in a previous article on writing fiction, it is essential to choose the perspective that is most appropriate and effective. The point of view is the shoe that the readers will put themselves in; it is their means of walking through and living the story.


We then aid this perspective with a compelling, vivid voice that will narrate the events. Now, this voice is the readers’ way of empathizing with the character, so it is important to write naturally and consistently with a specific tone.


Step Two: Hook Readers Right at the Start


Book covers catch the attention of readers. Titles and synopses compel them to get the book. The first line, however—this is the force that pulls them into the story. This is what gets them hooked enough to keep reading up to the very last page.


It goes without saying, we need a good first line. We can be surprising, dramatic, philosophical, and even poetic—but never cliché. Having a common first line just means that our story is something that has already been read before.


Be unexpected, be specific, be engaging.


Step Three: Put a Lot of Tension


As we can see in the diagram earlier, there are numerous conflicts in the story structure and rightfully so.


Setbacks show the true colors of a character, and they define the character arc or development. Problems push people to change, to do something different in order to get what they want.


By making our characters experience difficult situations, we give them the chance to realize their shortcomings and grow—regardless of the ending—, essentially making them heroes, adding depth to our stories, and giving thrill and impact to our readers.


Step Four: Shut Off Your Inner Editor


It may be tempting to edit as we go but remember that this is still just the writing process. Our primary goal here is to write, to let things out, to get the first draft done, be it as a whole or in parts.


Trust that you will have enough time later to edit and make things right in your story.


Do not feel obligated to make everything perfect—at least not yet.


Step Five: Live the In-Between


Although our beginnings and ends are crucial, the bulk or essence of the story is actually in the middle where our characters are still on their journey, as much in the process of trying to achieve their goal as we are trying to write our book.


So, make sure that this in-between is just as good: keep readers on their toes with the conflicts you throw the characters’ way, make them feel and get to know the character, don’t let them rest from the experience of your story.


The secret here is in the outline, in the plotlines you have developed earlier on. You can build on them and add more intensities and subplots.


Another thing to remember here is our own journey as the author. At one point, writing the middle parts will become difficult. The excitement from the first parts wears off, and the anticipation for the climax and ending is all we can focus on, leaving us not much energy for the in-between.


If we can find the strength to push through the first and last parts, then we can do so for the middle, too. It is more about the journey than the destination.


Step Six: Write a Resonating Ending


Now, the part we all look forward to, whether we are readers or writers: the conclusion.

The first tip on how to write a fulfilling ending is to not rush it. Just because the height of the story is over, does not mean we can skip on ahead to closing our books. Cherish the process. Make sure that the characters are given their due time to fulfill the plot.


Just as with the big idea, our ending has to be two things: 1) it must satisfy us and 2) it must satisfy the readers.


If we want to go for a cliffhanger, a major surprise, or a plot twist, remember that it still needs to be logical and justified. Otherwise, the rest of our story goes to waste no matter how good it might have been because the readers will feel disbelief towards the ending.


Lastly, we must write the end in a way that leaves an impact. Go back to the big idea, to the meaning you have been trying to convey; ask yourself, “Did I successfully impart this message?”


Show it all the more in the ending so readers really pick up something from the book.



Chapter Four: Editing Again and Again


And again.


This is the part where we can let our perfectionist editor side take over.


Step One: Get into Self-Editing


First and foremost, this includes being able to point out and deal with grammatical errors.


There are writers who prefer to hire professional proofreaders or use grammar checker apps, and while this is helpful to get the technicalities—such as spelling, grammar, sentence structure—out of the way, it is better to learn to edit ourselves.


After all, this is our story; we understand it in a way no one can, and as such, we naturally know how best to deliver it.


Some tips are 1) to opt for simple and natural words, 2) to avoid being redundant, 3) to give readers the chance to figure out the rest of what is happening without explaining things, and 4) to provide enough details that get the readers’ imaginations going without dictating the entirety.


Besides the technicalities, we must edit the story itself. We need to make sure all of the parts fit together like a puzzle and form the bigger picture of our intended meanings.


Step Two: Get Feedback


Once we have edited our manuscripts once or twice, it is time to share it with others.


We can find friends who are willing to read as much of the story as we want them to, and we can look for professional mentors who can give us expert advices on how to navigate our work, especially once we step into the publishing stage.


This step is just as important as any because this is how we test the waters and see our readers’, agents’, and editors’ reactions to our book so far. With this, we improve until we produce a more fulfilling experience within our pages.


Step Three: Edit Again


Now that we have gathered enough feedback and hopefully, we have a clearer perception of our book, it is time to make the final edits.


We will know our story is good to go if 1) we, as both an author and a reader, are satisfied, 2) we believe our book is an art successfully portraying an experience, 3) we feel it in our gut that our story leaves an impact, and 4) we have said what we wanted to say.


Step Four: Title and Format


Undoubtedly, titles need to be catchy. More importantly, they need to capture the essence of our stories all the while staying unique and apart from others’ books.


Besides this, a crucial step before finally heading off to publishing is formatting our works so they are organized, presentable, and professional.


The best style is using black 12-point Serif fonts like the Times New Roman; double spacing the manuscript with no extra spaces between indented paragraphs; using dingbats like asterisks to indicate time or shifts in perspective; aligning the text to the left with one-inch margins to all sides of the page; and including headers that contain our title, name, and page numbers.



Chapter Five: Getting Published


Once we have given ourselves the much-deserved time to celebrate and rest a little for having finished our books, we now face the realities of publishing.


You can read this article for a full knowledge of traditional and self-publishing processes, though they are summed up below. For first timers, keep these publishing tips in mind.


Step 1A: Get into Traditional Publishing


Simply put, this publishing mode requires getting an agent, working with them to close a deal with a publisher, and working and signing with the publisher who will then acquire, edit, make covers for, print, price, distribute, promote, and market our books.


Step 1B: Get into Self-Publishing


On the other hand, self-publishing leaves the entire process up to us. We lay out our own stories into printable files, make our own covers or hire someone to do so, file for an International Standard Book Number or ISBN, invest in printing services, price, launch, and market our books.


Step 2: Share and Market Your Story


Our roles as writers do not stop once we are published and we see our titles in bookstores next to our favorite authors.


We are writers for life, meaning, we are storytellers forever. It is our passion and mission to share stories; otherwise, what will be the point in having written them?


Nowadays, with our ever-growing technology, we can share and market our books in a variety of ways, especially on social media.


Let’s not forget the age-old way of sharing stories by word of mouth. Even a conversation with a stranger about our book can lead to many possibilities already. Besides, we never know when we might come across an agent or publisher who can get us our next deal, or a potential marketing representative who can help boost our book sales.


The possibilities are endless when we share.


However, it can also expose us to the danger of plagiarism. It is just right then that we learn how to avoid getting plagiarized because at the end of the day, the story is our masterpiece and ours only.

No matter what, remember that we are not just story sellers, but more importantly, we are storytellers.



Epilogue


Authors have a story, too. We may just sit on the couch all day, but the stories we make reach the minds of people worldwide. We may stay up alone all night just to write, but the chapters we make are a comfort to somebody elsewhere.


We may stare into space sometimes, seemingly doing nothing, but we make worlds that inspire hope and possibility, love and empathy. We may get stuck sometimes, but always, we persevere so we can enrich people’s lives through the experiences we give in our art.


Authors have a story—and starting today, this can be your story, too.





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