5 Simple Steps to Help You Start Writing Your First Book

5 Simple Steps to Help You Start Writing Your First Book

A typical book is 60,000 to 100,000 words long.

While some writers can crank out a 500-word blog post without too much trouble, coming up with 100,000 words is an entirely different endeavor.

How do you make time to write a book? And how do you break down such an enormous and intimidating project into manageable chunks?

Follow these steps to manage the process from brainstorming to writing, editing, publishing and marketing.

1. Break it down

If you put “write a book” on your to-do list next to “pick up bread at the grocery store,” it’s easy to never get it done.

Writing a book can be intimidating, so the best way to tackle the project is to first break it down into more manageable tasks.

While it’s important to identify the tasks ahead, it’s also important not to get too bogged down making huge to-do lists. If you write 10 pages of tasks, it’s easy to sigh and put the project aside indefinitely. You don’t need to outline every task. Just a basic idea should do the trick to get started.

Early on, it’s probably better to leave large steps such as “marketing plan” as a step, without detailing every element of it since it can be overwhelming to have a massive to-do list.

You’ll have a number of basic “large steps” that you know you’ll need to get to like brainstorming, writing, editing, publishing and marketing. It’s helpful to know what these steps are, but you don’t need to spend too much time fretting about the intricacies of finding a publisher when you’re still in the brainstorming phase.

It’s always helpful to have an idea of what you’re working toward and to have an overview of how the process will work, but if you find yourself deep in the weeds, you’ll get bogged down with details.

Once you have the big steps outlined, start with the first one and break it down into smaller actionable steps. For example, “brainstorming” could turn into “brainstorm characters” or “brainstorm settings” and other important details.

2. Batch your tasks

Once you’ve started, it’s often easiest to batch your tasks.

When you’re brainstorming about a character, it can be hard to suddenly switch gears and move to your marketing plan.

Everyone works differently, but it’s often easiest to batch similar tasks together so once you get on a roll, you can keep it going.

For example, if you’re writing a nonfiction book and have a series of interviews you need to transcribe, it’s often easier to spend an afternoon transcribing all of them than to switch back and forth between transcribing, editing chapters and developing chapter outlines all in the same afternoon.

Experiment to find what works best for you, but once your brain gets going on one path, it’s often best to let it continue down that path for a while.

3. Schedule your to-do tasks

If you have a day job or other freelance commitments, it can be hard to find time for your project.

But if you schedule some time every day or week as your book writing time, that can be very helpful in terms of getting things done.

Mark the time on your calendar and don’t let any other projects or commitments interfere with this time. If you want to get your project done, you’ll need to make it a priority.

Use your body rhythm to your advantage and plan time when you’re at your writing best.

Morning people might get up at 5 a.m. to squeeze an hour of writing into each morning. But if you’re a hard-core night owl, that would be akin to torture — and unproductive. It’s almost impossible to find the best words when you can barely stay upright. Some find a mid-afternoon slump their least productive time of day while others hit their stride around 3 p.m.

Use your body rhythms to your advantage and guard this time as you would any other important task, like a meeting.

how to write a first book

4. Set deadlines

If you are working with a publisher, you likely have a series of deadlines to meet, but if you’re going to self-publish, or you don’t have a publisher yet, that’s trickier.

It can be hard to find the motivation to push through writer’s block and procrastination and make your project happen.

So set some deadlines. Create deadlines for various stages of the project (such as chapter deadlines, first draft deadlines, etc.) and mark them on your calendar. Remind yourself with alarms and sticky notes. Treat them as you would any other important deadline.

If external motivation is something you find helpful, set a time for a critique group to look at your work. You’ll have to get it ready by the time you meet with them.

Or sign up for a writing conference and a critique session. If you’ve already signed up and paid, that’s a good incentive to pull things your work together in time.

5. Stay on track

Accountability can be tricky when you’re working on your own project.

Consider a calendar and giving yourself a literal gold star or unicorn sticker for each day you hit your target (whether that’s working on the project for an hour or writing 500 words a day).

Spreadsheets can also be helpful as you can record the number of words you write or log your hours. Adding the numbers up is a great motivation to feel like your small steps are adding up to something big and exciting.

Consider signing up for NaNoWriMo or other community-focused writing events that help people work towards goals.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always meet your goals. But use them to stay sufficiently motivated to keep things moving.

Working with a friend to collaborate and congratulate each other on making your word count is also very helpful. Just like a gym buddy gets you to work out and meet your fitness goals, a writing buddy can help you meet your writing goals.

Writing a book is a huge task, and it’s one that has to become a priority for it to happen. By treating it like a series of important deadlines and tasks that must be completed, you’re setting yourself up for success.

Filed Under: Craft
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  • I think these are great suggestions, Kristen. I do a lot of editing for self-published authors, and I can see how many would benefit from each of these, besides seeing how each benefits me with my own writing.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about something I’ve been thinking about offering through an online learning site: A daily Book Authors’ Accountability Group (perhaps separate ones for novels and nonfiction?) in which for a small subscription fee, members receive daily email reminders with a link to an online forum where they can share samples of their work with fellow writers on the same journey, as well as a suggested discussion question on the writing life in general and book writing in particular. I would provide the suggested discussion questions and moderate discussions, and would also be available to give an editor’s perspective on request, but would mostly stay out of the way of the group’s mutual support.

    If I can hit the right balance of structure and flexibility, I think it could provide a structure that encourages making some progress every day, and a community of other authors to bounce ideas off of and exchange support and encouragement without diverting too much of their writing time and energy away from the book itself.

    Do you think this would be valuable to many book authors, Kristen?

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC

  • Great advice. It’s also important to stay on track. By that, I mean, have an idea of where the book is going. The worst thing to do it just keep writing and end up so far outside of where you should be that you end up tossing a lot of the work.

    Outlines, no matter how simply or complex, help with that.

  • Rachel Maree says:

    Thanks Kristen! I love the advice in this article. I always feel overwhelmed when starting a new project, and this will help me simplify and stay motivated!

  • Good “baby step” article. I’m in the thinking process of writing a light mystery. In the past, I’ve written mostly short story memoirs and recipe/cook books, so this is a big switch for me. I’m taking in information I can find on writing a book-long tale.

    Thanks for the article, it’ll help me along in my process.

    Cynthia Briggs/Author

  • Thank you for this article Kristen! Writing a book is a huge project and it needs to get broken down into bite-size chunks, so to speak. I know I have some fellow writers that I’ve networked with and I’m sure it will be of some use to them to see some of the thoughts you have here, so I included it in my link roundup on my website. I appreciate you sharing your insight!

    Here is the link if you would like to see it: http://www.christopherlaporte.com/blog/2017/5/17/story-around-the-web-week-2-roundup

  • Kalil says:

    If you want to start writing a book make a clear statement of how it is going to end. It is easier to find you’d way in the dark if you know were you are headed.

  • Sophia Mckie says:

    I have sent off a sample of my work to a publisher, it said on their website that you can send a sample off before sending your complete manuscript. Well done for the tips