“Everyone has a book inside of them – but it doesn’t do any good until you pry it out.” – Jodi Picoult
Have you ever been in conversation with someone and, after listening to them share a story about themselves, said: “You should write a book on that!”? Or, have you perhaps thought to yourself, “That could be in a movie!”?
I’d be willing to bet that the answer to that is yes. I’d also wager that it’s happened multiple times throughout your life.
We hear fantastic stories all the time, some extraordinary tales of risk and adventure, and others poignant memoirs of grief, hopelessness, or a broken heart. Some sound more like fast-paced thrillers that keep you nervously munching on handfuls of popcorn, while others are slower, more leisurely, like a hot bubble bath you could soak in for hours. No matter their genre, many of the stories we hear from people we know draw us in, entertaining, challenging, and inspiring, just as much as blockbuster films and bestselling books do. The only difference is they’re not written down.
There are many factors that prevent great stories from ever making it onto the notepad or word processor. Fear of failure and rejection, feelings of inadequacy, a lack of confidence, uncomfortableness with being vulnerable, and unfamiliarity with the writing process are but a few of the reasons why millions of incredible stories remain hidden, reserved only for friends and family.
Today, if you know there’s a book inside of you just waiting to be pried out, I’d like to share my top three tips for taking the leap and writing your incomparable, one-of-a-kind story one heartfelt word at a time.
I. Ask Yourself, “What’s My Topic, and Why Would Anyone Care About It?”
As a teenager, I was inspired to write my first faith-based fitness book because I believed it was a topic other young women would be interested in reading. Why did I believe this? Because friends, acquaintances, even strangers I’d just met, seemed to enjoy hearing about it and wanted to learn more. “Faith-based fitness? What’s that?” “You had an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise? How did you overcome it?”
It was a unique idea, at the time, to combine biblical principles with the habits and routines of an active lifestyle. After my personal battles with anorexia and binge-eating disorder, I had learned a great deal about depression, obsession, vanity, pride, surrender, and balance, and saw a niche that I, as a Christian woman passionate about fitness, could fill.
What makes you the ideal person to write this story? What unique circumstances, trials, sicknesses, or setbacks have taught you invaluable lessons from which others can learn? What benefits will your book provide? Make sure you have more than just a sad, amusing, or off-the-wall story – make it a must-have for your audience, full of applicable, practical takeaways.
II. Assess Your Content
It’s important to determine whether your story has enough material with which to fill an entire book. If you have a story about a summer in Paris in which the only eventful thing that happened was seeing a man streak across the Louvre before taking a selfie in front of the Mona Lisa, it’s likely it would make a better blog, short story, or article in a humor magazine. The main reasons for this are, for one, you were a passive witness to the event and didn’t personally know the brazen individual, and for two, there are no perceivable lessons that can add value to readers…except for maybe a single paragraph on the subject of capturing potentially viral footage for YouTube in record speed.
To make sure the literary object rattling around in your gut is indeed a full-length book, I recommend mind mapping (sounds woo-woo, but it’s not!). Mind mapping involves, like the name suggests, mapping your book with the ol’ noggin, starting with the main idea, the map’s center, and working outward as ideas branch off from one another in a creative, organic fashion. This is much more fun than ordinary notetaking, in my opinion.
Simply sit down with a piece of paper and a pen (or multiple pens – even crayons if you like!), and form a circle with the title of your Big Idea in the middle. Next, simply let your subconscious loose to explore any potential points that could be discussed and elaborated on in your book. Connect these subtopics to your Big Idea with lines, and then give your subtopics their own mini ideas! Make sure each topic relates to the overarching Big Idea in some way.
When you’re finished, you’ll be able to judge whether you have enough content. Plus, you’ll already have a first draft of an outline to guide you as you write!
III. Outline (Though It’s Tempting, Do Not Skip This Step!)
A writer’s outline is like an architect’s blueprint. Write without it, and you could very well wind up with a flimsy and forgettable sandcastle rather than a sturdy and spectacular palace.
While some writers prefer to compose outlines that are as long as War and Peace, this certainly isn’t necessary. For each of my non-fiction books to date, I simply wrote a 3-5 sentence paragraph for each chapter. Under the paragraph, I included a bulleted list that would later prompt me to make specific points and flesh out particular ideas or anecdotes.
Not only will an outline keep you on track while writing, it will also come in handy when you write your proposal for agents and publishers, the majority of whom will ask for a chapter-by-chapter rundown of your book.
Outlining will, like mind mapping, help you to focus your story, developing a clear picture of your message and what you most wish to convey.
I hope you found these tips helpful and that they’ve inspired you to sit down and get to work on your story! If you have any questions, tips, or comments, please drop a line below or tweet me @dandersontyler. I’d love to connect!
PS: My latest non-fiction book Perfect Fit: Couples Edition is now available in paperback and ebook formats on Amazon! You can check it out here!