- This post walks though advice on the first steps of writing a book.
- As an aspiring writer, listen for that nudging and when you feel it and “hear” it, you’re ready to move onto step two.
- Reflect on the topics you want to write about.
- The task of writing the chapters is the next step.
- Check for continuity. Is there some sort of thread that weaves throughout?
The Organic Nature of Writing a Book
I have never forgotten Mrs. Dolby. She was my grade 3 teacher. We held our class in a portable classroom, just outside the side doors to the school building, which I thought was great because it had a cloak room where we could put our hockey sticks. Of course this also meant that we had quick access to the school grounds for lunchtime road hockey! And to a Canadian kid, that was what school was all about.
However, there was another reason I loved Mrs. Dolby. It wasn’t just her classroom proximity to my boyhood dreams of being the next Gordie Howe or Bobby Orr. It was because she told me over and over how great a writer I was. Each time I heard her say this, I believed it a little bit more. It was that year, 1973, my love of writing was born.
Isn’t it remarkable the influence that teachers can have?
The words that Mrs. Dolby spoke all these years ago have left on me an indelible mark to this very day. Whether real or imagined, I have been a writer for the past (almost) 50 years! When I set out to finally write a book in the early part of 2020, I had an advantage to get me going…I already believed I could do it. My grade 3 teacher told me I could.
Yet when push came to shove, what did that actually look like? You can be certain that before I held my published book in my hands, several things had to take place first.Remember that the book is always better than the movie and the reason is in the details. A book is really a form of art. It’s you speaking to your reader’s undivided attention. Click To Tweet
The first was what I believe must be the most organic part of the process.
It’s kind of like a feeling or a sort of existential modality that wells up from somewhere deep within. I felt compelled to write my story and when that sensation filled my daily thoughts, I knew I had to follow the lead of that still, small voice. For me, the writing won’t come unless this happens. It is, for me, the most unique and personal part of the book writing process. For you, the aspiring writer, listen for that nudging and when you feel it and “hear” it, you’re ready to move on to step two.
Step two for me is to have a note pad and reliable pen with which I write down the topics I want to write about.
Likely there will be a theme, and if step one is true to form, very quickly you will have 10 or 12 sub-themes and these will be your chapter headings. I know that the book will become a reality if I can’t get the words on paper as fast as the thoughts come to mind. The words flow until they don’t and this has been very clear to me. The faucet will open, the “water” will stream at full force and then suddenly the tap shuts and so do the words. The outline is done and it has become my book.
For me, step two is a short-lived step and if it isn’t, then I know that I’m forcing an issue that isn’t ready to come out. If that happens, I’ll set the pad of paper down and walk away. If I feel called back, then it may be that I’m ready to complete the task. But this step can not be forced. If it is, your reader will know.
At this point, I have a hand-written outline and the task of writing the chapters can begin.
To assist me in the actual writing, I use the voice memo function of my phone. Usually while driving, I speak my thoughts on the particular theme, and I speak them as if talking to someone. I want to hear in my voice the emotion, the tone and the passion so that when I write, I can attempt to capture it all accurately.
I’ll work on one chapter at a time, being sure to write as if I were speaking. I’m always aware that writing words takes much longer than speaking them so what may seem like a lot, is actually not. When read back, the details I may have thought were coming across, in fact may not have.
Remember that the book is always better than the movie and the reason is in the details. A book is really a form of art. It’s you “speaking” to your reader’s undivided attention. You may not get this chance again, so take your best shot, don’t hold anything back. Personally, I’m not really happy with the chapter if it comes in under 4000 words.
There is one other thing that I feel is imperative in the writing process.
Due to the artistic nature of writing, there is a certain wholistic view that an author must take to their work. Each chapter needs to be read with what may be called the view from 30,000 feet. Is there a continuity, some sort of thread that weaves throughout, directing the reader towards the goal I have in mind for them?
I have to ask myself if the words I’ve written are taking my reader where I want them to go, or if indeed, there are unnecessary tangents that need eliminating. Perhaps I will find that what I thought was a detailed explanation or metaphorical description of my point simply missed the mark.
Then where needed, I will re-write a passage or elaborate with a story or experience that will draw the reader in to my point. I tend to follow a First People’s principle of story-telling which has proven for centuries to be an effective way to pass knowledge and wisdom from one to another.[scroll down to keep reading]
Once the chapter writing is done, there are the peripheries such as an Introduction, Acknowledgements and perhaps an Epilogue.
I find effective a theme-setting quote at the start of each chapter, which I will usually derive once I’ve written the chapter. Add in a Table of Contents, some reviews from trusted colleagues and contacts, some catchy artwork for the cover and you’ve got the makings of a good book. In my experience, I started to think I was on to something when fully three people cried while reviewing my Introduction. My intention was that it would be an emotional “hook,” yet for some reason I was surprised that it actually elicited such a response. Nonetheless, I was also quite pleased that it did!
This was the process I went through to write my book Beyond the Classroom.
I would certainly appreciate it if you would read it and see if I actually practiced what I’m preaching. Also take note that in this blog, I’ve made no mention of publishing. Likely this is because my wife Sheryl kept giving me the best advice which was this: “Before you worry about seeing your book in the bookstores, you have to actually write the book.”
If you want to know what I did once my book was written, the editing process, the publishing process and the distribution process, I suppose I’d have to write a follow up blog. If enough people ask for that, I will comply. But for now, what you see here is where you should start. Good luck and be sure to read the other blogs on this topic. My hope is that they will serve the same purpose in your life as Mrs. Dolby’s words did in mine.
About Tim Stephenson
Tim has been teaching in Langley, British Columbia for over 25 years. He’s a science teacher, particularly astronomy, which is a course he has developed into a full credit senior science course. In his school, he is known as AstroStephenson. Way back at the beginning of his teaching career, he wrote a book, really to himself, that contained his teaching philosophy. It was a project that would define his career. He is a possibility thinker, a dreamer and a doer, an innovator.
From the very beginning, he knew that he wanted to teach by putting students and relationships ahead of content, and putting experiences and emotions ahead of curriculum. The result has been a long career of rich and rewarding experiences for both himself and his students, the pinnacle being in 2018 when he was the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.
Now Tim would like to share with you his thoughts and experiences on teaching with the hope that by reflecting better, you will feel empowered to try new things, teach in new ways and see the possibilities that are there for all of us in the teaching profession.