One of the most common things people share with me when they find out I’m an author is that they want to write a book. And I believe they should.
Not everyone will be published but having your thoughts, life lessons, and creative stories captured in a place outside your mind is good. I would treasure one page of wisdom written by my great-grandmother. But all her words died with her. And that makes me sad.
So, if you feel inspired to write – write.
If not a whole book, one page.
If not a whole page, one sentence.
After all, a book always starts with a sentence.
But if you do feel called to write a book, how does one do this? Where do you begin?
For me a book usually begins with paying attention to three things:
• A string of life lessons I’m learning with a common theme
• Conversations I have with others where they bring up this same theme
• A deep conviction that God wants me to park my brain and heart on this topic for a good long while
Then I put these initial thoughts about the theme of the book through a filter of questions:
• Is there an audience (beyond just my mom and my best friend) interested in this theme?
• What problems are these audience members having for which my book could be a possible solution?
• Do I have some fresh, unique, and reliable answers to share that meet the felt need of this group of people?
• Have I struggled enough with this theme to be authentically relatable as I write about it?
• Have I made enough progress in this area to handle the material in a responsible and biblical way?
I use these questions to help me hone the concept of my book. And it’s usually in this pondering and questioning of the concept of a possible book that 75% of my possible book ideas die. Because if I can’t make it work in the concept phase of a book, I won’t stay interested enough in this topic to write 60,000 words.
And heaven help the reader of a book whose author has lost interest in their own material 20,000 words in. Have you ever read a book that started off great but then started boring the mess out of you? Me too. It’s disappointing. And it’s usually because the author didn’t hone their concept enough before jumping into writing the book.
Once the concept is fully explored, it’s time to develop the content.
I start with the word count and chapter count. A typical non-fiction book for me is about 60,000 words. I personally like shorter chapters that are pretty consistent in length. So, if my chapters are going to be around 5,000 words… I will need 12 chapters.
As I look at what these 12 chapters will be, I draw a circle with 12 spokes coming out of it. In the circle I write the “focus sentence” of my book. A focus sentence is that one statement that encapsulates the value I want my reader to get from this message.
Note, I didn’t say that I write what the book is about. Nope. I write a sentence that reminds me exactly what my reader will get from this message. For example, for my book Unglued, my focus sentence was:
“This book will help a reader make imperfect progress with their reactions and therefore their relationships as they know with confidence how to better handle conflict.”
Then I start writing possible chapter ideas that stay very true to this pure focus. I use key words from my focus sentence to seed my chapter ideas and keep me “focused.”
So, based on the sentence I shared above, I will come up with some chapter ideas on IMPERFECT PROGRESS, REACTIONS, RELATIONSHIPS, EXTERNAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION IDEAS, and INTERNAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION IDEAS.
Then I start writing. With a sentence. And then another. And another.
And as I write these sentences that form chapters, that eventually form a book, I remember each sentence matters. It’s my responsibility to write sentences that are authentic and inspired and true and well crafted. Not English class perfect. More conversational. With threads of personality that clearly demonstrate a consistent voice my readers have come to expect from me.
These sentences, they matter. After all, it’s not often whole books that change people’s lives, but rather sentences tucked within chapters.
And at the end of the day, that’s why I sit at my computer and tap these keys for hours at a time. I love untangling thoughts that might possibly be used by God to help another.
It’s a process, this book-writing thing. It’s hard and messy and crazy time-consuming. But what a wondrous thing to have words that live on beyond us. Sentences that linger and continue to inspire. Yes, please.
Do you want to write sentences that will change someone’s life? Lysa and her Proverbs 31 Ministries team are launching a monthly membership training program called Compel: Words That Move People, to equip you to do just that. Click here to find out more information.