If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’ve got an idea for a book floating aimlessly in your head.
And this idea of yours never quite goes away, does it?
You’ve been silently mulling it over for years. After a few drinks, you might even have revealed it to a friend – just to check that it’s not completely mad.
Rather than spluttering their cocktail in surprise, they actually encouraged you! But years later, you still haven’t done anything with that amazing book idea.
It’s because you’re too busy, you tell yourself.
You don’t know when you’d find the time to write a whole book… and besides, you’re not sure how good a writer you are. You don’t know how you’d cope if someone were to read your book, then tear it to pieces (literally or figuratively).
But still the idea persists, whispering in your mind’s ear as you unload the dishwasher, and tapping on your shoulder as you start your journey to work.
And here’s a thought… maybe the real reason you haven’t done anything with that idea yet is because it’s too vague.
Despite all those websites and ‘writing gurus’ who shout about putting a bestselling book together in as little as a weekend, writing one isn’t easy. It takes time and patience, but it also takes purpose and structure.
So, if you sit at your desk with no idea what you’re doing there, other than just ‘writing a book’, it’s likely that you’ll give up before you’ve even started.
How to Shape That Vague Book Idea
I had a conversation last week, with a new book coaching client.
“Tell me about your book.” I asked.
Her answer began with, “well, it’s a Number One bestseller…”
(I’ve found that lots of people reply with something along those lines. Not to put a downer on positive visualisations, but I think that explains why they also find it so hard to begin. Why put that amount of pressure on yourself, before you’ve written a single word?)
“It’s not a Number One bestseller, because you haven’t written it yet,” I said (gently). “I want to know what it’s going to be about. Can you sum it up in one sentence?”
She couldn’t – as I couldn’t, when I first decided I was going to write a book. But I ask that ‘sum up’ question because I've learned that it’s probably the most important one there is. To write a book – especially a bestselling one – means knowing what it’s going to be about.
So, your first task is to narrow that book idea down to one realistic sentence that you can use to work from.
It turned out that my client wants to write a memoir about the life lessons she learned in her twenties, presented as a relatable and transformative journey.
(In the case of my most recent offering, ‘I’d Rather Get a Cat and Save the Planet – Conversations with Child-free Women’ I wanted to write a book that identified the ‘me too!’ moments of child-free women, in the same light-hearted, conversational style used in many similar books about motherhood).
Other questions you should ask are:
Who am I talking to?
Think about the type of person who is most likely to be attracted to your book.
Use their characteristics to conjure a mental picture of your ideal reader, and write your book just for that person (it’s fine if that person is yourself, by the way!)
What is my book going to cover?
Use your ‘about’ sentence to create a list of subjects for your book. A mind-map is great for this.
You can then start grouping subjects together, to form a list of chapters.
What does my ideal reader really want to know?
As you write, take care to explain terminology that your ideal reader might be unfamiliar with, and give details where they’re needed.
As an example, my first ghostwriting project involved helping a man who was over 70 to write his ‘warts and all’ autobiography.
I had to ask him questions about how he got from ‘here to there’ in different parts of the story. That included asking him about when and how he’d lost his virginity, which was highly embarrassing at first!
But these were burning questions that I knew his readers would ask, so I asked them, and the forthcoming book is richer and more immersive for it.
(As an aside, if you’re writing a personal memoir, then you’ll have to be honest and open – sometimes uncomfortably so. Anything less will make for an insipid read).
Best of luck shaping that idea. If you’d like some help, find out more about my personal project coaching services here.
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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