It’s time. You’ve decided you’re finally going to start writing a book for the first time, and you’re excited, but also super nervous. We understand, and we’re here to help.
We’ve scoured the top books and resources for the best writing tips, from outlining to taking your book to completion. You’ll also get access to writing resources and tools for both beginners and experienced writers.
10 steps to writing a book as a beginner
Figuring out how to start writing a book can seem even more daunting than the actual writing process itself. Here are 10 steps to follow while writing your first book — and hopefully a bestseller.
1. Make a plan
Writing requires time, dedication, and hard work, so you need a schedule if you want to write a book from start to finish. A book is at least 20,000 words long — for novellas. Novels are typically 50,000 words and up. You should know when and where you will write on a daily basis. If possible, plan to write in the same places to build a reliable habit.
2. What do you want to write about?
You may not know every single plot point, but don’t start writing if you have no idea what you’re writing about. You’ll waste your time. A helpful exercise is writing a 3-5 line synopsis of your book. Publisher’s Weekly’s Rights Roundups is a great place to find examples of these synopses. Here’s one.
Some things may change or get clearer as you write, but you need a starting premise to make your book idea work.
3. Make an outline
Once you’re clear on your book’s subject matter, it’s time to create an outline. There are different outline styles, but the goal is to get a clearer picture of most of what happens in your book — chapter by chapter. We’ll dive deeper into this later in this article.
4. Do the research
Sometimes writer’s block is just a sign of insufficient research. Good writing requires research. You need research to tell your story, explain a subject, or sell an idea. Use the internet, libraries, first-person accounts, or even take research trips where possible.
5. The messy first draft
After the research comes real creative writing. For many writers, this is the hardest part.
Our best tip here is to let your first draft be messy. Styles differ, but often the first draft is you figuring out the story for yourself, while the second draft is making it shine for readers. Let it be messy; focus on getting out the story, not making it pretty. Other tips for a successful first draft:
- Set daily word count goals. This keeps you accountable.
- Be consistent. Show up every day — preferably in a dedicated writing space — to write, even if you don’t meet your goals.
- Avoid distractions. Write without internet connectivity, go to a coffee shop, lock your office door, use noise-canceling headphones — whatever it takes.
- Know your target audience. It’s easier and more effective to write when you can picture your specific audience.
6. Edit and revise
The first round of edits is usually the most grueling. Some writers realize that a story isn’t viable. Others find numerous plot holes to fill. And for some, their message becomes clearer and the book comes to life. Either way, don’t skip the editing process, and if you can get a professional editor to review the entire book, that will do wonders for your work.
7. The cleaner second draft
Your second draft is where you make any changes flagged by your editor (or you!) during the initial revision process. Fill plot holes, rewrite sections more persuasively, and cut any fluff that may have gotten through in the first draft. You’re now on your way to a great book.
8. Meet your first readers
Ideally, the first readers should be a sample of your target audience. Whether these are other authors you’d like to blurb your book or industry experts you hope will endorse it, send those digital copies to the first readers. Your first reader could also be a spouse or friend who can provide kind, but critical feedback.
9. Final edits and proofreading
With comments from first readers and one more close look by a professional (hopefully!) proofreader, your book should be in its final state. Its message should be clear, back flap copy written, and cover design ready to meet more readers.
10. Time to publish
Self-publishing is becoming more popular as writers refuse to wait for publishing gatekeepers to validate their efforts. If this is your chosen route, you can now get your book formatted and ready to sell on Amazon or other platforms. But if you’d like to give traditional publishing a shot, now would be the time to find an agent and start querying!
How to outline a book without losing your mind
Outlining can be intimidating for new writers who aren’t sure where the story will take them. Perhaps you feel like you’d rather be spontaneous and not outline before writing. We’re big fans of outlining here.
Outlining doesn’t mean things are set in stone. Rather, your outline is a guide that can be tweaked as you write.
Having an outline also ensures that you wake up every day knowing what you’re going to write about. Unless you’d rather spend an hour of your writing time every day deciding what the heck will happen in this chapter.
Hopefully, we’ve sold you some valid benefits of outlining. Now, here’s how to do it:
1. Pick a style
There are several ways to outline your book. Some writers prefer a mind map method to help them visualize how things tie together. Others like to use post-its or index cards where they’ll write a key point or plot event in their book on each note. We recommend a basic summary outline, which is the chapter by chapter outline — and that’s what we’ll be walking you through.
2. Try a writing assistant
Writing assistants can take the work out of writing and make the process much faster. Our number one recommendation, Jasper, has a Blog Post Outline template that works beautifully for outlining book chapters. You can then break each section down even further to provide more information in your book.
In our example below, we’re writing a book about succeeding as a freelancer. All Jasper needs to generate our outline is the book title and tone of writing.
You could also try Jasper's AI story generation tools to help bring your story to life.
3. Get some structure
Most non-fiction books provide a solution to readers’ problems, and you’re probably writing a book to do that too. Like Anne Lamott says in her book, Bird by Bird
“To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care. You do not have to have a complicated moral philosophy. But a writer always tries, I think, to be a part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.”
With your outline, you’re working to give your book a structure that best tells the story to help your audience.
Every outline should have an introduction, a middle, and a conclusion. Similarly, your outline should be structured — like any marketing copy — to lay out the problem, your history with it, and your method of solving it. The meat of the book would then be strategies to help readers tackle that same problem or similar problems.
4. Write chapter overviews and subheadings
When you write your outline, include notes for yourself about what each chapter tackles. If you can leave yourself questions to answer about each section, even better!
For example, in the introduction, the goal is to hook the readers on the first page by sharing an anecdote or your experience with the specific problem they’re dealing with. Tell readers about your unique value proposition aka why they should read this book and not the others on this subject matter. The Jasper Unique Proposition Template can help you craft yours. Here’s an example from Jasper based on our input on the left.
Questions to answer in your introduction:
- What problem are you solving?
- How can readers who aren’t self-aware recognize this issue?
- Who is this book for?
- Why should readers trust you to help them?
Do this exercise for every potential chapter and your outline should be shaping up in your mind.
Outline in hand, it’s time to get the work done. Go back to our step-by-step guide for writing your own book and move through the remaining steps after outlining. We’re rooting for you, future bestselling author.
5 helpful resources for writing a book for the first time
Before we wrap up, we’ll share five of the best resources and writing tools for beginners figuring out how to start writing a book.
AI writing assistant Jasper has written so many books in part or full and has proven to be brilliant at it. This software can get you through outlining, writing a powerful introduction, sharing your unique value proposition, and crafting a powerful conclusion. But it doesn’t stop there.
With Boss Mode and the Long-Form Assistant template, Jasper can work with you every step of the way. All you have to do is type a sentence or two and Jasper will keep it going. Other templates such as the Blog Post Intro Paragraph and Blog Post Conclusion Paragraph come in handy for every chapter.
The Jasper team has even prepared an outline “recipe” or content brief you can complete and feed into the AI to make the process easier. This outline can also be helpful with generally digging deeper into your book’s purpose and message.
Pricing: Plans start at $29/month
Video: How to Write the Perfect Non-Fiction Book Introduction & Outline with AI
Scrivener is a favorite for many writers because of its word processing and outlining capabilities. Available for Mac, iOS, and Windows, it allows you to outline, keep fragmented notes and write within the same application! That way, you can keep track of chapters and headings easily.
Pricing: Licenses start at $19.99 for iOS
3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott’s book is a warm guide for new and old writers. If you need some encouragement from a long-distance writing buddy and are open to inspiring stories about writing and life, this is a good one to read.
4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Another classic for new writers, Zinsser’s book is perfect for non-fiction writers figuring out the nuts and bolts of the craft. He delves into writing about sports, business writing, memoir writing, self-help, and more. This one has helped many already successful writers become better writers.
5. Focus Writer
One last tool to keep distractions at bay: Focus Writer keeps writers on track with daily goals and word counts while providing an immersive writing environment. It also has spellcheck, timers to keep on your Pomodoro grind, and optional typewriter sound effects, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Start writing your book with Jasper
Figuring out how to start writing a book as a beginner can be scary, but it is far from impossible, and we know that you have what it takes. Take a step-by-step approach, or bird by bird as Lamott says. Set clear goals, have a message to share and get to work.
Jasper can help you tackle outlining, writing creative introductions, and crafting the messy middle one word at a time. Ready to give it a shot? Write your first book with Jasper. Sign up for a free account.