I think I have a book in me . . . what do I do first?

Having a book idea is an exciting and terrifying feeling. It feels important and fragile. Holding it feels like keeping a secret. 


But what are the first steps of bringing this secret to the world?


We’ve coached thousands of authors, and we’ve seen them make the same mistakes, over and over again, at the beginning of their process. When you have an idea for a book, you should be focused on one task … and it’s not what you think.


What not to do first when writing a book:


Here are a few things you’ll be TEMPTED to do, which are actually huge mistakes:


  • Start writing chapter one


Our impulse, once we have a book idea, is to sit down at our desk, pull out our computer, open a new document, and type, “Chapter One: It was a dark and stormy night . . .” It is so incredibly tempting to dive right into your manuscript. You have an idea—you can see the opening scene, even now! You WANT to get writing before your muse leaves and the inspiration is gone.


But this is actually not the way to write your best book. In fact, authors who start this way often end up writing in circles—sometimes for years!—or end up throwing away LARGE sections of what they write. Sometimes, they change their minds about the book topic midway through. Starting in on your manuscript, while so tempting, is one of the biggest time-wasters in book writing.


Here’s a tip: when you’re afraid your inspiration will leave you, bullet out your story or message points. Make a note and file it away. But don’t start in on your book, paragraph by paragraph.


  • Focus on platform


One of the most common pieces of advice given to new authors is to grow their platform. When it comes to publishing—any kind of publishing (self-publishing or traditional)—marketing, audience and platform are important. However, the very beginning of writing is not the time to focus on your platform.


Here’s why: writing a book is a vulnerable process which takes a lot of time and energy. Focusing on “platform” is not only discouraging—it might change your message in a way that’s not true to you. Authors who focus too much on platform in the beginning may not ever write the book that’s ACTUALLY on their hearts. They get swept up in marketing, and their book idea morphs into what they think will be profitable, instead of what is real. We think that’s a shame for both the writer and the world.


  • Procrastinate


Lastly, authors who have a book idea often just … put it off. They make excuses, saying, “It’s not the right time,” or “I’m not ready yet,” or, the classic, “I’m not a REAL writer.”


As you practice ignoring yourself and your voice, the easier and easier it will get to forget you even had a book idea. Chances are high that you’ll never write the book. Not only is this denying part of yourself, it’s also taking away something from your readers.


When you have a great book idea, here’s what to do first:


Develop your book idea.


Even if you’ve been holding onto this book idea for years, it can still improve. And if your idea is going to be able to sustain 55,000+ words, it needs to have strong content, clear messages, and the right person writing it.


As you brainstorm about your book, your idea may shift and change. You might suddenly see a whole new section of the book, or envision speaking to a different audience. This is good! Now is the time to develop, refine, and define.


A strong book idea will carry readers through the entire book, without losing their interest. A strong book idea will carry the WRITER’s interest through the writing of the book! A strong book idea will sustain several chapters, various kinds of stories and supporting content, and a gripping story arc. A strong book idea will take you places you never thought you’d end up.


Without spending the time and thought to develop your book idea, you may never finish. We see authors write and write and write, but if they don’t have a solid plan, then they lose interest, or get discouraged.


Psst. Want to know HOW to develop your book idea? This is exactly why we offer our Find Your Voice Book Idea Primer: the five exercises in this book will help you bring your book idea from “fuzzy” to well-thought through. It’s simple, effective, and breaks down “book idea development” into accessible steps. Take a look, under “workbooks” on our homepage. 


So, you have a book idea. We’re SO excited for you. Resist the urge to get started right away, resist the temptation to stuff your idea and ignore it—and, instead, thoughtfully bring it out into the light, and see where it goes.


Follow us on Instagram for quotes about writing, tips, and more prompts. Or download a resource for that extra boost of help. Still doubting whether you’re a real writer? We think you are. Read more from our blog:

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