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New Year’s Resolution: Write a Book

- © 2001 Mary Embree

How do you start?

The Idea always comes first. You have to know what you want to write about before you start writing. Next comes the title. Or several possible titles. The title isn’t important in the beginning because as you go along you may change it; you may find a title you hadn’t thought of until you had written most of the book.

The concept sometimes changes. It may grow, improve, maybe even move in a different direction from that which you had originally planned. That’s okay—if it works. If it goes off on a tangent, veers off the track, or becomes a different book, stop and take stock.

Reread what you have written. Do you really want to write a different book? If not, where did your writing start to go astray? You will find out quickly if you read it aloud to yourself. You will start to stumble over the words and you will know. Pull out what doesn’t belong but don’t throw it away. There may be some useful ideas there. Put those away for now. Then go back and pick up the thread of your story and start writing again.

Is it hard to get started? Kristen Hunter is quoted in Black Women Writers at Work: “Writing is harder than anything else; at least starting to write is.”

Don’t worry if you can’t figure out what that first page, first paragraph, first sentence should be. You don’t have to know that now. You might find after you have written 15 chapters that your book really starts at Chapter Five and you can throw away Chapters One, Two, Three, and Four or plug them in somewhere else.

Plan your book

Do an outline or write chapter headings and a short paragraph on what’s in each chapter. Some writers put this information on small index cards and arrange them on a table. They can then see the whole book at a glance and rearrange the cards if necessary. If you are writing a novel, write character sketches too. Get to know the information, people, and events that are involved in your story so that you can confidently introduce them to the reader. Once you have a plan, a road map of where you are going, you will never encounter writer’s block.

Have a clear idea of what you want to say and then develop your concept along those lines. But don’t be rigid. Let it flow like water in a stream, following its own natural course. Unleash your creativity; you can always cut and edit later. Make it interesting. If it interests you, it probably will interest others.

Start working on a book proposal as soon as the idea for a book occurs to you. That will guide you in organizing your work and give you some idea of whether your book has a good chance of getting published.

Keep writing!

—Excerpted from The Author’s Toolkit: a Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Book by Mary Embree, Seaview Publishing; $15.95. Available in bookstores.

~ Mary Embree, SPAWN's Founder, is a writer, editor, and publishing consultant. Mary can be reached at



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