Nothing is more oppressive than the blank white screen of a Microsoft Word document. If you preach regularly, you know the feeling already. Your deadline (the weekend service) is coming, and you’re trying to craft a message that will capture the truth of God’s word, and yet so far all you are looking at is a blank screen and a blinking cursor. Here’s the bad news first: The oppressive white Word screen is even worse when writing a book. Where sermons have a hard deadline that passes and then you move on, books—especially when self-published—have deadlines that stretch on forever, and you can always wonder whether what you’ve written is any good.
The good news (sort of): Writing a book is hard for everyone, even that bestselling novelist you love. The more you do it, though, the more you learn to embrace the creative tension, knowing this is the path toward writing something good. So if you’re thinking about writing a book, or are currently banging your head against your MacBook in despair, here are seven quick thoughts on how to make the writing process flow as smoothly as possible.
DON’T FORGET TO PRAY
To quickly state the obvious: Your book’s kingdom value is directly connected to how in tune with the presence of God you are. Before you start your writing project, spend significant time asking God to birth a vision in you of what He’d want you to say.
FIND YOUR BURDEN
Be able to state in one sentence (no run-ons!) what your book is about—you’ve probably heard that before; but then write another short sentence explaining why your book matters. Why is this important enough for you to spend hours working on it? What is—as Bill Hybels once said—your “holy discontent”?
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Who are you writing for? Do these people know you? Are they strangers? Are they committed followers of Christ, casual church attenders or spiritual seekers? What age are they? Get an image of two to three people you know who are your ideal audience, and as you write, write to them.
Remember in middle school when you had to turn in an outline for your research paper? Turns out that was good training. In the same way you (hopefully!) wouldn’t get up and wing a 40-minute sermon, don’t sit down and write blind. Start by outlining your chapters, and then outline a broad path you’d like to see each chapter take.
THINK LIKE A SERMON SERIES
If you’re writing a fiction book, or the history of the Peloponnesian War, ignore this; however, if you’re writing a book designed to unpack a theological concept for the purpose of life change, then structure your book the way you would a sermon series. Give each chapter a beginning, middle and end. With each chapter, create a tension up front, show what God’s word says about it, then walk people through the ramifications of that.
Each chapter should be unified by a common theme, just like in a sermon series. Even better is if each chapter builds on the one before. Maybe think of it like an episode of a really great TV show. Each episode has its own plot that you’re riveted by, but these episodes slowly advance the bigger, season-wide story.
GREAT WRITING DOESN’T HAPPEN, IT’S HONED
Sometimes it’s easy to be discouraged when you write something, read it and immediately know it’s terrible. Many people will wait to write until they have a burst of inspiration. It’s easy to think that the great writers just sit down and brilliance spills out of their first drafts, but this is never true.
Every great writer will tell you their works don’t take shape until the second or third draft. What this means for you is: 1) write regularly, preferably every day if possible, and 2) edit, edit and re-edit. Frequent writing will help you improve your skill, and frequent editing will help you get a sense of what is working, what isn’t and what you are really wanting to say.
BETA TEST YOUR BOOK
When you’re finished with your book—or even just a chapter—find people you trust, have them read it and listen to their feedback. Encourage them to tell you what parts they loved, but also ask them if there were any spots where they felt lost or got distracted.
What you’ll usually find is while people’s suggestions on how to improve may differ (and sometimes be unhelpful), they usually will agree on what to improve. If two to three people all mention a specific section as an area of improvement, a place they were confused or a time they got distracted, then know something needs to change with that section.
These are just a few quick tips on how to navigate writing your book. It’s hard work, but it’s also worth it. If God has given you a burden, then write with authority, believing He’ll use your work to make a difference. Get started today by downloading the Free Self-Publishing Guide.