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Mike's Writers Blog: How to Build a Book Post

Or, How to set up a routine and Framework without Sucking all the Joy out of Life....

We've been theorizing these past weeks, and we'll do it again. But for now, it's time to put substance into the post. First, we need put one of those big X's here (figuratively) that signifies where you are. And, although no where as cute as this pup, I'm here too...

You have an idea for a book. Likely, it rambles through your mind twisting and turning until you're sick of thinking about it. So pretend we're in a college level writing class with me as the droning professor (not quite literally) and I'll tell you how to shackle that beast!

First: YOU are the Master of your Writing.

Think about it. You have something others don't. You can visualize a scene, a person, or even an entire world that doesn't really exist. Unless you are writing a biography. More on that later... The tough part now is breaking your vision into a template and setting manageable goals to move the story toward conclusion. In essence, you are taking a wild horse and taming it. But not too much. Wild horses are intriguing and majestic, the domestic kind that gives kiddies and overweight tourists weekend rides aren't. Pretty, but not terribly interesting.

Step One: Define your Story.

Very few people geek out over academic papers as I did. Even so, I had to learn form and function to charm the professors. Brainstorming certainly has its place, but the real beauty of your creative process comes from giving it structure. As I tell my students, get passionate about a subject, define it, structure it, write it, defend it, summarize it. Writing a novel is much the same. Some people can do it in their minds (like algebra equations, but we won't talk about those people here...) others need a nice, clean tablet (or two) to work through their ideas.

This process came into full flower when I wrote Sagittarian Blue. I sat with my eldest daughter Sarah sketching out the details, to show her my method. (I hope you all have a rock of inspiration like Sarah in your life!) I usually didn't get so detailed, but did there for purposes of illustration. Wow. I found that by getting detailed, writing out the story from beginning to end, it made the process so simple that starting was a breeze once I got past the dreaded first paragraph. (more later).

I determined a starting point and an initial ending point. This will change as you free flow your first draft, and certainly in the much more extensive revisions. That's OK, you and the story are going to be lifelong friends if things work out, so just as in life, the relationship has to mature. For now, sketch it out from front to back. At this point, you should start to fall in love with the process, and be ready to devote all your free time (and then some) to it.

Step Two: Build the Staircase to the Floor You're Getting off on.

Now that you have your journey defined, add intermediate steps to get there. Steps have another name, chapters. Now some free range writers will argue that chapters are an antitquated concept that stifle the creative process. Good for them. For me, it helps to break the story into...well...bite sized chunks. I like to write mostly self-contained chapters, almost like a series of short stories in linear form. This way, if some lazy reader (like me) comes along and isn't really sold on the book concept and jumps into a middle chapter, they'll have a pretty good idea what that time-frame of the story is about.

The other benefit is that you can set your word count as a guide line (I like to grind out about 3,000 to 5,000 words per chapter) which I can do in a day. Sometimes less, sometimes a bit more depending on how many times the dogs have to go out. Oh, and if you shoot for 15 or so chapters, you'll come in at around 60k words, which is a good length for a light read. Someday I'm going to do a saga, probably about the time my readers demand one...

So, sketch out those chapters within the framework you've established. Essentially, you've just constructed a rubric and template. But remember, the droning professor is you, so make changes as you go. Admit it, you're starting to get excited! You should be, of all the people who've ever lived, YOU are the only one that is in charge of this unique creation!

Create a List of Potential Characters, and have them Audition...

Now that you have this great and exciting work of art in the construction phase, make sure the right people are acting out the parts. I like kids. Little varmints...they do get into your heart. I was actually one myself at one time. Relatives would tell you I never grew out of that. Going back to Sagittarian Blue, I had a huge list of kids that I wanted to be part of my fun story. But the last thing I wanted to do was diminish the journey. So I agonized, and pared the list.

I worried that I still had too many, and I'd love to do a continuation and further develop the characters I've come to know and appreciate. In fact, I'd like to splinter the cast (I think in movie terms) and have them go out on their own adventures.

So far, no one who has read the book has said it had too many. I'm sure someone will, and that's OK. I created a product I'm proud of, and that's the point. Well, so is selling books, but you get the idea...

Now that you are Vested in the Project...

You'll write with passion, because you own the process. None of this writer's block junk, you KNOW the journey. Don't misunderstand, you'll rewrite....and rewrite...and... But you are set to crank out that first draft. Wow, it has me ready to jump back in! (focusing on the blog and marketing presently, which is also fun) Oh, and save those initial notes, you'll refer back to them often. It will amaze you how far you've come!

So, how do I pass myself off as a Writing Coach?

Because I am one, on the collegiate level. I took brilliant but terrified students and by showing them the process we've just shared, turned them into voracious and great writers. People will disagree, but I think this is a great method for constructing a novel. That's the really neat part though, in creative writing, everyone is correct. The ultimate jury consists of readers. Remember what your goal is, which is up to you. Mine is create and inspirational world in my books, and share it.

I can't begin to describe the joy that gives me.

Time for a new Phase to Begin...Call to Action!

I invite any and all of you to share your journey on my website in the discussion. I really can't help it, I love teaching. I love writing. Mostly, I love people and their stories. Let's see if we can march forward together and discover even more!

Next Week: Develop those Characters and put them to Work!

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