One of the most common things people share with me when they find out I’m an author is that they want to write a book. And I believe they should.
Not everyone will be published but having your thoughts, life lessons, and creative stories captured in a place outside your mind is good. I would treasure one page of wisdom written by my great grandmother. But all her words died with her. And that makes me sad.
So, if you feel inspired to write- write.
If not a whole book, one page.
If not a whole page, one sentence.
After all, a book always starts with a sentence.
But if you do feel called to write a book, how does one do this? Where do you begin?
For me a book usually begins with me paying attention to three things:
* A string of life lessons I’m learning that have a common theme.
* Conversations I have with others where they bring up this same theme.
* A deep conviction that God wants me to park my brain and my heart on this topic for a good long while.
Then I put these initial thoughts about the theme of the book through a filter of questions:
* Is there an audience (beyond just my mom and my best friend) interested in this theme?
* What problem are these audience members having for which my book could be a possible solution?
* Do I have some fresh, unique, and reliable answers to share that meet the felt need of this group of people?
* Have I struggled enough with this theme to be authentically relatable as I write about it?
* Have I made enough progress in this area to handle the material in a responsible and biblical way?
I use these questions to help me hone the concept of my book. And it’s usually in this pondering and questioning of the concept of a possible book that 75% of my possible book ideas die. Because if I can’t make it work in the concept phase of a book, I won’t stay interested enough in this topic to write 60,000 words.
And heaven help the reader of a book whose author has lost interest in their own material 20,000 words in. Have you ever read a book that started off great but then started boring the mess out of you? Me too. It’s disappointing. And it’s usually because the author didn’t hone their concept enough before jumping into writing the book.
Once the concept is fully explored, it’s time to develop the content.
I start with the word count and chapter count. A typical non-fiction book for me is about 60,000 words. I personally like shorter chapters that are pretty consistent in length. So, if my chapters are going to be around 5,000 words… I will need 12 chapters.
As I look at what these 12 chapters will be, I draw a circle with 12 spokes coming out of it. In the circle I write the “focus sentence” of my book. A focus sentence is that one statement that encapsulates the value I want my reader to get from this message.
Note, I didn’t say that I write what the book is about. Nope. I write a sentence that reminds me exactly what my reader will get from this message. For example, for my book Unglued, my focus sentence was:
“This book will help a reader make imperfect progress with their reactions and therefore their relationships as they know with confidence how to better handle conflict.”
Then I start writing possible chapter ideas that stay very true to this pure focus. I use key words from my focus sentence to seed my chapter ideas and keep me “focused.”
So, based on the sentence I shared above I will come up with some chapter ideas on IMPERFECT PROGRESS, REACTIONS, RELATIONSHIPS, EXTERNAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION IDEAS, and INTERNAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION IDEAS.
Then I start writing. With a sentence. And then another. And another.
And as I write these sentences that form chapters, that eventually form a book, I remember each sentence matters. It’s my responsibility to write sentences that are authentic and inspired and true and well crafted. Not English class perfect. More conversational. With threads of personality that clearly demonstrate a consistent voice my readers have come to expect from me.
These sentences, they matter. After all, it’s not often whole books but rather sentences tucked within chapters that change people’s lives.
And at the end of the day, that’s why I sit at my computer and tap these keys for hours at a time. I love untangling thoughts that might possibly be used by God to help another.
It’s a process, this book writing thing. It’s hard and messy and crazy time-consuming. But what a wondrous thing to have words that live on beyond us. Sentences that linger and continue to inspire. Yes, please.
And if you’d like a little help with writing or speaking, click here to learn more about the She Speaks Conference I’m hosting this summer. I’d love to meet you and encourage you as you take those next steps. With sentences. And books.
Lysa, these are excellent suggestions! What a great way to focus your thoughts and test out possible non-fiction book ideas. I write fiction . . . so my process is a little different. I have to create characters who have worthy goals but also have challenges to overcome and lessons to learn along the way. Add in a dash of romance and adventure, and there you go. : )
Thank you for sharing such practical wisdom. You’ve made such a daunting task seem possible. I feel like I’m writing a master’s thesis right now. 😉 A friend recently said to me, “How do you eat an elephant? . . . One bite at a time.” True indeed and you’ve made that elephant look delicious! Thanks for inspiring me.
God bless you as you serve our King!
Thank you Lysa! This was exactly what I needed!
I have had a desire, and now a leading from Jesus to write, these write-focus suggestions are very helpful! Thank you! I am expecting my 3rd baby in June, so I won’t be able to attend this years conference, but I am saving up for 2014! I can’t wait to see how the Lord will develop me over the next year in preparation to receive well at She Speaks 2014 🙂
Oh Lysa! Tears are streaming down my face right now. I feel it was no coincidence that I had my first call with Next Steps Speaker Services this morning about starting to write and then a couple hours later found this in my inbox! I felt a little exhausted after the call and had a moment where I thought “this is impossible for me.” Oh how I love that God can reaffirm our callings, by showing us someone else’s story, when we need it most. Thank you for sharing your calling with us!
Love, love, love this Lysa. Again – you were in my head as I contemplate a trip to Concord in July. Thanks for this message.
Thank you for this, Lysa! Recently God has called me to write a devotional book. I’ve never been the person who dreamed they had time to write a book but could never find the time. God has called me out of the blue. This information really helps because I’m learning where to start. I don’t know what God’s plans are for this devotion, but I will write it and I will grow all along the way. : )
WOW! Lysa, what a helpful, insightful, and practical post 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge with us!
Such a timely post and I am grateful! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, friend! Off to write my book – one sentence at a time.
Thanks for sharing your process! I’ve felt the Lord leading me to write fiction and I feel very intimidated about it. I never thought about just taking it one sentence at a time, but that is a great way to look at it! 🙂
You inspire me every time you tap on the keys! This post is fantastic! Thank you, so much!
I want to be at She Speaks so badly. I must admit, I feel a little intimidated and the devil sneaks in to whisper, “You’re not good enough to do what these ladies do!” and I miss it every year.
BUT THE BOOK BURN WON’T GO AWAY!!!!
Pray for me…
You got it Wanda! Praying for you now…
Thanks Lysa, As always your posts and devotionals are inspiring and encouraging ! I just finished a book about living in China and fostering and adopting an HIV infected child. You are so right that it is the sentences that change lives. I hope and pray that my book will changes lives-of orphans and the readers.
You have no idea how timely and beneficial today’s post is for me Lysa.
It seems the Lord has been trying to get me to write a book for as long as I can remember. I feel as though I’ve been writing as long as I’ve been speaking and it’s one of the few things I have a degree of confidence that I can do well…
My first task was to narrow down the direction I was to go in. That took many years. Now I have the direction, the concept, the title of the book and many many notes (mostly in my bibles…) as well as rough ideas for chapter titles. Still, something keeps holding me back from the actual task of writing.
Several months ago, during a 40-day fast where I was seeking vocational direction among other things, I even received a call from one of the top Christian publishers encouraging me to write my book. I even received a follow up call a few months later. Still, the wall of resistence…
I heard Nora Ephron, a well known writer say recently, “The hardest thing abouit writing is writing…”
So I will prayerfully use the suggestions you’ve outlined for us and hopefully in short time, begin to write the book that I categorically know will bless and help many.
Lysa, have you been listening to my prayers?! Wow, I can’t believe God’s perfect and amazing timing! Thank you SO much for sharing this with us! God has more than placed it on my heart to write and amazingly I have already gone thru most of the points you listed on your checklist! I’m good with all of them except the last one, where I feel I’ve made enough progress to write about the subject biblically and responsibly. However, I’m confident that God will lead the way and in His perfect timing I will have written my book, blog or whatever He has planned. My dream would be to come to your “She Speaks Conference”! Since I’m coming to Charlotte in a matter of days, I’m afraid financially I won’t be able to swing it this year. But hopefully, you will hold another one next year and I can come to that one!? I will continue to pray about it. Thank you Lysa! God uses you in big ways and you are a blessing to me EVERY day with something you’ve written! I read your devotionals, blog, books and Bible studies. I look forward to reading your next words! 🙂
Hi Lysa!! I am printing out your post today – what a gem it is! This is going to help me so much with my book proposal. I have been to She Speaks twice, and I recommend it highly to anyone who has not attended before – life changing for sure!! I am not able to attend this year but am planning on She Speaks 2014. In the meantime, I will be using your guide as I continue to write my book proposal (and future book proposals!)
I am, however, coming to meet you in a few weeks in Charlotte! It will be such a treat to meet you then!
Lysa, I would like one of those boxes so it can help brighten my day when I feel, so down and depressed. I’ts also a joy to be doing another bible study of yours called becoming more than a good bible study girl. my church small group decided this past Tuesday. I can’t wait to get started.
I tried to share this on FB and received an error message. will you let me know when I can post this?! Thx.
Thanks for the kick in the butt!
I’ll be sharing this post with a few others who also need a gentle kick in the behind 🙂
I love this as well, Lysa and really enjoyed how you described organizing your thoughts for each of your books. I’m starting my second book now and it’s just what I needed.
I keep praying that Concord becomes doable this summer…I soooo need it. 😉
The wheel and spoke suggestion is great! Also helpful as I am writing two books right now. I started my “pre-book” (blog) 3 years ago and now with readers and encouragement from all over the world God has certainly stepped up the pace. I know my vision is inside His loving plan – which came to me around 7 years ago. All in His timing. All in Him.
Lysa, this is SO good!!!!!!!!! I live how real & practical & yet Spirit led it is. I am a friend of Amy Bayliss an online small group leader for (in)courage! She told me about She Speaks and I really want to go! Praying that God supernaturally provides the finances.
So timely was this article because I am personally in the starting phase of publishing a work I just finished! Many things u pointed out I already did and it confirmed that I was on the right track! Thanks Lisa!
Lysa! This is what God is calling me to!! I’ve already done a lot of what your blog talks about… Help me? I would love to attend She Speaks conference this summer, but I live in Texas and it just seems so far fetched to me (I’ve only ever traveled to neighboring states!) to go to NC! Not to mention the resources it would take to attend!
Thanks so much for this post. I can’t tell you how many times the Lord has laid on my heart to write a book. He just won’t quit! Thank you for taking the time to share these insights, and when I do write my book–first copy is yours!
This is great. I’ve had people telling me for years I should write a book every time we have an in depth discussion about life and how they think God looks at things. Every time the same thought comes into my mind BUT I resisted, thinking of all the reasons why I wouldn’t be able to pull my thoughts together. Then I knew God said I had been like the ice breaker ships that make a way for the ships to follow to a port. He is using me to break open a path so that the generations to follow have it easier. I knew I was supposed to put these life lessons down on paper for my family…to know what God had done for them, most before they were even born. I LAUGHED. Then two things happened. Our two grammar nazi daughters figured out how they would take the mess that would be my thoughts and edit them into a book. The oldest will take my mess and do the first edit because she can handle chaos and the second one will fine tune the whole thing. BRILLIANT God! I KNOW all the grammar rules but my thoughts fly so fast sometimes and MUST be put down before they are GONE so I don’t bother with all those writing rules at this stage. Now convinced I should do it I KNEW it could never be for more than my family when a lovely friend said, “well who is to say how large your family is?!?!?”. Geez! So anyway on a private blog I’ve been typing madly when thoughts come (sometimes in the night) and labeling them by subject. That is as far as I knew what to do. Now God has given me some organization to it all through your post today. He is so creative, thinking ahead to provide for us. So glad He directed me to your blog today.
Lysa, this is so very helpful and divinely appointed, as I’ve been praying about a burning desire on my heart to speak/write/minister to a need … a theme … I keep seeing and have lived through personally. Now I know what to do with all that is swirling in my soul. Thank you doesn’t seem to be enough to express my gratitude.
Thank you so much for some direction! I have contemplated writing for years now, one reason is because I feel the power of the Spirit of God when I tell the stories of how He has changed my angry, unforgiving heart and how He has rescued me from myself. I think there are many people who could relate to my story and get encouragement from it. That and everyone who hears part of my testimony wants me to write it. My hesitation all these years has been that I don’t want to get puffed up about it in any way. I want it to be about Him more than me…..so I keep thinking and praying about it expecting God to tell me it is time…..we will see…
Love this post, Lysa … thank you so much! As an author of one book and co-author of another (both secular), I have just started working on my third book (faith-based) and this time around it has been very slow going! However, I love your “filter” questions, as they will definitely help keep me on track with this new project. I just finished reading “Living Fearlessly” by Sheila Walsh, in which she makes this statement: “You must know this: I don’t write about things I understand. I write about things I want to understand.” And, that is exactly what I needed to hear, as well, regarding this new book! So, by His grace and in His perfect timing, through the two of you He has given me the help I need to move forward. Blessings to you (both), my friend!
Thanks Lysa! This was very encouraging. I have been to the She Speaks Conference two years in a row. I am not sure about this year yet. I have never had a book idea until recently. It is on a topic I have given a talk on twice at mom’s groups and it seems to be a topic that is really hitting home with mothers. This encouraged me today! Thank you!
Lysa, thanks, thanks, thanks! Just got to get the words out!
Love the framework you’ve given. It inspires me to action. Your book Made to Crave made a lasting impact on me and I’m looking forward to reading Unglued. God bless you for your faithfulness… and your generosity to share these tips!
I can’t thank you enough for this post. I have been trying to write a book for 2 years or more. Your example of the chapters coming off the focus is excellent. I love your writing style so these suggestions coming from you was a double blessing.
Hi Lysa! Thank you for sharing your blogs – they are so encouraging! I am currently reading Unglued and really enjoying it. I would like to suggest another book for you to write….how about an “Unglued” for kids/teens? Just an idea. Thanks again & have a happy day!
This was so encouraging, Lysa! Thank you for de-mystifying the writing process. I love how God is using you and your writing gift.
Thanks for writing this. Every now and then the thought comes to me about writing, maybe writing a book and immediately the impossibility of doing this blows through my mind for a million reasons. I don’t blog, I am barely able to keep up writing in my journal. My fears become huge. Yet, I am filing this in my think and pray about it file. I am encouraged by what you shared and all the comments others shared. God is amazing in that he inspires us by encouraging us to share what is in our hearts. Thanks sisters in Christ.
I’ve pondered writing a book ever since I left your Conference in 2007, which I attended for the speaking track. In three months, our daughter will be getting married and our lives will be known as the “empty-nesters.” I think it’s time to stop pondering and put into action what God has placed in my heart…a book. Thank you for sharing your ideas and suggestions to help the “want-a-be to the I am.”
Lysa…you have no idea much I needed this. I wrote short stories in school which then turned into short films, novellas etc etc. People started telling me back then that I should write a book, but I laughed them off. Recently I have felt convicted to start writing Christian nonfiction for teenagers and young adults. I am a Sunday school teacher and youth leader so I’m surrounded by young people and I learn so much from them. Anyway, I literally quit my job (!!!) this morning. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there and that God has sooo much more for me. My sister asked what I was going to now, and I said, “I guess I’m going to write that book.” Then…I checked my email to find this and got tears in my eyes. I thank God for you and your guidance! Bless you Lysa and please pray for me as I start this new chapter…of my life and my book. 😉
Love this!!! Love how you share your gift. You inspire me!
This post of yours answered my prayer, Lysa. Thank you for being faithful to write it!! So perfect. SO PERFECT! p.s. I just signed up for my first She Speaks after years of dreaming… wahoo!
I am Lanie, a junior English major at the University of Mississippi. This is the first time I’ve actually checked out your blog although I have been going through Crave as well as the 60-day devotional. This blog was so encouraging because at 20 years old it dawned on me that I could do several things that I love instead of choosing one “career path” and sticking to it for life. I knew I loved to write about what God is doing in me and began a journey to learn how to do that. One year later, I’m working on a senior thesis and actually have the opportunity to write a nonfiction book so the advice in your blog is grately appreciated!
I also wanted you to know something else and truly hope you read this far into the comment. Your prayer (“Unsettle me, Lord…) on Day 1 of the Crave devotional struck a chord with me. That is what my college journey has been about in so many areas of my life. After I read that in a coffee shop, areas of life flooded my mind in which God was wanting me and I believe others to be “unsettled” so I quickly grabbed a napkin and wrote these areas down. They included God unsettling me about what I do with my time and resources, how I treat my body (obviously because I was reading Crave), how I approach His word, etc. I am over the freshmen ministry with another guy at our Baptist Student Union (also BCM in other parts of the country), and NOW the theme of the Bible study with the incoming freshman in the fall will be “Unsettled”! We are going to look at various areas of our lives in which God is calling us to more! Furthermore, I’m thinking that my thesis is going to claim that title as well. I just had to write in hopes that you would know what sharing your prayer and a list on a coffee shop napkin has turned in to! Thank you so much for following Him and openly sharing with women like me.
In Christ always,
Lysa, thank you. This is the most practical, most helpful piece of writing advice I’ve seen in a long time. Thank you for so generously sharing your wisdom and experience.
I loved She Speaks when I attended back in 2009. It is my dream to someday come back as a published author! 😉
Starting some changes next week that will allow me to start writing a book. This post is very helpful and fits perfectly into the changes I am making. So much of how to write a book is overwhelming and, honestly, gives me too much structure. You have given just enough to help me have some structure but to operate within my own personality and temperament. Very helpful!
This is such helpful information, Lysa. Thank you.
So: when is your Book about Writing A Book coming out??? (this post is fantastic!!!)
I wiah you could help me. I have had so many wonderful book pass by way and now but it is the hardest thing for me to read. It’s like pulling teeth to get me to read. I’ve tried everything I can think of. I even paid for an Evelyn Woodard fast reading course. I think that’s her name. I know I’m missing out on so much by not reading. Can you please help me. Thank you so much. Sitting on the shelf waiting to hear from you. God Bless. My sister read whole shelves at a time. How I long for that. Love you, Sharon I have all good intentions when I see a book and it interest me but it usually winds up in a garage sale out of pity. Please, Please say you can help me.
Great words of wisdom Lysa! Thank you for sharing with all of us!! I greatly appreciate your insight and encouragement! Praying She Speaks will be a blessed time for all God calls to be there and praying He calls me back again some time!! Thank you my friend!! And I’m sending prayers from the farm in Iowa!! Also looking forward to the next string of sentences God gives to you to share with us!
I have been working on a book for some time, now, and this blog has been very helpful to me. It has made me realize that I really do have something to say and that there are people who need to hear it. Thank you so much for this encouraging word!
I just finished “Unglued” and I am already excited to read it again! I just wanted to say thank you because it really feels great to know that I am not alone ~~ even when I’m coming unglued :).
Thank you, Lysa, for focusing outward to God and then others. Your books have encouraged and challenged me in many ways. Now, you encourage and challenge ME to write. I needed it. I just love your Christ-like heart! 🙂
Thank you Lysa for this post! I’m encouraged! For years (10yrs) I have wanted to write a book to my future grandchildren. One that encourages them in the Christian faith of our family. Male and female whichever they are. I don’t want any to lose their way for I want to meet them in heaven where I will be waiting.
So I’m awake at 3 a.m. remembering I have this post to review to dive into my own ebook writing. It’s been on my heart since attending shespeaks 2 years ago. I’ve held onto a title this long and asked God to give me His words to write. I’ve had a wishy washy table of contents for a while and now I’m going to go over it again with your tips. Thank you for posting this and I pray would glorify God with this ebook I’m about to write. I’m hoping I’ve heard God’s direction to write it to fund my first international mission trip in the future. Thank you for touching lives with your ministry. I read the p31 devos every day and enjoy them. God bless your God’s ministries.
I truly enjoy your books and post, my granddaughter is 9 years old and will have her first book published next month. God has truly blessed this little girl. She has dylexia and wants to be a teacher. Her book DOGS FOR DYLEXIA is a story about her and the problems she faces at school, truly touching. Please pray for her and her family as they continue to support her in every walk of life she takes. I will send you a signed copy just as soon as I get them.
How exciting for your granddaughter! To be just nine-years-old and to have your first book published. Your family must be proud and excited. She’s among a rare group of published young authors, and when you add in her dyslexia, the group is even more amazing. My ten-year-old son is profoundly dyslexic. I would love to purchase a copy of her book for him. It would be a great encouragement for him to read that he’s not alone in his struggles and that in the midst of them, there can be, and is, joy, if he’ll look for it. Please let me know when her book is available.
That is so amazing. What a beautiful little girl God has created. For her to know now that is God’s calling on her life is so amazing. I will pray for her and the success of her calling!
I wouldn’t give this book just to one person but share it with many. I have three children and two of them are girls. I am a homeschool mom and I have been praying about teaching this fall to a group of girls and asking God’s direction. As I read your post I felt The Lord speak to me and I said YES to HIM!!! I will take this and open up a class to teach girls only if this is His will. I love what u did with your kids and plan on doing it with mine and somehow do it in the first group that I teach. Thank u for serving Him and allowing Him to use u to minister to the world.
I just think you’re awesome. Thanks for sharing…signed up for She Speaks in faith. Can’t wait!!
I am a Rutgers college student ,I am 23 .. I ran across your preaching on youtube on liberty page , you preached on obedience , it really touched my heart and it was a timing word for me . if I receive this book I would cherish it , I would also love to receive so God speak to me and bless me with your life , thank you for your consideration you called , anointed and special thanks for being obedient to your call keep expanding your territory and moving into greater things God has for you and your family
So good. So encouraging. I love the practicality of this post. Thanks so much. I’ll be using it for future reference!
I never finish any of your books…
I like the idea expressed in this blog because it can simplify and break down many different goals (not just book writing), if you look at them one step at a time and seriously break down the concepts into good, bad, first and last.
Every thing worth doing can be done one step at a time!
Thank you for your continued encouragement.
Thank you Lisa. I started writing my second book about 6 months ago, then went through a really difficult transition and the thought of writing another book seemed ridiculous, who would read it anyway. My last book was published and through speaking saw some success and I began to question whether or not I was even called to write this book. I appreciate your thoughts on writing, It is a process that must be weighed out time and time again. I believe in this book, It was birthed in me years ago but I know that God needed to get me to a certain place in my life where this book really hit home for me and would eventually be one that others would find comfort and peace within. There is no substitute for God’s word but I know He uses people like all of us to direct others to His word even through our life’s experiences.
Hello! I’d Love Information On Your Writing Class!
What an encouraging post. I always dream of writing and speaking and pouring into women. I have a passion for being real and sharing wisdom from learning how not to do things. I want to speak to young marrieds or engaged couples (mainly the women) being real not on the surface level problems. We are a mess but a beautiful mess that God can redeem even in marriage! People have commissioned us to share our story because we are so young. I just don’t know how or when, still praying and trusting Him.
Hi Lysa, I am so excited! Though I’ve always had a sense that I would write ‘one day’, yesterday God spoke clearly to me in my time with Him, that He wants me to begin writing my first book. Today this article of yours arrived in my email box! You can’t imagine how excited I felt getting this confirmation via your article – particularly since I LOVE your books and FaceBook posts. You are one of the most inspiring Christian ‘voices’ I allow to speak into my life. Thank you for all you do, and abundant blessings on you and your ministry. Linda B (Australia)