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Every Book Starts with a Sentence

July 22, 2015

(In light of our She Speaks Conference happening this week, I thought a blog post on how to write a book might be helpful! Be sure to read the whole post for a free gift we’re offering.)

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 I feel that tragic loss in deep places that ache for her godly wisdom.

So, if you feel inspired to write – write.

If not a whole book, one page.

If not a whole page, one sentence.

No time spent recording God’s activity in your life is ever wasted.

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.”


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.

Now, here’s the fun surprise… you can join me LIVE from the Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks Conference for my opening keynote this Friday, July 24 at 9:30am EST! Here’s how you do it:

1) Download our new app, First 5, on your mobile device. You can find out how at www.First5.org.
2) Open the app and tune in on Friday to watch the live stream through First 5.

It’s really that easy! Oh, I just can’t wait to have you with us. And if you think of it, say a little prayer for me. As many times as I speak to people, I still get that queasy, nervous, bite-my-fingernails-to-the-nub feeling before going on stage! For real.

Thank you! Now, go write your heart out.

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  1. Tanya

    Wow – thank you for this. When you search for God its like a light bulb that goes on. The bible is the only book that I can read over and over and each verse will come at me as God intends. Its like those books where you choose your ending – except your ending is the same if you stick to God. Your ending is His glory, His plan for you. He controls; He keeps you safe; He protects. Eternal life with our Heavenly Father. The best ending ever… The best parts are in the middle – the message at the right time – how amazing!!!! And I do want to write. Your experiences are so ‘real- person’ real. Not a prim and proper learned person trying to inflict their worldly wisdom. Not that church where you get looked at and judged by deeds… But an imperfect person perfectly equipped by God. These words from your Book have stayed with me. It has reminded me that we are not meant to be perfect. But lean on God and on God alone. Bless you and your ministries. Because I feel welcome here. Not an outsider who has the right and wrong things to say, the right culture, dress code and mommy things that just that clique know how to do. But Grace.. overflowing and full of love. Inspiring me to be love; feel love; show love; – not just good; look good; religion…. I imagine myself in a dream – meeting all you lovely ladies. I get the picture of meeting my sisters I always had but never met. Home… thank you for writing… 🙂 Thank you for being Gods child, His hands and feet and voice. Not His judge and jury like so many religions make us feel today. Through you I have come to believe that I belong with God. He is my Dad. Not my judge and jury. But my firm hand to guide me to my best – the best He wants for me. Not what I think is right… That uncomfortable place of complete freedom in His true love for us… The place where I need to stand out IN HIM – not what I want in my comfort zone..

  2. Janice Bittner

    Lysa, thank you for this blog post. I never had any desire to be a writer, but your words helped my understand why some books capture my attention, others capture my heart and soul, and many are just a way to pass the time. I bless the day God led me to purchase your book “Made to Crave.” That day began my journey to a closer and deeper walk with God. Including participating in the online Bible studies.

  3. Megan Richardson

    Thank you for this great blog entry! The timing of the send is perfect for me right now. In two months I am stepping out in faith and walking away from a good paying job to pursue writing a book and speaking ministry that God placed on my heart years ago. The starting steps you outline are so helpful. I honestly do not know if the book will ever go beyond me, but I am excited to go on the journey with God to Discovering Me. I am eager to attend She Speaks in 2016. Thank you for your faithfulness to what God has called you to and for being open and authentic for women around the globe. I look forward to supporting P31 in coming months. God bless you and I will be praying that you don’t have an ounce of queasiness on Friday morning!

  4. Charis

    Praise the LORD for raising up so many woman passionate about studying, teaching, and proclaiming God’s word! I am encouraged in so many ways I never imagined a few years ago by so many woman. This post has really touched my heart this morning. I love to express myself through writing (once in a blue moon – when the inspiration overtakes me and my kids are not climbing on me and whining). Because it is so random I feel it is not important enough to actually write it somewhere or express it. The idea that my kids, or grandkids, or great grandkids can read what God is doing in my heart and mind – is a beautiful thought! Even just that they can hear my struggle, failures, and desire for so much more in Christ! Thankfulness at who our God is can overwhelm and uphold and strengthen – I am so thankful today and more passionate about my high calling to disciple my dear children for Christ!

  5. Amber Paulsen

    Praying for you, especially because I can relate. One of my biggest fears since elementary is “talking in front of a group of people”. Something that has helped me is sharing my fear and asking others to pray. God often comes through big time. In our weakness, He loves us and loves to show us how strong He is. May you feel His love in a great way, as His love and compassion flows through you as you speak.

    In college both of my journalism teachers loved my writing. One of them would read some of my papers in front of the classroom. The other teacher asked me if she could keep a copy of my papers as examples to use throughout the years. I didn’t think too much about it then, as I was a Marketing major and I didn’t know Jesus.

    After beginning a relationship with God, I began to journal like crazy, crying out to God in my writing, and journaling pages and pages at a time. I probably have enough written in journals to fill two large boxes.

    I love having God use me to share the testimonies of what He has done in my life, in order to heal and bless others. So I want to write a book to share, if He wants me to. Yet, in the process I’m battling a fear that I’ve struggled with since I was in elementary ~ fear of attention on me which has been a continual battle my whole life. For me the fear is huge, it’s like a dread and it has caused panic attacks and shortness of breath. I greatly appreciate your prayers too.
    *Unable to view online stuff from my phone, as my husband and I share only 250 megabytes, and some months we go over just from picture texts and group texts, and the little cute “emoji” pics, but so kind of you to offer that. Hope it blesses people.

  6. Bonnie Kelley

    I would like to watch Lysa, but I do not have the app on my phone. How can I watch it on my computer?

  7. Nancy Griggs

    Really appreciated your words even though I probably won’t ever be a writer. I’m sure they encouraged many.

    I’m questioning the first 5 app. I’d love to hear your speech but am unable to get the app. I wish it were available on kindle devices. I do not have an iPhone or iPad. I am in the apprentice program and about finished with training. Thanks for listening.

  8. Veronica

    Thank you so much for this Lysa!!! I was soaking up every word! A few years ago I felt pressed upon the Lord to write a book. I thought that was odd since I don’t enjoy writing but there is something different when your writing about what your passionate about. I would jot a few things down in my journal and one day felt the Lord whisper “people need to hear this” I would have loved to been able to go to She Speaks this year, prayfully next year. Thank you and your team for pouring into the lives of women all over the world. Praying for you that as you step onto that platform their will be a powerful move of the Holy Spirit! Blessings!

  9. Chelsea

    Thank you for generously sharing your process – very helpful.

    • Rick Wilcox

      I enjoyed your message of writing of your life or a book. I too wish my grandparents would have written memories of their faith. I started writing many years ago of special times or events of my life. I also enjoy writing in reference to Scripture. The Bible is a treasure for me. I’m close to finishing my book, which will be over 500 pages. It’s two parts. My father had a very interesting life, growing up at the beginning of the 20th century. His family was poor, but he was very successful as a college track star and a career in education. He wrote is story, but we I didn’t try to get it published at that time. Part two is me and my wife. Most of the book is reference to our college years and living in Germany while I was in the army. I believe this book will be interesting. I feel like I’m a author, but if it is God’s will for this book to be published by a publisher, it will happen. I believe God will be glorified from this book and all of the profit will be given away to help others in need.

  10. Noelle Kirchner

    Lysa, Thank you for generously offering your advice. I attended She Speaks last year, and it was awesome! I met you then, and you encouraged me to write the idea for my book. I am making ground! Thanks again for all you do to mentor women, Noelle

  11. Carolyn Carleton

    Thank you for sharing. It is very timely and encouraging for me. I published a book in 2007 and won a national award for it in 2008. Life got busy with small children and now the desire to put my words on paper again is so strong I can barely sleep at night because I would rather be writing.

    I will have to see about attending She Speaks 2016, it’s a long trek from Saskatchewan, Canada but anything is possible!

  12. Whitney

    Thank you for this! I am in the middle of writing my first book right now, and I feel encouraged to continue right now. I so wish I could be at She Speaks but it didn’t work out this year. I will definitely tune in for your keynote! 🙂

  13. Stephanie King

    For years I’ve wanted to write a novel-a great work of fiction! Life distracts me. Then I had a severe knee injury this winter that forced me to be still and focus on God for literally every step. Lately I’ve heard him urge me “if you’ll read my word, I’ll give you words.” The She Speaks message on the First 5 app today reconfirmed and encouraged me in that! So powerful! Thank you thank you!!!

  14. lacey zwick

    This is just TYPICAL!! I have wanted to write a book for years. I have just procrastinated about it and chalked it up to “no one will want to hear about my outrageous/random life” or the fact that I just don’t have the time to sit down and write about all the things going on in my mind. I had always had a weird conviction about writing a book about my life, marriage, parenting, teaching etc. I am far from perfect and have made some very questionable decisions in my life but God always seems to pick me up, dust me off and send me on my way again. I don’t know why He loves me so. My life is a full on circus!! Anyway, I have no idea, well I take that back, I know exactly why God had me surfing around your blog today and that’s to show me that everywhere I look, someone is already supporting me and praying for me to write this book!! UUHHHHH! Why do you have to be soooooo obvious God! How can I Ignore you now?!?!?! I guess I should tell you thanks Lysa, I’ve never met you but I have listen to you on 89.5. I love your honest take on marriage, parenting and social life. Please pray for me to make a good choice on writing and where to even start! -LaceyZ

  15. Alicia

    Thank you so much for inspiring all of us to share our words so they do not die with us. I am a thinker and recognize that most of my gifts and talents are in my head. To keep them in my mind, is the same as becoming a servant who buries their talent (only the talent is buried with me when I die). Using the gift of my mind to write, is like a servant who invests and receives five and ten fold over. The blessings are not buried with me when I die.

    I am so thankful for faithful servants like you who are willing to share their heart, soul and mind…and encourage others to do the same. 🙂

    • Felicia S.

      Alicia, yes you do need to write! Your comment just opened my eyes to how we can bury out talents when we die if we don’t use and share them. Thanks for the insight. 🙂

  16. Jennifer Mull

    Thank you! If I had a dime for every time a person told me I should write a book, I’d be quite wealthy…… However, I know how to write, but “process” tends to elude me. I am helped greatly by the way you have shared your process. I feel like it has given me a starting point, which is what I have needed most. Whether or not anyone beyond my family reads my words, I see the value of having them written down. I wish I had my sister’s vast knowledge and experience with many different areas written down. You have helped me grasp how this could actually happen.

  17. Felicia S.

    Lysa, as an author, this is probably one of the most selfless things you could have ever written. A true gift.

    Some authors (even Christian writers) portray the craft of writing as something only a select few can do.

    You have just shown the world that everyone can write the story within them. It doesn’t need to be published to be of value. That is a gift. Thank you!

    I missed your live broadcast of your opening talk at She Speaks but I trust that the One who spoke creation into existence put words in your mouth that blessed those women.
    GOD bless you and KEEP LIVING YOUR GIFT!

  18. Esther

    Thank you for this post! I love it because there is so much truth and encouragement in it. Thank you so much for sharing your writing ‘secrets’ with us. I love to write but am always scared to take that step! I will give your advice a try. God bless you and your ministry!

  19. Sally Ferguson

    You’ve broken down the process into tangible, understandable pieces. I’m sending this on to my Writers’ Group!

  20. Deborah Stevens

    Wow! It always amazes me how God will bring someone along at just the right moment to help you take the next step. Lately I began feeling that it was time for me to talk to someone about finding out what I needed to do to the books published that were semi complete. Whereas I have written devotions in the past, God is now requiring me to go in another direction & try my hand at writing a fiction. This will be somewhat challenging for me & all your input will be extremely helpful on my journey. Thank You!

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