1. Know your purpose
It’s the first thing I ask authors. Why are you writing this book? There are all sorts of reasons and all of them are valid. “I have thought about it for so long, now I just have to do it.” “I want my family to have my personal record.” “I want to write a bestseller.” Knowing your purpose is crucial because that will determine how the story is written.
2. There’s more than one way to tell your story
When I am creating a new piece of work, whether that’s non-fiction or fiction, I consider many different ways the story could be told. Most people have an idea and just go with that first idea. That’s a mistake because your first idea is unlikely to be the best version of that story. In fact, the collective wisdom is that in writing a screenplay, for example, you come up with fifty variations on the storyline. Yes, fifty. And some of those will be a lot better than others.
3. Don’t rush
Writing is thinking and writing is editing. I am amazed when people tell me they’ve been thinking about an idea for years and now want a first draft in four weeks! Sure, you don’t want to get bogged down forever but you need enough time to let the story evolve and to sculpt it in the most effective way. It’s not about your first idea, it’s about all the subsequent ones that will improve that idea.
4. Think about marketing
Most authors want as much exposure as possible for their books and that means they need to consider marketing. Marketing needs to be considered before you start writing not afterwards. This is especially true for personal stories and memoirs. Unless you’re a celebrity not too many people are going to be interested in your life per se. So the book has to be made meaningful to readers by speaking to bigger issues. For example, I am currently ghostwriting an amazing book about a child who experienced the horrors of ethnic cleansing during the Kosovo-Serbian conflict. The story itself is amazing but it will get wider exposure by relating the story to the traumas that children experience in war (and elsewhere) and how to help them overcome these horrors.
5. Hire someone with content knowledge.
If you’re using a mentor or a ghostwriter, find someone with knowledge of your content. For example, in the story of the child at war mentioned above, my psychological expertise in trauma helped inform the story and the lessons learned from it. You are the expert in your personal experience but there are writers out there who are experts in the bigger context of your story.
Dr. Howard Rankin is the author of numerous self-help books on such subjects as communication, wellness, and relationships and has ghostwritten memoirs, business books, sports books and others on such subjects as happiness, leadership, dementia, neuroscience in management, and many more.