3 questions to do before writing a book
In my work as a ghostwriter and writing coach I often find myself in direct contact with those who want to write a book, but, for some reason, it has run aground and has not completed the task.
In fact, many people begin to write a book of momentum, perhaps only because one day an idea came to mind that they considered good, without however doing preparatory work, nor on the contents of the book, nor, much less, on themselves.
When I come to their rescue my goal is instead to control the narrative structure and verify the expectations of the writer. In short: starting from the fundamentals.
Before Writing A Book Set Your Goals
If you follow me on social networks, you know that my motto has been a Latin phrase for Seneca for a long time: Ignorant quem portum petat nulllus suus ventus est.
Ignorant quem portum petat nulllus suus ventus est.
This is also the quote that opens my debut novel Love Matters.
In a literal sense the sentence can be translated as follows: for those who do not know which port is direct, no wind is favorable.
In fact, if a sailor does not know which route he should take he will not be able to determine whether the wind blowing at that moment is right for him or not, if he will push it or, on the contrary, he will hinder it or send it adrift.
In a broader metaphorical sense the phrase means that those who do not clearly establish their goals will hardly reach them, for the simple fact that they will not be able to set a strategy, an action plan to conquer their goal.
Those who do not clearly state their goals will hardly reach them.
As you can imagine, if I chose Seneca’s phrase as a slogan for my social profiles, it means that in a certain sense it condenses and contains my vision of things.
This is not to say that in life everything must always be planned down to the last detail. Rather. The more I accumulate experiences (I said experiences, not years!), The more I realize that super-programming is useless and in some cases even harmful.
Life knows how to surprise us with unexpected events and twists and a too rigid approach could not only not manage them, but it would not even know how to take the positive side.
So if this is valid for life, it is even more valid for writing a book, which can be a metaphor at the end of life.
Writing a book is like sailing away
Returning therefore to the nautical metaphor, those who want to write a book are like a sailor who is about to set sail.
If he leaves without knowing where he wants to go or without inquiring about the weather report, at best he will take a trip offshore, keeping in sight of the coast and then return to port; in the worst case it will go too far, lose orientation and wander adrift. In some rare cases, with winds of luck, it will arrive in a new port.
If instead he knows where he wants to go, he can set the rudder, wait for the best wind to leave, and settle the route along the way.
Moreover, if you’ve ever seen a regatta, you know that sailboats can be pushed by the wind, but they can also climb it, sailing upwind.
Writing a book is therefore like setting sail with your boat: if you don’t know where you want to go, no wind will be the right one for you, if instead you know your destination, you will be able to make you be pushed by the wind or even climb it, sailing upwind.
Writing a book is like sailing a boat: if you don’t know where you want to go, no wind will be right for you.
The 3 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Book
If you want to write a book, ask yourself these 3 basic questions before you start, to make sure you take your path in the right direction.
These questions are valid even if you have already started writing your book, but you have got stuck and cannot continue. Most likely you don’t know where you want to go so you don’t know which wind to explain your sails to.
Here are the 3 questions to do before writing a book:
Question # 1: Why write?
The first question you need to ask yourself before writing a book is: “Why do you write?”
This question may seem very simple in appearance, but in reality few authors put it and even fewer those who know how to give a clear and honest answer.
Answering the question “Why do you write?” Means setting your goal in writing.
Why do you write?
If you are in the middle of your book and you seem to be lost, you know that writing can be much more difficult than it looks from outside. You may even want to drop everything and let it go.
Then return with the mind to the moment you started, to that moment when you decided you would write a book and ask yourself: why?
Why did you decide to write a book? And why did you decide to write this book?
Most writers cannot answer these questions. And you?
Perhaps the first answer that comes to mind is a generic answer of the kind that writing is your passion, that you can’t help it, that you feel in a sense “called” to this task.
Most likely you love reading and reading other people’s books, you have the idea of writing your own book. You love the fact that writing is a solitary act, that to write you must isolate yourself, concentrate, maybe have a little place all for yourself that makes you feel like a “writer”. You love to immerse yourself in the stories you write, immerse yourself in your characters.
All this is very beautiful, but why do you write? Really.
When things go well, when ideas are not lacking and words spring from your pen (or your keyboard) it is nice to think of being writers out of passion. The truth, however, is that things are not always good, ideas are at a loss and words stumble. And it is in these moments that you need a deeper and more sincere response.
Find within yourself the real reason why you write because it will be the only real foothold you can cling to in moments of difficulty and fatigue.
Why do you write? Search within yourself for the answer because it will be the only real foothold you can hold on to in moments of difficulty and fatigue.
Answer with sincerity. This answer can remain your secret, you don’t have to share it with anyone. So be honest with yourself.
Why do you write?
- to become famous?
- to earn?
- to prove to someone that you are capable?
- to prove to yourself that you are capable?
- to leave a mark?
- to leave a legacy?
- to help others?
- to help yourself?
Look in the mirror and dig deep. The answer that you will find will be your beacon in moments of doubt and discouragement, because when you feel demoralized you will be able to return to this fundamental reason and find the right position.
Furthermore, knowing clearly why you write can help you write better and decide what you want to do with your book once it is completed.
If for example you have written driven by the desire to help others, you will want to try to publish your book as soon as possible; if instead you wrote only for yourself or your family, you could choose narrower forms of distribution.
Knowing clearly why you write helps you write better.
Answer this question as soon as possible, because it will be the solid basis on which you will support your path as a writer and the starting point for all the subsequent choices you will make for your book.
Question # 2: What do you want to say?
The second question you need to ask yourself before writing a book is: “What do you mean?”
This question is centered on the content of your book.
While with the first question you have to investigate your internal motivation for writing, when you ask yourself “What do I want to say?” You have to clarify exactly what the central content of your book is.
What message do you want to convey with your book?
What concept do you want to face? Be specific. Go into detail.
It will also happen to you to listen to someone who tries to explain himself and makes so many turns of words, and maybe he also does many examples, but it is not clear where he wants to end up, what are the connections, so instead of clarifying your ideas, he confuses you. more and more. Finally stop him and ask him: “Yes, ok, but what’s the point?”
Here, now it’s your turn to answer and you have to ask yourself the question.
What’s the point? What do you mean? Exactly.
And don’t think that this question only concerns writers of manuals and essays. No, it concerns everyone. Even the writer of fiction must know what he means in his novel.
Remember that the reader looks for meaning in what he reads. Indeed, readers often find in the fiction books the very meaning and logic that are often lacking in reality.
What do you mean? The reader looks for a meaning in what he reads, so establish clearly what the meaning of what you write is.
So, if you write a manual or a novel, ask yourself what you mean and find your answer.
Also in this case you don’t need to tell it around, you can keep it for you, but, unlike the answer to question # 1, which can remain a secret because you really only know it, in this case your answer to the question ” What do you mean? “Is implicit in your own book.
If you can tell clearly what is the point of your book, your readers will understand it because it will be the central message of your book.
So you see that, taken from another angle, this question becomes an important junction of your writing. How can you write a book if you don’t know what you want to communicate inside it?
Without a clear message to convey, the plot of your novel will be confused and disconnected, or the structure of your manual will not follow a logical thread.
You can’t write a book if you don’t know what you want to communicate inside.
Many authors have a vague or generic idea of what is the central nucleus of what they want to say, but they do not know how to define it clearly or concisely. You have to go into detail.
What do you want to communicate? Search for the basic idea of your message, the deep emotional lever you want to move.
If you can’t answer this question, try looking at it from another point of view. Try to put yourself on the reader’s side and try to ask yourself: “What am I looking for in a book? What am I looking for in this book? “
Basically it is the same question, analyzed from the point of view of the writer or reader.
- Do you want to entertain? / Looking for fun and carefree?
- Do you want to teach something? / Do you want to learn something?
- Do you want to offer support or comfort? / Looking for support or comfort?
- Want to set a good example? / Looking for examples of reference?
- Do you want to feel emotions? / Do you want to feel emotions?
If you think about it, whenever you choose a book to read, look for something. If a book “takes you” and you can’t wait to have a free hour to finish it, it means that that book is giving you what you need. If you always read books of the same genre or books by the same author it is because in that genre or in the pages of that author you know you find what you are looking for.
So, now that you’re on the other side and you’re the writer, don’t forget how a reader thinks and make sure you offer him a book whose message is strong and clear.
Every time you read a book, you want to find a message. Every time you write a book, you have to give a message.
The sooner you can give a precise answer to this second question, the easier your writing path will be, because you will immediately understand if a character works or not, if a scene is functional or useless for the development of the story, and so on.
Furthermore, the clearer your message is, the easier it will be for readers to understand if they want to follow you.
You declare where you want to lead them and the readers decide whether to get on board and be guided by you.
Ok, but in all this, how to manage the headwinds and sudden changes of course? Simple: asking yourself the question several times along the way.
This question, in fact, could lead you to different answers, depending on whether you face it at the beginning or at the end of the writing process. It may happen that you start with an idea, that at first you are convinced that you want to say a certain thing and then, as you go along, the characters evolve or the story takes an unexpected turn and the message you outlined in the beginning no longer responds to the reality of your book. Well, this is the moment to ask you again the question: “What do you mean?”
If the answer you get is always the same, it means you have kept your course and can continue. If, on the other hand, you get a new answer, then it means that the first time you asked the question you didn’t really go deep into finding the answer, or you didn’t plan your characters and your plot in detail. Well, it’s time to do it!
Question # 3: Who are you talking to?
The third question you need to ask yourself before writing a book is: “Who are you talking to?”
Who do you write for? Who do you want to be heard from? Which readers do you want to get your message to? Who is your recipient? What is your target?
You often find this question asked in other terms: who is your reader-type?
Try to imagine it in detail: sex, age, level of studies, work, social group, interests, fears, worries, expectations, etc.
Make mental photography, even better if written, of this reference interlocutor and look at it every time you write or rewrite a new piece.
Can you like it? Is it written for him? Are you passionate about history? Does she empathize with the characters? Do you like this style? What do you look for in a story? What do you need? What problems can I solve?
As you can see, every choice you can make in writing a book can (and should) be guided by the image of your typical reader. And this is why this question, like the other two, must be answered before writing a book.
Indeed, in this case giving the wrong answer or not being able to give one does not mean only slowing down the writing process or experiencing a block. Writing thinking about the wrong recipient means making the communication completely wrong!
Whom do you turn to? Writing thinking about the wrong recipient means getting the communication completely wrong.
So you have no excuse here: you have to answer this question before you start writing your book, if you don’t want to find yourself throwing all your work away.
Even in this case, as in the previous two, “To whom do you turn?” May seem an easy question, and instead most authors do not know how to answer, or at least do not have the courage to do so clearly. The fear of excluding bands of public leads them to remain on vague and generic answers, without realizing, instead, that the vagueness of the recipient makes any message ineffective.
If you don’t know who you’re writing for, how will you decide what to say and how to say it?
If you can’t clearly define who your reader-type is and then who you turn to with your writing, try once again to move and put yourself on the reader’s side.
In fact, all writers are (or should be) readers first and as such have their preferences. Well, think of your favorite author and how much satisfaction you feel in reading his texts. Surely this feeling of well-being and fulfillment, repeated over time, has helped to mature in you the desire to write.
This means that you write (also) to replicate with your readers the magic of involvement and understanding that your favorite author has created over time with you. And often it’s a bond that goes beyond space and time, because maybe your favorite author has been dead for decades or lives in places you’ve never been. But the magic of books is precisely this: to find oneself in the words of someone who does not know us yet seems to have written about us and for us.
The magic of books is precisely this: to find oneself in the words of someone who does not know us yet seems to have written about us and for us.
Here, if you’ve ever experienced this feeling (and I sincerely hope so!), If you felt naked in front of an author, because, despite not knowing you at all, with his words he showed that he understood you more than every other, then now you know what to try to put in your words, you know what kind of bond you want to make with your readers.
Think about what feelings you would like to live inside a story and write for those looking for your own feelings. Think about what fears you would like to face by reading a book and write for those with your own fears. Think about what you would like to learn and write for those with the same ambitions.
After all, we always say, the secret is only one: write the book you would like to read.
And now, tell me: have you ever asked yourself these questions? And what answers did you give? Was it easy to find them or not? Write it here in the comments, I’m curious to read you!