5 Things You NEED to Know Before You Start Writing

Many people, having decided that it's time to write their books, sit down with a burning desire and a vague idea, and just start writing. 

There's actually a name for this process. It's called "Discovery Writing"—and discovery is exactly what a non-directed process is useful for. It's a way to get familiar with the writing process, hash out vague ideas, and channel information from your subconscious onto the page. It's an exploratory process: meandering, circular, and leisurely. It's a great way to write when you don't know what to write, or when you're trying to get to the bottom of a complex emotional or ideological issue. 

What discovery writing is not useful for, however, is creating immediately usable and focused material. Rather, it produces the raw ingredients you will need to cook the complex meal which is a well-written book.

If you want to create a book that speaks to your readers—a book that's totally on-point with message and tone, and delivers information in a relatable and actionable way—you need to have a clear plan of action for your writing process. 

Beginning with discovery writing is a major reason why writers don't finish their books. Unknowing, they fill hundreds of pages with discovery writing, and then get frustrated when they veer off-topic, or when it doesn't all fit together. They get overwhelmed by the amount of revision and organization that's needed, and simply give up. 

On the other hand, some writers mistakenly believe that two hundred pages of first-draft discovery writing equals a book. Subsequently, they publish their work without revising, editing, or honing it. (If you've spent any time on this blog, you know I'm not usually critical of other people's work; disparaging others doesn't serve anyone's learning process. But the fact is that, the vast majority of the time, putting out a book full of first-draft discovery writing results in a hot mess of a book that will confuse readers and damage your credibility as both a writer and an expert. So please, I'm begging you: don't do it!)

When you're writing a book—especially a world-changing non-fiction book that promises to help people solve their biggest problems—you need a solid plan. Period. 

When clients come to me to help them write their books, we always start our process by getting excruciatingly clear about 5 vital points. Today, I'm going to share them with you. 

The 5 Things You Need to Know
Before You Start Writing

  1. Your topic: I know, I know. You're thinking, "Duh! Of course I need to know what I'm writing about!" But the fact is, most people aren't totally clear on their topic when they start writing, and that lack of certainty leads to all kinds of false starts. A vague direction like "I want to write about happiness" isn't enough to keep your writing on topic. Get as specific and targeted as you can with your subject matter. If you're not sure, take the time to get to know ...

  2. Your audience: Who are your ideal readers? What do they need? What specific problem can you solve for them? What types of writing, messages, and styles do they gravitate toward? What images, stories, and examples speak to them most strongly? Knowing who you're writing for will go a long way toward helping you narrow the focus of your book.

  3. The outcome you want to create for your readers: What do you want your readers to learn from your book? What actions do you want to inspire them to take? This information will help you choose what and how to write, because—and this is vital—every chapter, every story, every action step, and even every WORD in your book should be chosen with your readers' results in mind.

  4. Why you are writing: A strong, clear purpose and mission will carry your book and infuse it with the power of your conviction. Why are you really writing this book? Why are you passionate about this topic? More, why are you passionate about creating a certain outcome for your readers?

  5. What you want to include: Of course, many of the specifics of your book will emerge during the creative process of writing your first draft. But if you want to write efficiently and stay on target and on-message, it's good to know some of the basic elements you want to include in your book, such as:

    • Stories (your own or other people's)

    • Case studies/testimonials

    • Action steps

    • Reflections

    • Statistics

    • References

Once you know all of the above, you can make a detailed action plan for your writing—a little something known as an outline—and once that's done, writing your first draft becomes a far less daunting and much more efficient process. 

The moral of the story is this: there's no wrong way to write. But there are steps you can take to make your writing more efficient, more targeted, and more helpful to your readers. Getting clear on the 5 vital points above is a great way to start. 

Happy writing, everyone! 

With love, Bryna

PS: Have questions? Post them in the comments feed! 

Bryna René Haynes is the founder and President of The Heart of Writing, the chief editor for Inspired Living Publishing, and the best-selling author of the multiple-award-winning book, The Art of Inspiration: An Editor's Guide to Writing Powerful, Effective Inspirational and Personal Development Books.In over a decade as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, designer, and publishing consultant, she has helped hundreds of authors find their authentic voices and create powerful, memorable, successful works. She lives outside of Providence, RI, with her husband, Matthew, and their little Moonbeam, Áine.