How to write a book

When I was 14 years old, I dreamed of writing a book. It would be about a horse, and a young girl going through a difficult time.

I had always liked to read and people said I had a way with words. Writing was something I didn’t have to work at too much and the words seemed to flow from my number two pencil onto my blue lined notebook paper. Occasionally I even “helped” friends with their stories or poems and they paid me in Reese’s peanut butter cups. (Looking back, I guess my career in collaborative writing started way back then. My English teacher never suspected a thing. Sorry about that, Mrs. Yoon!)

How to write a book - A girl and her horse.I thought often about my horse story and developed it in my head. The green-eyed girl would see the horse in the woods on a warm autumn evening, discover an injury, and bring it home to nurse it back to health. They would get to know each other, and their magical relationship would change everything and heal them both. One night, a surprise–the horse would give birth to a foal with beautiful green eyes, leave it behind for the girl, then vanish back into a moonlit forest.

The story was so real. I could see it, almost like a movie playing in my head. It felt so close to the surface, waiting to be put down on paper and released into the world.

Except I never wrote the book. I had no idea how to start or what to do after I did start. I was stuck. And ever so slowly the story faded away, to wherever unwritten stories go to hibernate—maybe in a dusty filing cabinet full of old paperwork in the basement of my mind.

We Don’t Know Where to Start

Many of us who want to write feel like we have a story to tell or something important to say, and a writing gift to go along with it. We know how to do words. Our teachers, family, and friends have told us so.

We’ve read great stories that have changed our lives. We’ve also read bad writing and want to do better. And one day, a great idea or a story drops down from above and we feel like maybe, just maybe, there might be a book inside of us.

But we don’t know how to start. Or we start and quickly get stuck, or even worse, discouraged.

The truth is, writing a book is really really hard to do alone. Some people can do it, and I don’t like those people. Because for me, writing a book is scary, challenging, daunting, and mysterious. It took me time to learn how to do it, and after 13 books, I’m still learning how to do it, and do it well.

You Need Practice and Help

Writing a book is a sort of craft that requires time to study, brainstorm, think, try, and try again. It will take some time. The truth is, there are very few overnight successes in writing and to write a good book you will need practice and help.

When I wrote my first book, I used to put on a black and hot pink striped stocking cap with a patch of the Cheshire Cat on the front. I joked around with my family that it kept my brain warm, but really, it was a signal to me and to everyone around me that I was working on my book. When they saw my hat, they knew I would be lost somewhere inside my head, working hard to learn how to tell a story and write it down for someone else to enjoy, and to learn from. It was my apprentice’s cap.

Learn How to Write a Book

Writing a good book is hard. But it is doable, as long as you’re willing to serve an apprenticeship. This column is an apprenticeship, of sorts. I’ll share everything I know about writing a book and hope that every time you read it, you’ll have at least one a-ha moment.

Welcome to the workshop. Make yourself comfortable, put on a cap, and get ready. It’s time to unlock that file cabinet.

Susy Flory is a New York Times bestselling writer. She directs the West Coast Christian Writers Conference, near San Francisco. Her newest book is The Sky Below with Scott Parazynski, the only man ever to both fly in space and summit Mount Everest.