Don’t start cold – five ways to ease into writing a book

writing a book

For me, it’s way too intimidating to just start crafting a book with the first word of the first sentence, so I’ve learned how to release the valve to set my ideas and words free. Here are five ways I start writing a book to warm up, ease into it, and do some crucial background work so my story will truly come to life.

When it’s time to start writing a book, I can’t just put pen to paper and begin. I’m like a sprinter who tries running cold and blows out his hamstring. It’s impossible for me to just start rattling off words on the page – it’s way too intimidating to just start crafting a book one day with the first word of the first sentence of the first chapter. I’ve tried it, and my writing comes out contrived, plastic, and basically un-readable. Each writer’s creative process is different, but I’ve found there’s a better way than to just say “Go!” and start writing.

So how do you “ease into” writing your book?

I spent a year living, traveling, and writing in Southeast Asia, taking copious notes and letting my subconscious absorb everything around me. Then came the time when that wasn’t enough. The ideas were bursting out of my mind, the characters begging to come to life and have their stories told. I found myself picking up a notebook and scribbling this and that about the new world I wanted to create. That’s when I knew it was time to begin.

By now, I know how my writing process works. I know how to release the valve to set ideas and words free without jumping in with “It was a dark and stormy night…” Here are five ways I start writing a book to warm up, ease into it, and do some crucial background work so my story will truly come to life.

1. Write a message to an individual

Instead of concentrating on plot, theme, story structure, and picturing my name on the cover of a book, I focus on a single message I’d like to deliver to one reader. This is always a real person, someone I know who understands and appreciates my work. What do I want to tell this person? What have I learned, or what event am I going to detail? I start by writing this down as one sentence, and then a few. I keep it informal – no frills – as if I were explaining the premise of the story to my friend as we sit side by side in our favorite bar.

2. Pick an writing element to improve

Every time I write a book, I focus on one or two writing techniques I want to get better at, like dialogue, rewriting, or dramatic tension. To do this, I read as many books, articles, and blog posts I can find that advise writers on how to become better at the particular element I’ve chosen. I write notes as I research, and inevitably it turns into a great start to generating material for my own book.

3. Develop characters

Forming genuine, flawed, fleshed-out characters is the key element of any book, and I’ve learned that God is in the details. So I start by getting to know the characters I’ll be spending so much time with in my book. I jot down everything I can about these people, a sort of omniscient dossier on their life, including their verbal tics, phobias, desires, if they cheat on their taxes… down to the color of their shoelaces! I may not use 90% of the information, but the characters will sure be living and breathing by the time I start writing the story.

4. Conflict and motivation

If good characters are #1 in any book, conflict is #1A, as it’s the necessary ingredient to take your characters past their breaking points and explore their reactions. So to start writing a book, I jot down all the conflicts I can muster. Some of them are big – like forbidden love, war, or a lifetime plotting revenge – while others are more subtle and lend themselves to comedic and entertaining scenes, like two strangers who end up with a ticket to the same seat at a play. Big or small, conflict drives all the action of any good book, so you can never brainstorm enough.

5. Write one small scene

Pick a small, intimate scene you know you’ll want in your book, regardless of chronology, and enjoy writing a few versions of it. This serves as a great way to get your feet wet in your new literary world without the pressure of tackling the broad strokes just yet. Before you know it, one well-nuanced small scene will lead to the next scene and will naturally progress into the rest of the book.


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  1. Norm, I have not ‘read’ you, except for this post. Noting your level of success in writing, I wanted to thank you for sharing your experience. While my military career and graduate studies in miltary history have introduced me to the joy of writing, both in straightforward and in more complex forms, I have yet to publish anything. Research and writing non-fiction is somwhat different from what you describe, but the parts that require playing with a starting approach and re-re-rewriting parts of a piece are very familiar. I’ve begun a work about my grandfather and his four brothers and their World War I experience. Where your advice may help in a big way is my thought that I can use ‘interludes’ to handle the unknown scenes of dialogue among the brothers, between them and parents, between them and wives. Perhaps in the trenches. So, the idea of practice dialogue and scenes is a good one. Cheers.

    • I have been listening/watching to a YouTube production called “The Great War” and have been fascinated by all thing WWI. Would love to connect.

      Happy writing!


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