We are now moving forward and working under the assumption that you both want to write a book and have a general topic in mind. This section focuses on how to go from having a general idea to organizing your thoughts into something that resembles a book.


Other than your brain, the most important tool for writers to own is a computer. While I am know there are still luddites and masochists out there who prefer to write using manual typewriters or pencils and paper, I don't recommend it. The good news is, almost any personal computer will do the job. You don't need all the latest bells and whistles or massive amounts of processing power to run the average word processor. If you don't already have one, you can pick up a used computer for around $100 that will do everything you need. I wrote my first two books on a laptop that cost $300. The power for your book will come from your mind, not from your computer.

More important (I believe) than your computer is your keyboard and your monitor. Writing a book take a long time, and you'll want a monitor that is large enough for you to see and properly positioned so that you don't give yourself neck pain. You'll also want a keyboard that, for lack of a better term, you like. The keyboard on my last laptop was horrible, but I found a USB keyboard for around $20 that I absolutely loved. You will be suprised what a difference that can make.

You'll also need some software. I'm a PC guy, and in my world, most people use Microsoft Word. (I don't know what Mac people use, but if you're a Mac person, you probably know.) My last several projects have been written using Google Docs, which offer many advantages: it's free, your documents are stored and automatically backed up in the cloud, and you can allow others to make comments. Additionally, you can export Google Doc files as either Microsoft Word documents or PDF files. Whatever program you choose to use, make sure you know how the basic features work, and just know that most online submissions will probably need to be in MS Word or PDF format.

My other suggestion is to develop a backup system very early on in your writing career. While working on Commodork I kept two backup copies of my book at all times, one on a network drive and one on a USB memory stick. Nothing will kill your momentum faster than losing hours (or days or weeks or months) worth of work due to a glitch in the Matrix. Don't let that happen to you. Make sure you have two up-to-date copies of your book at all times, and ideally, store them in two different physical locations. For example, you can keep the working copy of your book on your computer's hard drive and then copy it nightly to a cloud folder (Dropbox, Google Docs, OneDrive). Some people constantly email themselves copies of their manuscripts. The specific method you use isn't as important as simply having one. The less manual the system is the better, as people tend to forget or get lazy when it comes to backups. And again, don't store your backup in the same physical place as your original copy. Having two copies on your computer's hard drive is worthless if the hard drive dies. Having a backup on a USB stick in your laptop bag is worthless if you lose your laptop bag. Having it on a USB drive at home is worthless if your house catches on fire. That's why I like the cloud storage solution. No matter what happens to my house or computer, I'll have a backup of my work I can retrieve.

Great ideas can come to you anywhere at any time. Unfortunately for me, those great ideas tend to pop out of my brain just as quickly and randomly as they pop into it. For that reason, I highly recommend having a system to capture those ideas. This could be as inexpensive and simple as a small notepad that you carry with you. In the old days people carried around micro-cassette recorders, but I'm pretty sure these days that every smartphone comes with a free voice-recording app. Again, the specific method you choose is nowhere nearly as important as it is to choose one you're comfortable with, and one that you can access quickly and without thought. Don't let those great ideas fade from from your brain as you fumble with the latest trendy recording gadget! That fleeting idea you had just after waking up or while driving to work or school might be your next million seller!

Finally, you will need a place to write. If you're a hermit with no friends and a quiet home, well, lucky you! I, and most of us, are not so lucky. I wrote much of Commodork after hours at work when the office was quiet and everyone else had gone home. By the time I wrote Invading Spaces in 2008, I had a three year old and a six year old. We converted our spare bedroom into an office, and I spent many hours in that room with the door shut, writing. When I got near the end of the book and needed to focus on finishing it, I rented a lakeside cabin for two days and finished the book there. The natural enemy of writing is interruption. To get anything done you need a place and time to write where people will not bother you. "But I have kids," I hear you saying -- yeah, well, me too. Get up an hour early or stay up an hour late. "But, but, but," I hear some of you whining. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but writing involves sacrifice. It takes time, time that could be spent with other people or doing other things. If you are not willing to set aside a place and time to write then I can save you a lot of trouble. You might as well close your browser now and go back to YouTube and spend the next hour watching videos of people falling down. Please do not mistake my honesty for harshness; it's not that I want you to fail... it's that I don't want you to waste your time. If you cannot set aside a time and place to write without being interrupted, that is exactly what will happen.


Brainstorming is the process of thinking up and recording as many thoughts and ideas as possible about a subject, and then building upon and bouncing off of those thoughts. While brainstorming you shouldn't worry about spelling or formatting or anything of that nature. As your mind opens and your thoughts begin to flow, great ideas will pour out of your head at an amazing pace. Trust me, it works!

When brainstorming, you will need a way to capture your rapid-fire thoughts. I type 100 words per minute and so I personally use Windows Notepad, but again that is only because I can type faster than I can write using a pencil. Using paper has the advantage of being able to draw bubbles and lines. If you are looking for that ability online, there are many free websites that will help you do that ( is one). Some people prefer to brainstorm verbally and record their brainstorming sessions on tape. While that's okay, keep in mind that eventually you will need to transcribe all of those ideas. I like the visual of writing bubbles and circles. It lets me jump around a bit from topic to topic. Several years ago I purchased a 3'x6' white board at a garage sale for $3. It's currently hanging on the wall of my home office next to a stack of ready-to-go dry erase markers. If I don't feel like copying everything off the board when I'm done, I just take a picture of it with my phone and file it away on my computer.


There are many differences between organizing fiction and non-fiction books. I've tried to address both types in my comments below.

Commodork is essentially a memoir -- a collection of my own personal stories about growing up during the home computer revolution of the 1980s. While brainstorming, I came up with a bunch of stories I wanted to tell -- probably 40 or 50 in all. Once I had those, I wrote down key phrases for each story I wanted to tell on index cards (ie: "the printer story," "the stolen credit card story," etc.) and laid them all out on my kitchen table. Some cards were less specific than that, with simply general ideas of things I wanted to put in the book. After all the cards were done, I physically sorted "like" stories (ones with related topics) into piles on the table. Those piles ultimately became the chapters of my book. Not only did this help me sort the stories into piles, but it allowed me to very easily and quickly reorder the piles as well. If I were doing this today, it's more likely I would do it on my whiteboard or on my computer. At the time though, this method worked well for me.

While this step helped me realize what stories I had, even more than that it helped me realize what all I had left out. Books must flow and segue from one topic to another, and as you begin organizing your ideas the breaks in continuity will leap out at you. It's okay to continue to create more cards or ideas at this point in time -- however, if you find yourself creating a lot of them, you might want to take a break and do some more brainstorming.

Organizing works of fiction is a little different. In a fiction novel you'll be telling a story, and so you'll want to come up with a list of "story events" to work from. Again, you can organize these on notecards or electronically -- whichever is easiest for you. To be perfectly honest, everything I know about organizing fiction came from Deborah Chester, my short story and novel writing professor at the University of Oklahoma. It would be dishonest for me to simply regurgitate her entire curriculum here. Everything you need to know about plotting and organizing works of fiction can be found in her book The Fantast Fiction Formula, available on Amazon for less than $20 -- much less expensive than graduate school, and totally worth the price.


An outline is really just a single, written version of the previous step. Don't worry about all that fancy outline formatting you learned back in school; no one's going to grade you on this. The goal of an outline is to show you what you need to write. Most word processors will format an outline for you, but again, don't get too hung up on the format.

It is not likely that you will do any of these steps only once. You may brainstorm a bit, create an outline, do some more brainstorming, re-adjust your outline, and so on. Every step feeds the next. For example, in Invading Spaces I had several chapters that I knew I had to include -- "electronic repairs" was one of them. In my outline I wrote "Electronic Repairs" and left it at that. Later, I did more brainstorming by opening up one of my arcade cabinets and taking inventory: "monitor, power supply, PCB ..." I wrote those down on a sheet of paper. Back at my computer, I began brainstorming about all the problems I had into with each of those components. Once I had a list of those, I went back and updated my outline. Around the time I finished that, I realized that if I were going to cover electronic repairs, I might as well cover physical repairs too! It was a topic I hadn't even thought of. Then it was back to brainstorming and making more lists.