By Nora Neus

How do you write a book? I probably get that question more than any other when I’m speaking at schools, bookstores, and community events.

The more helpful question

Often the same people who ask will come up to me after the event. “I’m writing a book,” they’ll whisper like it’s a secret. I don’t want your writing to be a secret. The whole world should know what you have to say!

That’s why I actually think a different question is more helpful. I’ll tell you what I tell my students in The Longform Lab. It starts with this: What’s the core of your story?

Regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you need to know your story’s deeper meaning. You don’t want to hit people over the head with it. Readers rarely have patience for didacticism. Nevertheless, there should be a story beneath the surface, something ideally that sits with people long after they’re read your work.

Find the deeper meaning

Take, for example, my graphic novel Muhammad Najem, War Reporter. I wrote this story with Muhammad about his experience becoming a citizen journalist as a teenager in war-torn Syria. That alone could be a great story, but the less surface-level themes were the ones so many people connect to.
If you look a little closer, Muhammad Najem is about a young man doing what he can to change the world even when it seems like he doesn’t have any power. The story is also about family and finding your place in the world. Muhammad’s relationships with his family members motivate so many of his choices. They’re also deeply relatable to many young people reading the graphic novel.

To recap, Muhammad Najem is about…

– Surface meaning: A teenage journalist activist in Syria

– Deeper meaning: A young man doing what he can to make things better in a hard situation

– Deeper meaning: The power of family in a young person’s life

It might seem like a lot to balance multiple themes in one piece of writing, but it’s totally possible with the right systems in place.

A dark blue and white background with images of course materials and text saying "Introducing... the Longform Lab with Nora Neus. A six week program for longform writers who want a skills refresher, accountability, and mentorship."

Need some guidance?

So how do you write a book? Figure out what your story is really about. These are the kinds of questions I guide you through in The Longform Lab. In the very first module, we’ll identify the core of your story and get you organized to center it clearly from the start. Check out The Longform Lab to learn more!

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