A reader writes that she wants to write a book. She has a story in mind, but she doesn’t know how to begin.

How to begin? This is a hard question to answer, but I’m going to try… in part because this is where I am myself right now: back at the beginning.

I could start by saying something about focusing on the story—dreaming about it, walking with it—not even thinking about that looming scary thing: a novel. Anne Lamott wrote about this in Bird by Bird, an excellent book on just this thing—beginning—and I would suggest reading this book first above all the others. Another good book at this point is Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande. She talks about the importance of dreaming, as does Butler, in From Where You Dream.

But for me, when I was beginning, I wanted a “how-to” system. I needed to know the nuts and bolts. I wanted steps to follow. “Dreaming,” would not have helped me then. I had the good fortune to find a book that outlined the procedure of writing a novel, aptly named How to Write a Novel. The author described how to write down thoughts on index cards, and then sort the cards, grouping them into scenes. This I could do. A novel: no. A stack of index cards: yes. That book unfortunately appears to be out of print, but another author, Ken Atchity, describes a similar system in A Writer’s Time. It gave me what I needed to write my first novel.

And now—Now I’m back to dreaming. I’m typing my thoughts onto the computer this time, but soon, I plan, I will transfer each onto an index card and begin anew.