Most important: to write a good book, you need a good idea. No one wants to read a book without an idea, no matter how well written it may be. Always start with something to say.
But let’s look at the practical aspect—how do you actually write a book?
It turns out it’s not that difficult. You basically work with the time-and-money concept, where you break down exactly what you need to accomplish the desired goal. How much is required?
In this case, the money part is easy: You need exactly zero dollars. Writing a book is completely free, at least in terms of financial cost.
The time cost is variable; some people write faster than others.
Therefore, your main deliverables are chapters and words. You need to break these deliverables down and create an advantage that allows you to tackle them in small, recurring steps.
Let’s say you’re writing a non-fiction book. A good target to shoot for is twelve chapters and 60,000 words—approximately 5,000 words per chapter. Once you get in the habit, it’s fairly easy to write an average of 1,000 words a day, sometimes more.
However, most of us aren’t actually able to write a decent book in just 60 days. This is because writing a book is different from journal writing or blog post writing. Instead of just keeping your head down and pressing on, you need to constantly consider the overall arc and structure. Before you have a finished product you can be proud of, you’ll likely need to do major revisions along the way or at some point afterward.
Despite the need to think about structure, it’s also important to keep moving along however you can. One tip: don’t try to write a perfect Chapter 1, then a perfect Chapter 2, and so on. If you’re talented enough to do that, great. But many writers find it much easier to write a detailed outline first, then sketch out as many notes as possible for each chapter. When you get stuck, move on to another chapter. This helps you to get closer to your word count goal, which is the primary target in the beginning.
Because you’ll be writing a lot, accept the fact that a good portion of the words you write won’t go in the final manuscript. I wrote more than 85,000 words for my upcoming book, and we’re going to publication with about 72,000. You can sometimes reposition the extra content for something else, like an online resources area or the beginnings of another book. (Other times, outtakes are outtakes for a good reason. Let them go.)
Every day, keep working toward your quota. Worry about this quota more than worrying about brilliance. Once you get close to the quota, that’s when you go back and begin stage #2: editing and curation. What do you have that’s good here? What should be discarded? What can be reworked?
The editing process will likely take as long as the actual writing, because you can no longer ignore the parts where you get stuck and ignored the problems. Now you need to solve the problems, provide more examples, clean things up, and turn your mass of words and draft chapters into an actual book.
This process is usually either very tough or very fun. Many authors find that it’s a bit of both, depending on how things are going.
More than 80% of people say they want to write a book, but less than 1% do.
If you’re in the 80%, you can use this method to join the 1% and finally write your book. Don’t worry about publishers or marketing, and certainly don’t worry about skill or talent. Worry about telling your story and racking up the words.
Last month we debuted the Unconventional Guide to Publishing, which helps writers learn more about the publication process. But as I said then, you don’t need to buy this guide or anything else to write a book.
If you want to write a novel, you can also follow along with thousands of other people during national writing month. (But no need to wait for other people. Apparently books can be written at any time of year!)
If you want to write a non-fiction book, well, follow the advice above. Think of everything you know about something, then write it down. Spend at least three months on the first draft, then spend at least three months on the editing and curation process. Half a year later… you have a book.
Question: Is this your year of writing a book? How is it coming along?
*Speaking of books, congratulations to Marianne Elliott on the publication of Zen Under Fire, a memoir of her work in Afghanistan.
*Going to SXSW in Austin? Join a group of awesome people (and me) at our annual party. Tickets are free but first come, first served over here.