How to Start Writing a Book
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
I’ve published over a thousand books in my career and have worked with a variety of interesting authors worldwide. Their backgrounds range from university professors and bank CEO’s to Olympic athletes and technology executives.
Because writing is an art, it is easy to get stuck in the process. I’ve seen many authors become paralyzed by their own over-analysis of their topic. Others will research so meticulously that they never seem to make any progress. Many authors will take 12 months or more to write a book. Some take several years to come up with a complete first draft of their manuscript. Others simply don’t finish at all.
The key to completion is harnessing the power of momentum. While each author has a unique process for completing a book manuscript, there are dozens of different methods for writing books. In response to this thorny issue, I’ve discovered a system that will cut that time down to a few weeks.
Let’s explore a couple methods.
We’ll start with the ”straight A student” when it comes to writing a book so that you can see the best-case scenario. This writer is Chris Widener, and he is a professional speaker. Besides writing a New York Times bestselling book, he is the fastest writer I know. After he conceived his book over a couple of months, he sat down at his local Starbucks for 12-days straight and wrote a 35,000-word manuscript. Most mere mortal authors have a different experience. Let’s look at a few more examples.
Many authors start their book projects by taking time off of their “day job”, or taking a sabbatical. The most common methods people use to write a book is to step away from their everyday life for 6 to 12 months, and then go off somewhere interesting and write. On average, this approach takes about a year.
Another way that’s quite common, especially with non-fiction books written by hyper busy executives, is taking a few months to draft the essence of the material, creating a cogent outline, and coming up with stories to support each point. Once this outline is in place, they hire a professional writer to do the heavy lifting of crafting the body of the book. A good ghostwriter will take the author’s ideas and concepts, then translate them into the written word, expressing the material in a style that meshes with the author’s voice.
Ghostwriting is an excellent option for authors who are clear about what they would like to say but haven’t yet honed the craft of composition. It’s an efficient way to work, and it’s completely legit. As long as the ghostwriter and the author of record speak the same language, this can produce some highly successful results.
However there is a downside to this tactic. The reason many authors want to hire a ghostwriter in the first place is that they have difficulty expressing themselves. This can make for muddled communication and imperfect results. If you choose to hire a ghostwriter, you will need to be clear about your content and your objective.
The final method for writing a book is a system used by Made for Success Publishing called The Draft a Book Experience. It’s a high-velocity, time-compressed system for writing books inspired by agile product development methods. This is great for the author who may want to write a book themselves, or come up with an outline they can hand off to a ghostwriter to do the writing for them. This is the most effective method for setting up the writing project and producing a time-compressed outline of a book in a weekend.
The most important aspect of writing is to get the project started. Once you have started the writing process, it’s easier to gain momentum and complete the manuscript. It is essential to work from a detailed outline of the book, much like a Table of Contents. This helps you organize your writing and stay on track.
What we do with the Draft a Book Experience process is fairly intuitive, but it’s easy to put off completion. We work with the author to break the book down into a series of small chunks. By chunks, I’m talking about chunks of writing, so each part of the book gets broken down into 800-word sections. Now, you’ve got a plan for writing each 800-word piece.
These sections of writing can be thought of in the same way you might think of writing an article or an email. In my line of work, I type a lot of emails. A really long email is usually about 800 words. If I’m writing a short email, it might be 50 to 100 words. By breaking the project down, the author might think of each section as a series of long emails.
Most people can sit down for an hour or so, write a long email and overcome any typical distractions. Carving out an hour to write is a fairly achievable goal. If the author can string together those messages into the timeframe that we recommend, the book will develop naturally like clockwork – usually in just a couple of days.
The Draft a Book Experience process entails following these 7 sequential steps. In fact, I use this exact method to write my own books.
1. Conceptualize your book by answering the question of “What’s the big picture of your writing?”
2. Identify your target audience.
3. Brainstorm title options for your book.
4. Gather and organize pertinent stories that can be used to make key points.
5. Build the Table of Contents with your key ideas.
6. Assign stories to each Chapter.
7. Assign how many words you plan to write for each Chapter.
When I wanted to create my first manuscript, I went on a retreat for a few days. I rented a hotel room on a mountain lake, removed all distractions and didn’t even answer my cell phone. It may sound like a dream vacation, but believe me – I was definitely in Work mode. I’d wake-up early to write as the sun came up, and then would reward myself at the end of the day with an early evening motorcycle ride around the lake.
I found that organizing my ideas using these steps really helped me overcome my natural tendency to procrastinate on the project. Ponying up the cash for the hotel room also helped give the project the gravitas is needed. By the end of my stay, I had an actionable manuscript, which I later published first as an ebook, then as a physical book and finally as an audiobook. Since then, that book has gone on to sell thousands of copies on autopilot.
With that, there’s only one question left to ask: what are your plans for the weekend?
Bryan Heathman is the CEO of Made for Success Publishing and the author of #1 Best Seller: Book Marketing Reinvented, a book for authors with his best-selling book launch formula. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.