Great Writing Is More Than Writing

May 8, 2024 | Writing A Book

“The process of writing is not the process of typing on the keyboard; it’s the process of crawling around on my carpet, organizing my piles [of paper].”

David Brooks’ quote sounds weird. We’re used to imagining the work of writing as some form of sitting or standing and using a pencil, pen, typewriter, or computer to string words together in meaningful ways. That’s part of writing, to be sure. But it’s not the whole story or even most of it. Here are four parts of writing that don’t involve actual writing but are critical if you intend to produce a great book.


Ideation is generating and refining the ideas and concepts that will go into your book. It is creating the concepts that will make your book both different and distinctive. Ideation requires thinking and pondering, so it can take a lot of time.

Some ideation may happen long before you decide to write your book. My clients who are consultants and trainers usually collect ideas from their work. Then, they reflect on the ideas and combine them in new ways.

Ideation doesn’t stop when you start writing your book. It’s a necessary process all the way through. The authors I’ve worked with developed new ideas about their material because of the writing process. Sometimes, that meant blowing up the original plan and starting over.


Planning your book takes place on two levels. Start by answering basic questions about your book.

Who needs this book and why?
What is this book about?
Why are you the perfect person to write the book?
How will your reader’s life be different after they read this book?
How will your life be different after you write this book?

Planning also includes deciding what should go in the book, what should be left out, and what order you should use to present the key ideas. Many authors jump to an outline at this point, but I think an outline is an unnatural act. I prefer a major scene draft where you identify the key stories and examples you will use and the sequence in which they will appear.

No matter how you plan your book, it will take a chunk of time, and it won’t be done when you start to write. There will be a planning process for each chapter. You’ll need to decide what stories and examples to use, what important points they illustrate, and what research supports those points.


Most of my clients write business books, so research is mandatory. When you start working on your book, you’ll probably know some of what you need.

No matter how well you know your subject or how much you’ve thought about your book, you will discover situations where you need more research. My preferred method for making those discoveries early is writing a zero draft.

To write a zero draft, start at the beginning and write straight through. As you write, you’ll uncover writing problems that need to be solved and issues where you’ll need more research. For the zero draft, you don’t stop there. You merely mark the manuscript so that you can find those situations later.

When the zero draft is done, you’ll have a clearer idea of what research you need. Even then, you’re not done. As you write the book, you’ll discover more places where you need research to shore up your points or clarify your explanations.


William Zinsser, the writing coach we all aspire to be, said it well: “Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost.” That sentiment is right on target but doesn’t tell the whole story.

If you want to write a great book, you will spend far more time rewriting your material than writing it for the first time. That’s a hard truth for most authors, especially first-time authors.

Here’s another truth. You can write an excellent first draft, but you cannot produce a great book without paying attention to all the other parts of writing. So, master the arts of ideation, planning, research, and rewriting.

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