How Ideas Grow Into Books

Sep 15, 2020 | Writing A Book

Suzi McAlpine’s post is titled, “This Week, I’ll Finish Writing A Book. This Is What I’ve Learned.”

It’s a delightful post. Suzi describes thinking about writing a book at 24 and sending a book off to the publisher 25 years later. You can learn a lot from Suzi’s post. There’s one thing she says that doesn’t get near enough press. Here it is:

“Share your dream with very few people at first. Your idea is precious and fragile.”

She’s exactly right. Here’s what I learned from more than 20 years talking with prospective business book authors.

Book Ideas Come in Stages

The ideas that become books don’t come all at once and fully formed. Instead, they roll out in stages.

The first idea you have about writing a book will probably be general. Like Suzi, you may only decide that you want to write a book someday.

You might ponder what you could write about. You’ll think about other people you know who wrote books. You’ll have lots of ideas about what kind of a book you could write and what you could say. This is part daydream, part hope, and part playing with ideas. Then, something happens.

You Get Serious

Usually, something happens that flips you from playful, undisciplined thinking to serious contemplation. You begin consciously putting your ideas together. You work at sharpening the ideas. You might start playing around with an outline or writing the introduction to your book.

At that point, you’ll want to share your idea with everyone. You’ll want to tell everyone you can get to listen about the book you want to write. Avoid those temptations. Remember Suzi’s advice.

Your book idea, at this point, is like a newborn child. A baby will grow into an adult, but only if it’s nurtured and protected at the very beginning. Your book is the same.

Many good book ideas were killed at this stage by well-meaning friends. They think they’re offering helpful criticism. Some of them think they’re “just being realistic.” But your idea’s fragile and it can’t stand any hard knocks yet.

You need a few supportive people. You want people who will tell you the truth, but in a loving way. You want them to be people that you know you’ll listen to. And you don’t want too many of them. Two or three supportive and helpful people is all you need.  Then you can protect your idea and develop it until it’s out of the fragile stage.

You’ll decide what to do next. You might set your idea aside. It could be this is not the time for you to write a book. It could be that this is not the book that you should write. But, if the time and the book are right, it’s time to go all in.

You Go All-In

Going all-in means deciding to do the work. It means deciding to do the research that’s necessary and the hard work of writing for over a year. It’s committing to squeezing the work of writing a book into your already full life.

So, you pull things together. You get all the ideas you have about the book out of your head and into a file where you can do something with them. You start doing serious research.

Now you need more help. In fact, you need all the help you can get. Now you can sharpen your idea against tough criticism. You protected it and developed it and now it’s time to get on with turning your idea into a book.


Great books grow from little ideas.

First, you play with ideas but don’t do serious work.

When you first get serious, your book idea is like a newborn infant.

Nurture and protect your new idea.

Share your new idea with a few supportive and helpful people.

When you go all-in, you need all the help you can get.

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