Learning to Write Your Book

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Many clients come to me after they tried to write a book on their own. They know how to write. They discovered they don’t know how to write a book.

Writing a book is different from any writing you’ve ever done before. If you want to have a great book-writing experience and write a great book, you must learn some new skills. Here’s why.

There’s a lot of writing involved. Blog posts are a few hundred words. A long-form article is 5,000 words. An average business book is 60-70,000 words. To get that done, you need many big chunks of uninterrupted time for a year or more.

You’ve got to figure out how to squeeze all that writing into your already-busy life. You must maintain a delicate balance between your relationships with friends and loved ones, your work, and the book. It won’t be easy.

You must learn to do effective writing sessions. When you get that precious big block of uninterrupted time, you’d better do something good with it.

Before you start the writing, plan the project. You should plan differently depending on who the publisher will be.

Who’s the Publisher and What Does It Mean?

If you’re working with a legacy publisher, you will agree to a target delivery date and book size in the contract. Develop your writing plan based on prep time and four full drafts. Your preparation time may include writing a zero draft. That’s a draft you write before the first draft to figure out what you don’t know and where the gaps are in your current knowledge.

If you’re self-publishing your book, the planning process should be different. You won’t have a word count target, so you can go organic, the way many fiction writers work. They start writing the book and go where the book takes them. When you do that as a non-fiction writer, we call it the zero draft.

Use the zero draft or any other way that works for you to get your ideas out of your head and into a file or a pile. Allow time for iteration. You want your brain to go over this material several times. Then allow for four full drafts before you send the manuscript to a professional editor.

Schedule Individual Writing Sessions on Your Calendar

A writing session should be an appointment. You might think of it as an appointment with your book. Maybe you’ll imagine it as an appointment with your future. Perhaps, you’ll understand it as an appointment with success.

Once you schedule a writing session, keep it sacred. It should be one of the “big rocks” in your schedule. Put it on the calendar before you start scheduling less-important activities.

Schedule your sessions at least a month ahead. If you’ve got one scheduled and need to move it, you’re more likely to get your writing done that week than if you just say, “Oh, I’ll do more next week.”

Schedule at least two-hour blocks. Some of my most-successful clients schedule half-days. Most of them do that on Saturday or Sunday.

Schedule the same day of the week and the same time and the same place, if possible. That helps your brain learn when it’s time to write.

Before Your Session

Do everything you need to so that you’re ready to write the instant your writing session starts. Before your session, get your research done. Make sure you have supplies. Do what you can to eliminate distractions.

Your Writing Sessions

Your goal is to get the most good writing out of every writing session. Start with a ritual that includes shutting off distractions. I recommend putting your phone in a separate room. Some of my clients use a computer without internet access.

Prepare your mind to write, too. Many of my clients meditate for a few moments before they start. Others read something inspiring. A favorite is a list of inspiring quotations.

Then, write. That’s what you’re there for. I suggest a rule developed by Raymond Chandler. You don’t have to write when it’s time to write, but you can’t do anything else, either.

When your writing starts to slow down, take a break. For most people, most of the time, that means that you’ll work for about 50 minutes. That’s when your energy and momentum start to wind down. Take a break. 20 minutes is a good amount of time. A break is doing something that’s not writing.

At the end of your writing session, have a regular shutdown ritual. Decide exactly what you’re going to write next time. You might even start the sentence that will be the first sentence you write in your next session. Decide what you must do between writing sessions. Then, have a formal way to end your writing session. Your brain loves stuff like this.

A Place to Start

What you just read was not handed down by the writing gods. It’s a collection of suggestions based on what works for most people most of the time. It comes from my research on book-writing and from 20 years’ experience with clients.

Takeaways

Writing a book is different. It’s more writing over an extended period than you’ve probably ever done.

Planning your project depends on whether you’re writing for a publisher or self-publishing.

Schedule writing sessions on your calendar like any important appointment. Schedule in two-hour blocks, or longer.

Writing sessions are for writing. Do everything else between sessions.

Shut off distractions. Have a starting ritual.

Write steadily, then take a break.

Before you end a session, decide what you will do before the next session and exactly how you will start writing next time.

Take the suggestions in this post as a starting point. Modify them as needed. It will probably take you three to four sessions to develop your own style and rhythm.

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