Studies show that as many as 80% of people want to write a book. I hear this goal all of the time from people I meet in the business world. Countless numbers of people over the years have proclaimed their desire to write a book, but only a small percentage will actually make their book a reality.
For most people, writing a book feels like a monumental task, and many can’t quite get past the fear and overwhelm to even get started. Others get stuck mid-way. When I inquire about this, the problem is almost always due to fear (which can also be masked under excuses like, “I just don’t have the time.”). It is a vulnerable experience to write and share your book with the world. It can feel as if it puts you, the author, under the microscope and opens you up to criticism and feedback that you may not want to hear.
But here’s the flip side of that fear: accomplishment. There is nothing as rewarding as seeing your book in print. Ask any author—I bet 99% will agree. It is a powerful experience to set such a big goal and follow it through. Yes, you may feel as though you are standing before the public in your underwear. But there are lessons to be learned in vulnerability. When you embrace it, you will find that people are much kinder than you expect them to be. There will always be critics, no matter what you do in life, but does that mean you should let them keep you from realizing a dream?
Once you’ve faced that fear head on, here are some simple steps to finally write that book you’ve been thinking about!
1. Know Who You Are Writing For. Many writers skip this step and regret it later. It is incredibly important to understand who your target audience is before you write the book.Your book should speak to the reader, and it can’t do that if you don’t understand the needs, challenges, and interests of your readers. I find it helpful to think of a muse while writing. I often think of people I know who would benefit from whatever it is I’m covering at that time. Then it’s as if I am writing specifically for the benefit of that person.
2. Create an Outline. I personally use the old storyboard method where I take a stack of sticky notes or 3×5 cards and write down every single topic or detail that I want to cover in my book. These get laid out before me, and I move them around until I have created a logic flow of chapters with a balanced number of topics. This process can take a few hours or a few weeks, but the end result becomes your outline for writing your book.
3. Attack it Bit By Bit. Try to avoid that overwhelming feeling of standing at the bottom of a mountain and looking up at the top. Instead, begin writing your manuscript one small piece at a time. You don’t necessarily have to write it in order if you don’t want to. Since you’ll be working from an outline, you can jump around and write the sections that you feel like writing.
4. Avoid Editing. The biggest lesson most writers need to learn is to avoid editing as you write. Not only does it slow down the process, it constipates it too. You don’t allow yourself free-flowing thought when you go back to re-read each paragraph over and over again. Instead, just write (sometimes called “dumping”). Get it all out of your head. Then, you can go back and edit later.
5. Write Your Introduction Last. While it may be tempting to write this first, and you can certainly do so if it helps you focus, I can almost guarantee that you’ll want to rewrite it after you’ve completed the rest of the book. Your ideas will evolve as your write, and the introduction should reflect what the reader will experience as the final product.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Course. While you will start with an outline, your manuscript will evolve. That means that topics will change, new ideas will be added, and it may not end up looking exactly like your original plan. That is totally okay and part of the creative process. Go with it, as long as your work doesn’t lose its core focus.
7. Embrace the Editing Process. I personally dread the final stage of the manuscript, where you’ve read it for the fiftieth time and it all starts running together. However, this is where a manuscript becomes a book. You’ve got to invest the time to re-read, make adjustments, and get it to a point where you can feel confident that it is as complete as can be.
8. Know When to Call it Done. There is an old saying in the publishing world: “You will never have a final draft, only a last draft.” Don’t edit yourself into a stupor, which can be easier said than done. At some point you must have faith that you’ve made as many improvements as you can and that it’s as complete as it can be. At this point, it should be sent to a professional editor where it will be cleaned up and scrutinized, and you will review it yet again. But you could easily nit-pick your work for years if you allow yourself, so be sure to stop the madness.
9. Make the Time. Lack of time is an easy excuse, and one that keeps people from realizing their dreams. Make the time, and find a writing process that works for you. Some people work really well early in the morning. Some people prefer late at night. I personally prefer large blocks of time and often check into a hotel for a day or two to do nothing but write.
10. Discover That it’s Easier Than You Think. Here’s a bit of good news: the average manuscript is around 50,000 words. If you were to write just 1,000 words per day (two to three typed pages), you would have a complete manuscript in 50 days. Yes, really!
Now go write that book!