The Totally Boring Process of Writing a Book

This is the year you write a book. I believe that. But if you’re anything like me, that process won’t look like what you think.

The Totally Boring Process of Writing a Book

I remember several years ago I had a personal coach who asked me what my dream was. Very reluctantly, I said I wanted to write a book… eventually. He asked what I was doing to accomplish that goal.

I explained to this coach that writing was very technical but at the same time mystical, and it required a lot of brainstorming and inspiration before you could sit down to do the work.

“So,” he said, “how much are you writing?”

I cleared my throat so I could make my point more clear. He must not have heard me.

“Well, you see, it’s a very complicated process. I’m currently in the research phase, so I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and listening to podcasts to make sure I’m prepared for the Muse.”

He very gently prodded, “Well, I’m no expert, Jeff, but I think what it takes to write a book is to actually start writing. Right?”

I hung up the phone.

The truth hurts

Turns out, my coach was right.

What makes a writer is the writing. Sure, market research and platform building and networking with other people in your industry can prove helpful. But books get written in the most boring way possible: you have to sit down and write them.

The trouble is most of us don’t know where to start. I sure didn’t. In fact, I still don’t know what to do most of the time. At times, writing is a process that feels spiritually-charged, full of inspiration and epiphany. Other times, most of the time, it feels completely mundane.

But there is beauty in the boredom.

Some of the most useful life lessons I’ve learned have been amidst mundane circumstances — while waiting for something to happen, holding out for the next best thing, looking forward to the future. In those subtler, in-between times, I learned something was happening. I was growing.

Life is like that, and so is writing.

Here’s how it works

So what does this “boring” process actually look like? When I was working on The Art of Work, I learned that it takes three things to write a book:

  • You need to schedule time to write. The bottom line is the book won’t write itself, and the universe won’t conspire to make it easy for you. In fact, it’ll most likely be the opposite. You will have to carve out time to write.
  • You need someone to support you in the process. Ideally, this is a community of people who can encourage you when you get stuck. For me that was the My 500 Words group, an online writing group I started.
  • You need a target to aim for. Since I wrote my book in Scrivener, I set a due date of March 1 and a total word count of 55,000 words (which is about the length of a 200-page book). Each day, this app told me how many words I needed to write (which was about 500). This gave me something to shoot for and a sense of how on track I was.

So that’s how it works, or maybe I should say, that’s how you work. Because writing is something that often feels like a job. But if you get up and do it enough, you discover a joy that surpasses temporary thrills and short-term excitement.

That’s how you write a book. You write.

If this is going to be your year, the year in which your words come to life, you’re going to need time to write, a community to support you, and a system to keeping you on track.

And one resource I recommend for this is Author Launch. This is a brand-new online course that will hold you accountable to not only writing, but launching, your book — with 46 lessons taught by a bunch of smart people and me. I’m a proud contributor to and affiliate of this resource.

Check it out here.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from doing something boring? Share in the comments.

64 thoughts on “The Totally Boring Process of Writing a Book

  1. Jeff,

    Once again you’ve written a post that nails me right between the eyes.

    I have a wrinkled, yellow sheet of legal paper that has a rough outline for my book. It is at least 8 years old now. I should have put a date on it; I didn’t know it would become an antique. I have since expanded that outline even further. I have written about 15,000 words so far. My problem is that it comes in fits and starts. Now I am worried about it being cohesive.

    This post just reiterates my need to set time to write with a goal of getting this book finished. The crazy thing is that I know it will be a good book and I know that it will be a help to people.

    Sometimes it gets noisy trying to write for my blog, develop my platform, get email subscribers, write the book, be a good husband and dad, work full time.

    Thanks for the encouraging words and the reminder to keep pushing forward. It helps more than you know.

    I can imagine the pride (and relief) you felt when you got your first book all out of your head and on paper!

    Grace and peace,

  2. I completely agree! Waiting for the lightbulb or muse gets nothing done. I’ve had to literally plan out my life in order to be productive. But I think most people are waiting for something to happen in life. You have to make it happen. When I wrote my book my mantra was, just do it.

  3. I’m not sure “boring” is the right word (at least not for me) but treating it like a job definitely is right. I just finished my first book and found I needed to create a laser-like focus to get the job done. It was work, hard work, but I loved the work and never found it boring. Sometimes it was exhilarating, other times frustrating, sometimes just plain scary! But never boring; I loved the whole process. I am guessing that I have just passed through the best part of writing a book and having it published.

  4. True, for writing u need to write, for running u need to run, with support and target oriented tracking milestones. It is true for all tadks …

  5. For me, it’s bringing myself (daily) to something I can’t be perfect at. That thing is writing. Some days it feels like a ballet, and some days it feels like a bar fight. I like the idea of being supported–your blog has been that for me. Thanks! And best of luck with the new book.

  6. Absolutely spot on. Working on my seventh novel now, and it is work. Wake up every day and put words onto paper (hopefully in a usable form) by the time you go to sleep that night. Write a sentence at a time, or even half a sentence, then go back and add to the thought. Need a word, look for a word, pick a word, write a word. Sometimes it becomes that slow and boring.

    But you string enough of those moments together, and eventually you look back and say, “Hey, I am almost finished with this first draft”, and that is where it gets exciting.

    Finish that first draft, go through whatever process you need to get it to beta readers, editors, proofreaders, and then you send that series of words out to the world.

    Then you wake up the next day, look at that blank sheet and start putting words onto paper again. A word at a time.

    1. Thanks for sharing Wilson. Your comment blessed me in accepting the conception, the growth, the labor, and birth of a book.

  7. Jeff you are a great and inspiring guy! I am a freelance writer, traveler and photographer and almost one year I am thinkig about writing a book about my travelling. Allready started with some small outlines, but right now when I received your email and the first sentence “This is the year you write a book” I started to laugh:-) You are right, writing a book means sit down a write. Your email reminded me also one passage of the movie Finding Forrester where the writer Forrester said: “The key to write is write. Not think. Write the concept with your heart and later you can overwrite with your head.” I wish you the best of luck with new book!

  8. I practice what I know today to be a better me tomorrow. So carving out time to do the important things: seek, write, dream, practice.repeat. move me to know, practice, endure, practice and purpose to strengthen me. Hope that makes sense somehow.

  9. Most of life consists of the boring gaps between memorable events. Just showing up and writing every day will one surprise us with all that we’ve done. Thanks for this reminder, Jeff.

  10. How can I do to stop the process when I’m in my bed. My imagination goes on and I don’t want to stand up because I need a lot of sleeping hours… Most of my inspiration comes at night before sleeping. It’s really a problem for me for I can’t afford for my emotional health to shorten my nights. Anybody can help ? Thanks Guys.

    1. I recommend a dump of thoughts in your journal, or even better a voice recorder so you don’t miss anything. I use the one on my cell.

  11. I joined Author Launch through Sarah Mae this week. I’m excited to have accountability. Now to focus on one book. I have a memoir that is still in process. I’m on chapter 2. I have a novel in progress I started for nanowrimo. Story line is being tweaked. I have a nonfiction book that I have been working on by God’s grace and my blessed friend Jo Ann Fore. I’m on chapter one.
    What I find boring is writing one project at a time. It’s why I love a series for my blog. I can create differently. I do this in my reading. I’ve usually got four books going at all times.

  12. I like that you call it the boring thing. Right on the money for me. I get ashamed to admit to other writers that sometimes the prospect of writing my book bores me and I’d rather do almost anything else.

  13. I have been wanting to write a book for a very long time, and it wasn’t until NaNoWriMo came up in November 2014 that I started applying the strategies you suggest in your blog (great strategies by the way). And yes, I learned that writing to finish a project as large as a book is both “absolutely mundane and grueling,” and “exciting and inspiring” at the same time.

    I am 40k words into the project with only 10k more words to go but I am waiting to do some traveling that I have planned for later this year to wrap things up. In the meantime, I will be editing my manuscript.

  14. Totally agreed.
    This happens to be the lesson I just learned recently. But hadn’t thought of giving myself a complete deadline before. I did had a daily word count target, but I guess a deadline will be much better.

  15. It can be down right boring getting up early to craft two posts a week. There’s research, writing, editing and in my case even cartooning to be done. But if I want to succeed and slowly build my site, I need to keep showing up. Whether a book or blog, consistency is critical!

  16. I like writing and have a blog at the moment. Something terribly boring is all the blogging stuff that accompanies having a blog….SEO, plug ins, engaging on social media, verifying my website on Pinterest (OMG), deciphering google analytics and so on and so forth. It’s taught me that I can do this stuff even though I proclaimed I was untechy when I started blogging. My book…..mmmhh…..coming soon:)
    Great read Jeff!

  17. Great post Jeff! A saying came to mind (not sure who said it), “I hate writing, I love having written”. Yes, the actual writing part can be long and drawn out at times, but the accomplishment that we get to look back on is so good!!

  18. I’ve learned that you’ve just got to get it done. Once you get it done, even if it’s not perfect, at least you’re gaining traction and momentum. I’m happy to report that my first book, You Have What it Takes, is published and finished. We have completely sold out at each book signing. Sometimes you never know until you try.

  19. I’ve learned the values of persistence and patience. I’m nowhere close to begin writing a book, but one of the lessons I am learning from writing is to keep moving forward, even when you don’t want to. I’m one of those people who expects results without effort. Life does not work that way and neither does writing.

    The other thing is that writing takes time. Sure, I can rush getting so many words down in one setting, but because I’m such a perfectionist, The temptation to edit while writing is so great. So, I’ve learned to take my time and pace myself. The words and ideas will be more coherent. There will be time for editing, but I’m not going to stress over it.

  20. LOL – your message made me smile because I was struggling to complete an article last night. After an hour of cussing and fist-thumping, I laughed out loud and posted this on my Facebook feed:

    “You have to keep writing, even if the words flow slower than (cold) molasses”

    Oh – writing is such a glamorous vocation, eh? We preen in front of the computer, clad in the most trendy sweatshirts with caffeine by our side, as the blank screen dares us to put one word after another!

    And we loveeee it 😀

    Anyway, what works for me is being accountable to SOMEONE – and my Facebook timeline is awesome for this – and setting a deadline. I postponed the aforementioned article for a whole week and scrambled the night before it was due. 😛 My wonderfully creative excuses from the last seven days dissolved in the mist of immediacy and urgency! LOL

    Thank you, Jeff #HUGS (for your words, for your encouragement and for your amazing My 500 Words group)

  21. I spent 34 years in air traffic control – yes, as one of the mysterious folks who sit in dark rooms and talk to little moving lights. They say that ATC can be described as hours and hours of boredom punctuated with moments of shear terror followed by hours of talking about the moments….so boredom is not unique to writing :>). In the latter part of my ATC days, my work on various staffs required a lot of technical writing. Necessary documents but not the stuff most would curl up with as a causal read (I said most….). So now I am shifting gears to “this” kind of writing. The kind that, I hope, will draw people in, start a conversation or just inspire. My first book will be about my father, the man who imparted to me my wings and dreams.

  22. This is just what I needed. This is the year I write my book. I wonder how you manage to read my mind so well.

    God bless, Jeff.

  23. Thanks, Jeff. I like how you said this: “At times, writing is a process that feels spiritually-charged, full of inspiration and epiphany. Other times, most of the time, it feels completely mundane.”

    Before this year, the only book I ever wrote was about 5000 words. This year, one of my desires/goals is to write a book. My blog posts only run about 500 words so the idea of stringing THOUSANDS of words together is slightly terrifying. Like you said, many of my blog posts do feel spiritually charged but I’m beginning to see how book writing has much more of the mundane (even clueless) feel to it. 🙂

    I have set a goal for each week. It’s a very manageable goal of a 1000 words. That may seem small but my one word for this year is “small” and it’s less scary and more attainable if I approach it this way. Also, I really do want to continue writing on my blog. I LOVE that outlet. So far, I’ve exceeded my small goal each week and that feels good.

    1. Hi Eileen,

      If the book you want to write is at all related to your blog, see if you can take some of your blog posts and build on them.

      I’m currently writing a book on marriage and I was able to do this for several of the topics discussed in the book. It makes the task seem less daunting. Instead of thinking of filling tons of blank pages, you can begin by building on a foundation you have already begun.

      Hope this encourages you in your efforts. Blessings.

      1. Thank you, Heather! I do plan on incorporating many of the posts/themes on my blog. And you’re right, it’s helped it feel less scary.

  24. Thanks so much for the encouragement, Jeff! I find it very interesting that sometimes we do feel “spiritually-charged, full of inspiration and epiphany” while other times it does feel “completely mundane”. It’s an interesting aspect of the life of the writer.

  25. Hi Jeff ! I agree with the idea writing is spiritually charged or the writer maybe. I’ve written since I was very young. I would feel like I had to write it down or I’d lose it, which was often the case. My first one I published “How to Blacklist … Landlord’ was one of those. I’d also like to add that a passion for truth might be the spiritual charge behind it. Yes? Thanks for letting me post! P.S. I am sure The Author Launch will be wonderful – I know a few of the individuals involved and they are worth chasing!

  26. Hi. Thanks for the post. I sure needed a little kick in the but. I’ve been feeling so unmotivated, and bogged down with other things. I’ve been writing, but not for me! Time to reprioritize and get my butt in the chair to write. My daughter keeps asking when I’m going to finish my book…I’d like to be able to tell her that I’m working on it!

  27. Yesterday I read the story behind Steve Jobs’ famous gem, “Real artists ship.”

    Now this.

    One of the things I’ve learned from boredom is that it is, for me, often attributable to an undisciplined mind. I’m one who chases ideas like shiny objects floating past my field of vision. The discipline of sitting to write when I’m bored or “not feeling it” is usually due to the fact that I’m not in the moment and in the process.

    Message received. And thank you, Jeff.

  28. Great tips here Jeff! I am releasing my book this coming Monday and I everything you’ve said here is true! When I talk to aspiring writers, one of the things they are shocked about is the incredible amounts of intentional work and regular days that goes into writing 🙂

  29. Thanks for the insight Jeff! What do you think about the idea of committing to blogging every day as a way to train yourself to write daily and to ship your work. Any chance that a book project grows out of that activity, or are you in favor of a more concrete plan. I love the structure of Seth Godin’s books lately.

  30. Love this. When I finally do the boring things (laundry, for example)–pressing through the dread, avoidance, procrastination–I learn I can indeed do boring things. Seeing slow & steady progress is a motivator for me.

  31. Like your points Jeff. One thing I can think of is the patience the boring job teaches us – if you can do it long enough and wait for the best results. The only thing that we need to pay attention to is how attentive we are while doing the boring job again and again!
    I guess, this is the only way we can improve over time.

  32. The boring things are hard to do, but once you start and get the ball going, it is impossible to stop. You start to enjoy the process and really look forward to doing it (like writing a book).

  33. I am hoping that an e-book is in my future. I just hope the topic that I am planning for mine will work. I have been a part-time musician for many years-just like many of us-and am aspiring to write the book that basically offers advice and insights of the challenges, difficulties and the rewards of being a weekend musician through those busy working years. It wouldn’t be a technical book in any way but just sharing some experiences and providing some encouragement as well. I have already written several articles for it and have lots of refining to do. It may be boring to write; that’s okay, as long as I can come up with a book that doesn’t bore the reader!

      1. Thanks, Jeff, I will keep at it. It’s good to have encouragement, not just for the writing, but the freelancing life I’m trying to get established at the same time. It can all be very intimidating.

  34. Reading your article certainly was not as boring as most of the writing process. (Is anybody else out there lonely?) Thanks for the break. I’m going back to the boring now.

  35. I find it’s usually so much more interesting to do all the research for writing instead of the writing itself. I’m a glutton for knowledge and learning; it’s an addiction that I must learn to overcome. Posts like these are definitely a help.

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  37. It’s a tough reality to face sometimes, but I’ve heard this same thing over and over. You’ve got to sit down and write. A page a day, 300 words a day, whatever it takes; just write! So, I’ve started and I hope with everything in me that I can keep going. Books seem so damn complicated on the outside looking in; well they are. At least at first that’s the way it feels. A barrier or two broken down later I hope that I can kick the habit of giving in and create a new one that’s geared around continuing on.

  38. Jeff, thank you so much for posting this! It appears to have been kismet as I was home over the holidays catching up on blog posts with unlimited wifi when I stumbled upon this helpful memo. I signed up for Author Launch and am loving it by the way! But also upon return to Uganda, purchased more internet data to take the class and keep up with what you have to say. Thanks for sharing what you know with newbies like me!

  39. I have been writing a book for the past month now. Let me correct that: I started it over four years ago, but I was trying to write it in a diary format which was difficult. I also started a job and the book entered a long gestation phase. Recently I dug up what I had written, re-wrote it and new ideas for future chapters started flowing in.
    I am really loving the writing process. Once I have an idea for the next chapter I can write it as if I were pugged into a writing machine. The script may not be perfect, but I am finding the work entertaining. To me that’s the key: If your own work entertains you it does not feel like a slog to do it. So far I have over 16,600 words. I do not have enough material to finish the whole book, but I have the next few chapters worked out. I am looking forward to developing the story further and thinking up new ideas as I go.

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