048: How to Write a Book in Five Drafts [Podcast]

We all want to write a book. We’ve got an idea or maybe just a dream, but we’re not sure where to go with it or what to do next. How do you know when it’s time to write that book and, more importantly, how do you write the book?

048: How to Write a Book in Five Drafts [Podcast]

That’s a question I get asked on a daily basis. So in this episode of The Portfolio Life, Andy and I break down the seemingly complicate process of writing a book into five simple, but not necessarily easy, drafts. I hope you like it.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below. (If you’re reading this via email, click here).

You can also listen at iTunes or on Stitcher.

The five-draft method (how I write books)

People often ask me how I write a book or how long it takes. For me, writing a book takes about five different drafts.

Each draft has a unique goal in the overall process of creating a finished product you can be proud of. You can think of each of these drafts as a step to follow in taking a rough idea to a published work.

1. The Junk Draft

Essentially, in the junk draft you’re throwing up on the page. It’s going to stink. It’s going to be ugly. Your goal here is to get black on white and come up with about 75 percent of your content on to the page.

2. The Structure Draft

By this point you’ve got content in a rough format that’s poorly organized. The question you have to ask yourself is “Is this actually an idea good enough to be worth publishing or do I have to scrap this and start over?”

At this point in writing my latest book The Art of Work, I drastically changed the content to turn it into a book I think is worth reading.

3. The First Draft

Now you have an actual manuscript. You know the structure works but it’s not a well-edited work so you review the whole thing and make sure it makes sense.

4. The Surgery Draft

The Surgery Draft is exactly what it sounds like: cutting, slicing, and dicing content. You’re now ready to ask friends, editors, and members of your target audience into the process for their honest feedback. It hurts but you have to realize these early readers are trying to help you.

5. The Last Draft

Leonardo DaVinci once said,

Art is never finished; it is only abandoned.

This is where you abandon your book by letting it go, releasing it out into the world. You’ve spent a lot of time working on it, editing line-by-line, and making your book the best it can be but it will never be perfect. At some point you have to let go.

Let your book be great enough, be proud of it, and realize your next one will be that much better because of what you learned in writing this first one.


For more details on each of the drafts, check out the blog I wrote on the book-writing process.


What are you going to write your next book about? Share in the comments.

19 thoughts on “048: How to Write a Book in Five Drafts [Podcast]

  1. A great podcast! I read the blog post about the five draft method months ago, but this interview with Jeff was much better. Thanks for the insights!

  2. Thanks Jeff. I appreciate you including the copy. I would have enjoyed listening to the podcast, but I have some writing to do myself. All the best my friend.

  3. Jeff! Wow, listening to this really gave me some new perspective on book writing. Sometimes I misread my resistance to start a book project because it’s not “baked” or even “structured.” But I love the idea of giving myself permission to just let it puddle in the first round. SO true how stories take on a life of their own and you discover where you need to research and learn. Excellent insight!

  4. What a great podcast. Loved hearing the process of writing The Art of Work. My next book, the one I’m about to start writing, is about designing a truly selfless life that actually makes a difference. I feel like I gained so much insight already about the selfless life from reading the book and watching your launch team, so I can’t wait to dig into this process. Thanks again, Jeff!

  5. Do you delete each draft once you have moved on to the next one, or do you keep them for reference purposes? This post comes at the perfect time as I am in the process of writing a suspense book and I am trying to do the “Junk Draft” and the “Structure Draft” at the same time. Now, I have a better way to streamline this process, Thank you! And, I just received “The Art of Work” in the mail today! Woo Hoo!

    1. No. It’s an iterative process. I edit each draft, turning it into the next, cutting lots of stuff along the way. And thanks! Hope you enjoy it.

  6. I wouldn’t call my first words “Junk draft” or relate to it with terms like “vomit”. You look at those things with disgust. I think that’s hurtful to my creation. You don’t give birth to a new born and say you vomited, or call it a junk prototype child and say the next born will be more prettier. Creating is birthing. I think that’s how i would refer to my first draft.
    I know this to some is probably a weak and unnecessary point, but I’m the sort to be sensitive on words.

    1. Sounds like your first drafts are prettier than mine, Douglas. Mine really do stink. I love that you’re able to birth something so beautiful. I hope to be able to do that some day.

    2. I understand exactly what you mean Douglas. Words have power. Even the words we tell ourselves. I think people forget that.

  7. Jeff I just got the book in the mail today. I’m really looking forward to reading it. Thank you for sharing the process of writing with us. This has come at what seems like a kairos moment in my life. I’ve had an incredible journey and have been sensing God’s nudge to put it in book form for others to experience. I just made a commitment to a friend yesterday to start what you’ve termed as a “junk draft”. Now I have no excuse to follow through.

  8. Thank you Jeff for the abundance of motivation and inspiration that you consistently share through your writing and I appreciate reading it.

  9. Jeff, thank you so much for all you do and a special thank you for barfing up The Art of Work! I got my copy a few days ago and I am already so inspired by it that I started my “Inspire Vox” series where I read a passage from various inspirational sources (yours is my first one!) https://bit.ly/theartofworkInspireVox and share with my followers. Too bad you already have an audio book cuz I’m also a VO artist and would have LOVED to voice this book for you…. 😉
    Your book is especially meaningful to me as I blog for and work with women and moms trying to find themselves again and understand what truly lights them up – their passions, their “calling”, their purpose”… and I of course have a desire to upchuck (let’s say birth for the sake of a better picture) my own book about how important it is for us to identify, own and be guided by our passions (the keys to our purpose) as young as possible. Your work inspires me so much to stop hiding, and just write! With gratitude, 🙂 Amy

  10. Jeff, In my 2nd life (retirement) my avocation has been writing. Much of what you so freely share include the steps I have used. An often understated area where you excel is in labeling; you are a master. My single biggest obstacle for getting “over the hump” is marketing, i.e., getting the word out. Because I have a set of useful resources on many facets of writing (including your books and blogs) and because I am on a fixed income I keep looking for you to offer targeted courses/workshops designed for specific parts of writing. Thanks for all that you do. Jim

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