10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book is my most popular blog post of all time. Since it resonated with so many people, I wanted to expound on those steps and give you some stories and more material to help you apply them in your own writing.
One of the best ways to deliver more value to you is recording an audio mini-series of that blog post and sharing it on my podcast, The Portfolio Life. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed doing lately, and I hope you get as much out of it as I do.
Listen to the podcast
The slowest part of the process, the beginning of writing a book, is really challenging. You have to decide on a topic, plan an outline, and create a structure. I liken it to riding a bicycle up a hill because you really have to work to gain any momentum at all. Today’s podcast is going to focus on getting started.
In my original work, I broke the section on starting down into four points:
- Decide what the book is about
- Set a daily word count goal
- Set a time to work on your book every day
- Write in the same place every time
Instead of just re-writing what I included with those original points, I’ve only added the expanded portions here for you.
Good writing is always about something.
Decide what the book is about
When deciding what a book is going to be about, it’s tempting to place the focus on our own experiences. Resist this temptation. As authors, we must have a theme that taps into the foundational need of all human beings to thrive.
A non-fiction book needs to be driven by an argument that solves a universal problem. A work of fiction needs a theme that all humanity can relate to. Examine a handful of best-selling books in your genre and look for the driving force behind them. We have 500 years of publishing history to study and figure out what works.
I use three questions to find the theme in my books:
- What is this about?
- What is my argument?
- What is the problem ailing my intended audience?
I attempt to answer those big questions in one sentence. When it makes sense, I’ll stretch the phrase into a paragraph. Then I’ll create a one-page outline. Pushing forward progressively, I’ll create a table of contents with different chapters. Then I’ll break the sections into a beginning, middle, and end.
This process can take days, weeks, or months. That’s okay, and this is where a lot of your mental energy needs to be spent. This is not stalling. This is not giving into Resistance. This is writing. The more effort you put into figuring out what you want to say and how you want to say it, the easier the actual writing will be later.
Set a daily word count goal
I recently started walking more, and the goal I set for myself is 10,000 steps a day. Beginning in the morning, I move more. I add little walks here and there, and when night time rolls around, it’s easy to finish at my target. But on days I haven’t taken a walk, and I need 8,000 steps before bed to reach my goal, it’s a tough night.
Writing a book is done the same way. You don’t set out to write a book. You create a habit of writing. It doesn’t need to be a ton of words. 300-500 words are enough. It isn’t hard, but it does require discipline.
I write at least 500 words a day, and I’ve been doing this for many years. Consistency has been the key to my success. Little drips of effort have led to waves of momentum. Show up every day and frequently do your work.
I believe so firmly in setting goals small enough to be attainable, but challenging enough to build momentum that I’ve created a 31-day challenge called My 500 Words to help you develop this habit. There’s also a Facebook Group where you can encourage and be encouraged by other writers working towards the same goal.
You don’t have to write a lot, you just need to write often.
Set a time to work on your book every day
Dan Miller, the best-selling author of 48 Days to the Work You Love and other books, makes an appointment with himself and never misses it. He sets aside deliberate writing time in advance that ensures he doesn’t have to think about it.
Consistency makes creativity easier. Strive to be consistent, not creative. Embrace discipline, but give yourself grace. Discipline to do the work when you don’t feel like it. Grace to get back after it after you miss a day. Don’t shame yourself, and don’t give yourself an out.
Honor your writing time like you would any other appointment. If you need to reschedule, do it in advance. If you know you have a birthday party or something else coming up, plan around it. But try to find the time of day you’re most creative and commit to setting it aside for writing.
Make it so it’s just what you do. Writing has to be something that you do. Most professional writers don’t love or hate it, they just do it. Show up at the same time and write for the same amount of time or word numbers.
Write in the same place every time
It doesn’t matter where it is, just make it’s the same place. Whether it’s the kitchen table, a nook or corner, or an office. Write in the same physical location. Make it a special place that lets you know when you enter the sacred, creative space, it serves as a reminder to finish your commitment to yourself.
When I wrote my first book, my kitchen table served as my sacred writing space in the morning. Throughout the rest of the day, it was used by the rest of my family for the usual purpose. But during my writing time, it was set apart for a purpose.
Consistency makes creativity easier.
Creating a writing system
The hard part of writing is sitting down and starting. Writing the same amount, at the same time, in the same place, will help you. You can wake up without an alarm, and your routine will lead you to your writing. This helps your brain and body know precisely what to do.
This is called a writing system, and it will be uniquely yours to help you succeed. Get all twenty steps of my writing system in a downloadable e-book available here.
What does your writing system look like? I’d love for you to share it with me in the comments.