If you search DuckDuckGo for “how to write a book,” you might be tempted to just give up on the whole idea. The top-ranking results are littered with words and phrases like “torture,” “horrible experience,” “didn’t make any money.”
The conventional wisdom is that writing books is an arduous process and one that’s not really worth the time you’ll invest. At best, a book makes a nice business card that’ll help you land more consulting clients or get a better job.
Sorry, I don’t buy it. And over the next 12 months, I’m setting out to prove that the conventional wisdom is wrong.
I don’t believe that writing a book has to be a horrible experience. I’m currently struggling through my second book, and I’m starting to see patterns in my difficulties–and many of them are the same problems I always encounter when tackling a large-scale project.
Many people struggle with writing a book because they haven’t learned a systematic approach. With my first book, my outline consisted of a few bullet points. I did research on the fly as I wrote it. I had no strategy for how to structure the book, and no framework to help me decide what to include and what I could safely ignore. So I tried to include everything. My progress was glacial—a couple of hundred words a day at best. At that rate, a 25,000-word book takes months and months to produce.
That first book was a painful experience. Or is, I should say, since I’m still writing it. I’ve just assumed the pain was inevitable, until lately.
But not everyone struggles the way I have. Some writers have learned to fly, to crank out new books in weeks instead of months. Nathan Barry has published four in the last year. He’s my hero. The Self Publishing Podcast chronicles Johnny B. Truant’s journey from a plodding writer to a 10,000-words-a-day monster.
I’ve been working with ankle weights on, believing that I can’t write quickly, that I don’t have enough time to produce like those guys.
Enough of that. This year, I will become a book-writing machine. Over the next 12 months, I will publish four books.
Here’s what it’s going to take for me to pull this off.
First, I need to increase my writing speed. I work a full-time job as a software developer, a demanding job that requires a lot of focus. I also have a family—a wife and two adorable toddlers. With these existing responsibilities, I’ve found I can reasonably squeeze in 10 to 15 hours of work on side projects per week. I’ve tried to do more, but I wind up running out of gas pretty quickly.
I’ve analyzed my writing productivity, and I am currently able to produce about 240 words an hour when working on my book. That’s not great—in fact, I think it’s pretty pitiful. I need to double or quadruple that rate.
Initial target is to get up to 500 words an hour on book-related material. My freewriting speed is more like 1200 words per hour. The difference is that I spend less time thinking about what I’m going to write and coming up with examples. Clearly, I can increase my writing speed by doing more of my thinking ahead of time, before I sit down at the keyboard to start hammering out copy.
That means outlining. I’ve done a lot of research on how to write faster, and the first piece of advice every fast writer gives is: Outline, outline, outline. Outlining helped Johnny B. Truant achieve his insane daily word counts (although in fiction it’s called “plotting”).
And I’ve discovered that I’m a really bad outliner. It’s hard. I get started, jot down a few bullet points, and as soon as I hit a point where I don’t know where the outline should go, I throw up my hands and decide that it’s a waste of time, and I should just start writing. I can’t think of a better way to ensure that I’ll bog down later, probably at the exact same point where my outline petered out.
So doing more thinking ahead of time in the form of outlining is part of the plan.
Another component is systematizing my approach, or developing a solid writing process that I follow every time I start a project. I think one of the main reasons people struggle when writing books is that they’re starting from scratch and trying to organize a big mess of information. But why act like no one has ever written a book before in recorded history?
To be continued …