Writing doesn’t come naturally to every entrepreneur, and for those people, the thought of penning an entire book can be overwhelming — even if they know they want to write a book to grow their platform and have committed to doing so. If you stay organized from the jump, however, it’s not terribly complicated. Here’s the most important piece of advice I can give you: Build a daily writing habit. The sooner you do this, the better. (By sooner, I mean preferably before you start writing your book.) Writing is a muscle that gets stronger with use (an atrophies with no use!). A daily writing habit will train your brain about when it’s time to write so that you don’t waste your writing time each day. Day by day, the words will get written and the book will be built.
Confession: After 20-plus years of daily writing, there are STILL days when I plant my butt in my chair and type, over and over, “I don’t know what to write about today. I don’t know what to write about today. I don’t know what to write about today….” But I still park it and commit to the habit. Moral of the story: Don’t sweat it if the words don’t flow easily right away.
The “writing” part of the process is really just a part of it. Here’s what else happens before the book manuscript moves into production (aka gets edited and formatted):
Before you write the first word, you need to know what you’re writing about. (Trust me: Winging it and book writing don’t go together well.) Most of my clients are creative entrepreneurs, and the “o” word (outline) makes them cringe. No problem. Don’t worry about outlining. Instead, use the brain dump. Set a timer and dump everything in your brain about your topic. Then do it again to break down a particular aspect of the overall topic. (This post thoroughly breaks down the process.) Even if you don’t take those brain dumps and put them into outline format, you essentially have an outline from which to write.
Your book, though, likely contains more than just your words. Maybe it’s case studies from your clients or other people you’ll interview. Maybe it’s statistics from related studies or articles. Maybe it’s notes from books related to your topic. Whatever form this takes, you have some research to do. Figure out what your research plan looks like and get started. Key at this stage is organizing your research. I prefer a Trello board for this, but other author-entrepreneurs I’ve worked with have done everything from a blank Word doc to notes in a Google Docs. Use whatever feels most intuitive to you. Allow at least a few weeks for the research process, particularly if you’re planning to interview people, because it takes time to reach out, get them to agree, schedule interviews, conduct interviews, and out the interview notes into a usable form for writing.
Often my book writing clients ask if they should start writing while they’re doing research. My answer is NOPE. You know how experts say that multitasking doesn’t actually work? Same idea here.
Taking notes on your book is not the same as writing the first draft.
Now you’re ready to write. But first, you need a writing schedule. If you’ve been writing every day (you have, haven’t you?), you have an idea of how many words you can write each day (or night) before your brain quits and tells you, “No more words today.” This number is different for everyone, but expect it to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 words. If you’re trying to launch your book sooner rather than later, maybe you want to do two writing sessions in a day a few days a week to increase your productivity.
There’s no secret to this stage of the process. Simply take your book contents (which you created from brain dumping) and do the work, adding in research and interview quotes to support your points as you write. Turn off your phone notifications and shut down social media during your writing time.
Don’t edit as you go if you can help it. (I know this is difficult!) Keep writing and get through that first draft. It won’t be pretty, but trust the process. Editing and writing are distinct tasks that use different parts of the brain, so toggling back and forth will just slow you down overall. Revision is coming, so it doesn’t matter if the first draft isn’t great.
As for organizing your writing, this is up to you at this stage. Each chapter can be a separate document at this stage, but eventually you’ll want one file for your manuscript, so many author-entrepreneurs just have one master document.
I hope this goes without saying, but back up your manuscript every day!
If the actual typing or writing is slowing you down, consider dictating rather than typing. Transcriptions services are so affordable these days, and when you review the transcript, you’re essentially doing your first round of revision. Another benefit: It’s easy to “write” on the go, since I bet you always have your smartphone with you.
Write the Intro Last?
Your book doesn’t have to be written in order, from beginning to end. In fact, sometimes it makes sense to write the introduction last. Why? Because the intro gets readers started and tells the journey the book will take them on. If the manuscript is written, you know JUST what that journey looks like and can recap what you’ve already written.
So where SHOULD you start? Anywhere you want. Pick a topic or sub-topic that you feel confident about and start typing. Starting in this way will help you build momentum.
Once you’ve completed a draft, take a break. Give yourself a little time and space before you dig right into revisions. With a clear head, it will be easier to see if something is missing or sections should be re-ordered. This is a good stage for beta feedback. Ask three to five people if they’d be willing to take a look at your manuscript and provide feedback. The key is to ask specific questions rather than general questions like “What did you think?” (When I wrote my most recent book, I created a Typeform with eight specific questions, along with a space for their other comments/feedback.)
The purpose of readers at this stage is to improve your manuscript before the next draft is completed. Remember that reading is so subjective, so every individual will read and react to your manuscript differently. It’s up to you which feedback to incorporate and which to ignore. Here’s a rule of thumb, though: If you send your manuscript to five people, and four think a particular section needs to be expanded in order to be clear to readers, it likely does. If just one has a question about it, then it may be okay as is.
As you review and incorporate beta feedback from the first draft, you’ll surely have your own changes to make as well. There is no set number of drafts that a book should have before it is published. Only you know when your book is “ready.”
With each new draft, as changes are made, pay particular attention to transitions between paragraphs and sections. Sometimes flow worked well early on, and then improvements were made, causing the text to read in a more clunky manner. No problem; this is why we revise multiple times.
Once you are happy with the book’s content and structure, take another break. When you self-edit the book before submitting to an editor, if you haven’t allowed time, your brain will see what you THINK you wrote — which may or may not be what you wrote. I won’t rehash the steps involved in self-editing your manuscript (I’ve covered that before), but I will say this: Before you work with a professional editor, you should self-edit your book. You may not an expert in grammar or transitions between paragraphs or concise writing, but you’ll be amazed at what you can find and clean up before a professional editor even looks at your manuscript.
If you’ve been working with a developmental editor or book coach, your manuscript should be awfully clean by the time you’ve written multiple drafts, and copy editing should be fairly quick and painless. If you haven’t, copy editing might take a bit longer. The longer it takes, the more it costs, so your goal is to submit the cleanest possible manuscript for editing. One way to do that is to self-edit before submitting.
Want a checklist of the major steps for each of these phases of the writing process? I’ve got you covered.