Pre-Writing: What it Is and Why You Need to Do It

When most people think about the writing process, they think about the actual writing. Then they think about the publishing process. The writing process is really five stages: pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. I encourage you to take the process one step at a time as much as possible. This allows you to focus properly. The pre-writing phase is so important that I actually developed an entire course around it (Book Prep Bootcamp will be back this fall), because I think being prepared before you sit down to write is the best way to write well and get a book published. It’s the best way, in a nutshell, to stay un-stuck as you move through the phases of the writing process.

"There are 5 stages in the writing process - take your time on each one." (Tweet)

During this phase you’re basically getting ready so that on whatever day you pick on the calendar to start writing, you are ready to go. You’re creating the road map that will get you to your destination. You have your research and interview notes at the ready, you know your target audience, and you’ve nailed down your working table of contents. Heck, you might even have a working title/subtitle before you write the first word!


You can’t please everyone, right? The same is true for your book. What I mean is that not every reader is the right reader for your book. Take the time to figure out who your ideal reader is so that you’re always writing with that person in mind. An easy way to determine if a topic or if a piece of text should be included is to ask yourself: Does my ideal reader need this information? Does this benefit my ideal reader? Your answer determines how you should proceed. Knowing who you are writing for will help you get your message to that audience in the clearest way. (And even though you aren’t thinking about this yet, this will help you with your marketing efforts because you know who to market your book to when the time comes.)

Brain Dump Your Table of Contents

A few weeks ago I wrote a post outlining the brain dump process. By the time you’re finished with this process, you should have a pretty good idea of the shape your book will take. In addition to a working table of contents, you’ll have rough outlines of each chapter (assuming you took the brain dump down to the micro level).

To get started with this task, take your general book idea, if you have one, set a timer for five or 10 minutes, and just start emptying your brain. Write anything and everything that comes to mind, and you’ll organize it later. If you don’t yet have an idea, brain dump all of the questions you are asked regularly via email, your blog post comments, in Facebook groups, and anywhere else people reach out to you. This is the subject area in which you are an expert, and your topic will come from that.

Organize Your Research

I am a paper-and-pen person rather than digital in every aspect of my life — with one exception. My book writing research is organized electronically. There’s just too much to keep straight, and to try to do it on paper (yes, I speak from experience) is just a nightmare. Think about it: A book project is likely the largest writing project you’ve undertaken, so there will be more research, more notes, more article printouts than you’re accustomed to. Being organized will be critical as you write or you will be slowed way down.

"Being organized in your book writing process is critical." (Tweet)

Having a system is more important than the type of system you use to organize your research. Many of my clients use Evernote or Google docs. Some who are less tech savvy keep a running list in Microsoft Word (the “find” function is their best friend). Set up whatever system you will use; it’s no good to you if you aren’t using it.

Find articles and take notes from them. Make note quotes that you love that might work for chapter openers in your book. Set up any interviews you want to do during this phase as well. Your book may not require any interviews with experts, but if it does, you can’t expect to email someone, get a response, conduct an interview, and have the notes reviewed all in one day. You’ll need to build in time for that. (People are busy, and your book isn’t top of mind to anyone but you!)

With these tasks checked off your to-do list, you’ll be prepared to write and will be able to write without stopping to look something up, conduct an interview, and figure out if a topic belongs in a certain chapter. All of that has been taken care of so you can just write your way to a finished book.

I would love to hear from you! Do you think these pre-writing steps will make the writing process smoother? What else has worked for you?