For most entrepreneurs and professionals who want to establish their credibility or promote their services, the question is no longer, “Should I write a book?” but “When should I write a book?”
The issue for incredibly busy people is time—not having enough of it. They assume writing a book requires 6-12 months or longer. Without a doubt, the most frequent question people ask me as an author is, “How do you find the time to write?”
They’re shocked when they hear me say that it typically takes only three weeks to draft a 40,000-word book. (I’ve done it in less time, but that’s unusual.)
Of course, research may take months or years. Then polishing your prose—if you’re a professional writer—can take almost as long as putting together the first draft. So from draft to final manuscript to agent or editor, you may need to invest six weeks or so.
But back to getting the first draft done: You may already have the content in your head because you’re writing about a topic in your own area of expertise—often a how-to, self-help, or business book. When that’s the case, typically the only thing holding you back is a writing plan.
Try one of these 10 tricks to speed you on your way:
- Map the entire book with idea wheels. I’m definitely not a proponent of the philosophy “just start writing anything” any more than I’d tell a driver who wanted to go from Columbus, Georgia, to Portland, Oregon, to “just start driving.” Without a GPS or map, that’s a good way to waste a great deal of time. As with driving, map out the quickest route to your destination. Start with a small circle in the center of the page. Draw lines off that circle (like spokes on a bicycle wheel) for the sub-points. Label each of these lines with a chapter topic. Then draw lines off the spokes for the sub-points of those ideas. This wheel or these wheels give you a map over the overall book. Your idea wheel serves as your book-writing GPS to get you to the destination by the quickest route.
- Pose 20 questions to yourself and then answer them. If you can’t decide what your chapter topics should be—or you can’t figure out the sub-points for any single chapter—pose 20 questions to yourself based on what people typically ask you about that subject. Then answer each question. That’s a chapter or a heading inside a chapter.
- Play journalist. If you can’t decide what to do with any particular chapter topic, answer the five questions of the journalist: Who? What? Why? How? Where? After you’ve filled in the answers, turn those questions into snappier headings.
- Skim the TOC of similar books. Take advantage of Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to skim the Table of Contents of competing books to get ideas. If the topic has been done before, go in a different direction. However, simply reviewing these topics will prime the pump to get your own ideas flowing.
- Start with any random chapter. What stalls many writers is thinking “first things first.” Instead, to begin, select either your favorite chapter, the easiest chapter, or the shortest chapter. Just go to work somewhere.
- Start in the middle of a chapter and move outward in any direction. If you’re still stalled, select your favorite chapter topic. Add four subheadings underneath (they don’t need to be perfect). Begin writing under any one of those headings. Then start writing under another heading, and so on. Work your way through the chapter until all the headings are finished. Go back and write an introduction and a conclusion to the chapter. Repeat the process for each chapter. Finally, write an introduction to the entire book and a conclusion to the entire book.
- Schedule marathons. Interruptions break your momentum and your train of thought. I suggest this marathon secret to all my book-writing clients, and overwhelmingly, they find it to be one of the most helpful tips for writing a quality book quickly. Block out a two-week vacation, tell all your family and friends that’s what you’re doing and tell them not to disturb you unless someone is dying. Put in 12-15 hour days and you’ll be amazed how easily the writing flows when you’re not distracted by email, phone calls, texts, or conversations. Cut your daily breaks to the absolute essentials: food, water, biology breaks.
- Talk it and transcribe it. If you just cannot write fast, consider recording your book and having it transcribed. Then move to the editing step. (Actually, I don’t recommend this to clients as a first step because there is great value in actually seeing words on the screen as you write. Seeing layout and length helps you turn out a better first draft.)
- Keep a time-and-page log. At the end of each chapter and each day, record your stats—just as you would in sports or with other projects. Recording pages completed in X hours builds momentum—as well as helps you chart your estimated completion date and celebration.
- Reward yourself for completions. When you finish a long or difficult chapter, reward yourself with a special food, a short exercise break, or a phone call to a special someone. You get to decide; it’s your book and your completion date!
And that’s how the first draft gets done quickly. Editing it is easy, more like trying on clothes for alterations: The basic work is finished; the fitting can be fun and feels like play.
As you wait for the publisher to produce and ship your book to outlets around the world, excitement grows. Promotion begins. Notoriety looms just around the corner. So sit down and draft something.
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