Today we dive into the final topic in this series on book writing advice with what is arguably the most important question of all – “How can you make writing your book easier so you can get it done and publish it?”
My answers are below. But before we begin, I’d like you to reframe “writing a book” as “writing down words”, because at the end of the day, that is all we’re doing here. We’ll approach our book with a general idea of how long it needs to be, and focus on getting to that word count number that lets us say, “Yay! It’s done!”.
But how long will that take? Well, the basic structure of a book can, for most people, be completed in about 45 minutes a day, in two or three months. But for most of us it’s not quite as simple as sitting down at 11, writing for a while, and getting up again at 11:45.
For most of us, we could use a few strategies to make it doable, possible, and 100% non-intimidating.
Let’s talk about 3 things you can do to make “writing your book” not much of a big deal at all.
1. Find your ease “sweet spot”.
When we first embark on a big project, particularly one we haven’t embarked on before, we tend to look to role models to see how it’s done. In the case of writing a book, we look to people who will guide us into productivity, prolificacy, order, and ease.
Productivity types are great, but like all of us, they’re biased.
Those who work best in the morning say we all have to get up early. Those who work best in deep focus sessions tell us to set aside big chunks of time. That sort of thing.
I struggled with this for a lot of years. I have ADHD, which is marked by intense periods of hyperfocus, as well as times when I find it much more difficult to concentrate. One-size-fits all solutions from neurotypical people were difficult to fully integrate. I’d try, and I’d crash and burn, every time.
But wait! It gets worse! I then got CFS/ME (commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome), which brings periods of complete brain fog. In front of the gaping chasm of a blank page,I could be in a fog for hours.
Before CFS/ME, on a good day, I could write 3000 words an hour, most of which didn’t require editing. After CFS, I was lucky if I could knock out 400… and they weren’t very good.
If I was going to ever write again, I was going to have to find a different way.
Over time, I experimented with different types of writing chunks. I’ve learned I’m best in the hour or so before and after noon (it’s 12:01 right now). I’ve learned that 15-30 minute chunks maximize my efficiency. And I’ve learned that I can’t write without an outline anymore.
On a good day, I can write a piece like this in one session. On a brain fog day, I do it in multiple 15 minute sessions, tackling one bullet point at a time.
Finally, I can write again.
You can achieve this as well through a groundbreaking, proprietary process I like to call… deliberate trial and error.
When you begin to write your book, you won’t have a rhythm yet. That’s perfect. You can use the period of time in which your rhythm is establishing itself to consciously and deliberately observe and record what works for you, and what doesn’t.
Some of us work very well when a kind person takes our children away and leaves us alone for three hours. Some of us… hahaha… don’t. Some of us work well first thing in the morning. Some of us… hahaha… don’t.
The trick is to play around, and watch what happens. Treat yourself like a fascinating scientific study, and the results will become clear pretty quickly.
You will have your own rhythms. When you set out with the deliberate intention to observe yourself, you’ll find your patterns very easily. Then you can decide to give yourself the gift of optimal writing circumstances, and you’ll write with ease.
2. A faster way to get into “flow”.
When we sit down for a writing session, we often feel clunky in the beginning. Our typing is slow and plodding. We don’t feel confident in what we’re saying. But after a while, we start to feel “warmed up”. We notice a state of what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow”:
“In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one's sense of time.”
This flow state is, inarguably, awesome. And in many cases, assuming optimal or conducive circumstances, it simply happens on its own. We sit down, we get the clunky, plodding part out of the way, and eventually flow shows up.
But when it comes to writing, it’s not just time and conducive circumstances. There’s something else going on. If we learn to harness that something else, we can dramatically increase our writing ease, and therefore our speed and word count.
The something else is this:
Introductions – to books, blog posts, chapters, and even concepts – are notoriously difficult to write. They’re particularly difficult to write when the thing we’re introducing doesn’t exist yet. “I don’t know how to start” is a common refrain.
The solution to this is to start a writing session anywhere other than the beginning.
For this piece, and all the other pieces in this series, I started by outlining my main points on paper. Then I transcribed those points into a document, and immediately started writing them. Only when I’m finished with these points will I even begin to consider the introduction. When I get to the introduction, I will be viscerally and intimately familiar with what I’m actually introducing.
I’ve observed my own patterns and come to the realization that when I do this, it takes about 30 minutes off the time it takes to write a blog post. Flow comes easily and quickly.
(A side benefit of this is that my introductions tend to be much more direct, which readers appreciate. They tend to like it when we minimize the formalities and get to the good stuff.)
3. Plotting vs. Pantsing.
In fiction writing, there’s a concept known as “plotters and pantsers”. Basically, there are two ways to write a novel. Plotters create a detailed outline in advance and methodically write to that outline. Pantsers “fly by the seat of their pants”, creating a basic structure and then diving in to see where the story takes them.
Non-fiction authors have the same basic methods.
Some authors like to take a detailed approach from the beginning. They break down their books-to-be into sections, then subsections. They decide exactly what they want to say before they even consider saying it. They find the structure comforting. It creates confidence.
Others find that level of structure confining, or the need to decide everything in advance daunting. For them, they’re happier when they can let their creativity flow. They create a basic idea of how the whole thing is going to come together, and then they let their intuitive sense guide them.
These are both perfectly valid ways to write a book.
If you get a good sense of which type of writing suits you, your style, and your personality, you’ll probably be pretty efficient at writing your book. But when we try to take someone else’s approach and force ourselves into a mold that doesn’t suit us, we encounter significant, sometimes crippling delays.
We can tell which style is ours pretty easily by looking at both options and seeing which one makes us breathe a sigh of relief, and which one makes us actively recoil. If you trust your instincts, you really can’t go wrong.
In Write a Book with Me, we incorporate detailed instructions for both methods, to ensure both kinds of writers can keep on track and meet their goals. Our plotter types write a SOAP, an outline, and a detailed blueprint. Our pantsers write a SOAP, a nominal outline, and what’s referred to as an SFD (shitty first draft), a discovery draft, or a lightning draft.
Plotters tend to spend more time up front on the outlining and blueprinting process. Pantsers spend more time in editing. In general, the total time spent seems to be about the same.
We keep the time down by allowing ourselves to follow only the level of structure that works for us.
And that's it.
The connecting thread in all of these points is that we must give ourselves the gift of customization. One size does not fit all, and one size does not fit every day, or every writing session. If we find the tweaks that work for us, we can enjoy ease, efficiency, and prolificacy with no unnecessary effort.
Then we get to write a BOOK!
(Pretty sweet, eh?)
P.S. As a reminder, registration for Write A Book With Me 2021 is now open – get in before the doors close!