Can I be honest for a moment?
I am overwhelmed by the urge to say, “Previously, on Naomi’s series” like as if it was the beginning of a TV show.
I begrudgingly accept that it wouldn’t work as well in text as it works on ER when George Clooney says it.
Anyway, yesterday I promised that in this instalment of ER Naomi’s email series, we’d talk about what’s involved in writing a book. With, like, steps and stuff.
Shall we begin?
The 5 Necessary and 1 Optional Steps to Writing a Book for Business
Writing a book is a big project. It’s not the biggest project. Getting married, having a child, and buying a house are a lot bigger. But it is a big project. (If you take Write a Book With Me, it’ll take you about three months.)
How do we tackle big projects?
We tackle big projects by breaking them down into smaller projects.
Then we do the smaller projects one at a time.
You know this already. You know that:
Planning a wedding goes to hell in a handbasket if you try to figure out food, at the same time as budget, at the same time as guest list. To avoid this, you do one thing at a time.
Having a kid goes to hell in a handbasket if you try to figure out your labor plan, at the same time as picking a doctor, at the same time as picking a preschool. To avoid this, you do one thing at a time.
Buying a house goes to hell in a handbasket if you try to figure out how much you can afford, at the same time as neighborhood, at the same time as your favorite colors for the kitchen. To avoid this, you do one thing at a time.
It stands to reason, then, that writing a book goes to hell in a handbasket if you’re trying to outline, at the same time as writing, at the same time as figuring out your objective, at the same time as figuring out audience.
To avoid this?
What do we do?
We do one thing at a time.
So, the first concept to internalize is that BIG PROJECT =/= BIG PROJECT. BIG PROJECT = LOTS OF LITTLE PROJECTS.
If you do it in steps, it gets done very quickly, very simply, and very little tends to go wrong.
Therefore, I give you, the 5 steps to writing a book.
Step one: Concept.
The concept of your book is another way of saying, “What’s the point?”
Your book’s concept has two components.
First, what is the point of the book as it applies to you, the author, and your goals? Why are you WRITING it?
Second, what is the point of the book as it applies to the reader and their goals? Why are they READING it?
If you do this step properly – and luckily, it’s probably the shortest step – you will avoid almost all book writing delays and disasters.
So, first, you decide on what the point is for you, the author. Why are you writing it?
What is YOUR primary objective? What are your secondary objectives? What are your nice-to-haves?
Let’s say you’re one of those, “I think I might have a book in me” types. And you want to write a book because you think you have a lot of cool knowledge you can share. And let’s say that’s the driving reason behind the whole project.
Perfect. That’s your PRIMARY objective.
Other objectives might be a little bit of extra spending money, maybe it might be cool to be interviewed, and there’s an outside chance it might shut your mother-in-law up.
If those are your objectives, those are the bosses you report to, in order. That’s how you make your decisions about what goes in your book, and what you do with it when it’s written.
If your primary objective is sharing cool knowledge, then that is the boss you always serve first. You don’t start thinking about buying ads so you might sell a ton of copies because that wasn’t the point. You don’t start thinking of how to push newsletter signups in chapter nine because that wasn’t the point. You don’t start cruising forums researching obscure Amazon categories so you can become a “bestseller” because that wasn’t the point.
So first, know YOUR point.
Next, you decide on what the point is for the reader. Why are they reading it?
The point of reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers was finding out smart stuff.
The point of reading Augusten Boroughs’ This Is How was learning how to navigate painful life experiences.
The point of reading Donald Maass’ Writing The Breakout Novel was improving your novel for increased commercial viability.
Those are the objectives for the reader.
When you know what your main objective is for the reader, you know everything that is NOT a main objective for the reader. That means you know everything that should not be in your book.
Malcolm Gladwell does not need to add worksheets. It’s not that kind of book.
Augusten Boroughs does not need to add interviews. It’s not that kind of book.
Donald Maass does not need three introductory chapters about the state of the book industry. It’s not that kind of book.
When you know what your objectives are for YOU and for your READER, you now have a permanent mental model for what to put IN and what to leave OUT.
If you stop reading right now, any book you ever write will be 500% more likely to get finished and 1000% more likely to get read. You’re welcome.
If you’re decisive, this step will take minutes. (Some decisive types probably did it while they were reading.) If you’re a meanderer, it will take a few hours.
If it takes you longer than a couple hours, you’re not being decisive enough. Remember – you can change your mind later. Just pick something. This is a book, not a moon landing. There’s only so much that can go wrong.
Step two: Outline.
Once you know what you’re trying to do and what you’re not trying to do, you start the outlining process.
Have you ever written anything for school? Like, an essay or something? Yeah, it’s like that.
You start by thinking of the kinda sorta stuff you might want to talk about, and you usually do it in a non-linear fashion. I call it Stuff On A Page, or SOAP.
I like mindmaps, because they don’t have an implied chronology – there’s nothing indicating to my subconscious that things have to go in a particular order, or that I have to get anything right. It’s just SOAP.
Here’s my first SOAP for this email series.
As you move through your SOAP, your thoughts will begin to clarify. Certain bullets will expand. Other bullets will subdivide into two smaller bullets. It will morph and grow and turn into a big, SOAPy mess.
Perfect. That’s what you’re shooting for.
When you have your big SOAPy mess, you put it into some kind of common sense, logical order.
If you’re making a cookbook, starters maybe go at the beginning, desserts maybe go at the end, and weird stuff like condiments gets its own section.
If you’re writing about flipping houses, “How house flipping has changed” goes before “What to do about it.”
Pretty quickly, your SOAP turns into a rough outline.
Seriously. THIS IS NOT A MOON LANDING. Just write something down.
If you write a lot for work already (blogging and such), this should take a couple hours. If you’re pretty new, it will either take you half that, if you’re decisive, or double that, if you’re a meanderer.
Step three: Your choice – Blueprint, “Discovery Draft”, or “Shitty First Draft”
Once you’ve created your outline, your next job is to bring it to a greater level of detail.
There are multiple ways to do this. Pick the one that sounds good to you.
Option one: The blueprint.
When I was 11, my parents went to a seminar called How To Write A Book in 14 Days. (I don’t think I ever forgave them for not bringing me. I begged. I pleaded. I made a logical case. No dice.)
In that seminar, the trainer differentiated between an outline and a blueprint.
An outline is the roughest of rough sketches. An outline of a house tells you where the rooms are.
A blueprint, on the other hand, looks a lot more like… a blueprint. It has details and stuff. A blueprint doesn’t just tell you where the rooms are, it tells you where the pipes are.
Blueprinting is my favorite because when it comes time to Writing The Damn Thing, I don’t like to think. I just want to write.
Like, when the guy comes in to put the pipes in? He doesn’t want to be thinking of where they should go. He wants to look at the blueprint, put the pipes where it says to put the pipes, and get back to his football game.
I’m that guy. I want to put the pipes in and get back to my football game.
So I use blueprinting because it means I don’t have to think about where the words go. I look at my blueprint and write what it tells me to write.
Other options for this stage are the Discovery Draft and the Shitty First Draft. Those who don’t like the structured nature of blueprinting tend to like these options better.
The first, the Discovery Draft, comes from the fiction community. For those who don’t like plotting a novel, a Discovery Draft allows you to “discover” your novel as you go, without having to really plan anything. You don’t have to plan the heroine’s eyes to be brown. You just write freely and if you write, “She looked at him with her big, beautiful, brown eyes,” then you’re like, “Cool! Apparently her eyes are brown.”
If you start and she’s an only child, but then in chapter four you’re like, “Whoa. She needs a brother”? Cool. Add the brother, pretend the brother’s been there all along, and move on. You don’t go back and change anything because the words you’re writing aren’t there to be your actual words. They’re just a way for YOU to discover your plot as you go.
You can do this with a book for your business, too. You can get to chapter four and be like, “Wow, I should have put that Obama quote at the beginning”. So you write chapter four AS IF you put the Obama quote at the beginning. Like, “Like I said in Chapter One, if it’s good enough for Barack Obama, it’s good enough for you.” Just run your mouth off, no editing, for a bunch of chapters, until you know what you want to say.
The other option comes from Anne Lamott, author of many things, including the legendary Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Lamott advocates, before getting all serious and stuff, that we write a “Shitty First Draft”, simply to get something down on paper.
It’s different from a Discovery Draft in that you do have a decent idea of what you’re writing when you write it. You do know what chapter one is going to kinda sorta look like, and chapter two, and all the chapters that follow. You’re not discovering anything – well, not on purpose, anyway. You’re allowing yourself to get the crappy, stilted, wooden, out-of-practice, self-conscious stuff out of the way, so that you have SOMETHING. It’s an anti-perfectionism device.
Here’s how Lamott puts it:
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.
So! Pick which option seems like the best for you, and you do it.
A blueprint should take you anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Drafts will take a few weeks. They don’t take as long as Real Writing because a.) they’re allowed to suck, and b.) they’re never as long as the real book.
Step four: Write the book.
This is the longest section of the process and the shortest section of this article.
By this point, you know exactly what you’re writing. All you have to do is write it.
Like anything that takes a while and has a repetitive nature, how long it takes depends, primarily, on how long you let it take.
How long does it take to paint a room?
Well, it depends on how big the room is, yes. (How long is the book?)
It depends on whether you have the supplies on hand or if you have to get in the truck and drive into town every half an hour to buy tape… and then rollers… and then Starbucks. (Do you have your outline? Your blueprint? Your coffee?)
But it mostly depends on what you’re like when you’re painting. (What you’re like when you’re writing.)
Do you stop every three strokes (paragraphs) to analyze what you’ve done so far?
Do you need to talk to your husband every twenty minutes about how nervous you are about it?
Do you have Messenger notifications on your phone?
If you just paint (write) for a while, and don’t indulge in any malarkey, you’ll be done quite quickly. Seriously. You’d be surprised. For most people in Write a Book With Me, this will take about a month.
All together now: THIS IS NOT A MOON LANDING.
Step five: Edit.
OK. You’re done. It didn’t kill you. YOU WROTE A FREAKING BOOK. How awesome is THAT?!
Now, before your book goes out into the world, we need to make sure it’s at its best. We accomplish this by editing.
For the uninitiated, there are three main types of editing.
First, developmental editing is done at a macro level.
This is stuff like “This chapter is weak” or “This section needs to be moved” or “That whole three pages was one long rant and it needs to be cut.” You go through your draft for macro edits, and then you make rewrites based on what you discover/decide.
For most writers, developmental editing takes the longest and it is the most difficult stage by far.
YOU are not most writers!
YOU are doing this with moi, the laziest person to ever grace the earth.
This entire stage is virtually eliminated with a proper concept, outline and blueprint/draft. I’ve designed Write a Book With Me to make this step as quick as possible, sometimes a matter of only a few hours. If you do it with us, the way we’re going to do it, developmental editing shouldn’t take any longer than a day, and rewrites a day or two after that.
Laziness pays off, people.
Next, line editing is done at a mini level.
“That sentence was unclear.” “We’ve said “really” fourteen times on this page.” “Your sentences are getting long and cumbersome.” “You’ve repeated that point too many times.”
Depending on how you work, you either make your line edit changes at the same time as you’re editing – make the sentence clearer as you go, as it were – or you make all your notes in one big red pen rush, and then you go back and fix everything all at once.
The time you spend line editing is inversely proportional to the time you spent writing. If you wrote really fast, line edits take a little longer. If you wrote really slow and laboriously, line edits are like lightning. Luckily, it all works out the same at the end, so it doesn’t matter all that much. (You can also pay people to mostly make this step go away.)
Last, proofreading is done at the micro level. It’s spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, “they’re” vs “their”. This is anything your fourth-grade teacher made a big stink about.
Proofreading is either easy or not easy, depending on your proclivities. Your best bet as an ittybiz owner is to get some editing software and go through your work with that first, to catch all the stupid stuff. One click. Then go through it by yourself, to catch the other stuff. Then you give it someone else to edit. (Ideally, this person should be a Virgo.)
So, how long does editing take? Depends on how long you try and avoid it, eating chips and watching Grace and Frankie. If the book is a normal length and you avoided developmental edits by making a bangin’ outline/blueprint? Couple weeks maybe? Shorter if you actually try?
That brings us to our last, optional step.
Optional Step 6: Launch.
Once your book is written and edited, you can do one of two things with it.
You can launch the living bejeezus out of it.
Or you can stick it in your header and get on with your life.
Launch is not required.
(Bet you never thought you’d hear me say THAT, did you?)
Launch is not required because launches are designed to maximize sales in a short period of time. I’m doing all this launch stuff for Write a Book With Me because I want to make as many sales as I can by next Tuesday. But your book is different.
Remember those objectives we talked about up there? Remember yesterday when we said that books weren’t designed to make money?
Yeah, almost all the benefits you’ll get from a book come LONG after it would have launched. So you can just skip it if you want. Tell your list, “Hey, I wrote a book!” and go back to your Grace and Frankie.
That’s it. Those are your steps.
Like I said, all told, you’re looking at about three months. Tomorrow we’re going to talk about the three things that need to be in place before you’re ready to write a book, including how much of a time commitment it’s going to take. And Monday, I’m going to give you some really cool tips for writing a book when you’re busy as hell.
(I write over a million words a year. I’ve got some cool stuff to share.)
(Yeah, I count. I’m a dork, ok?)