How to Write a Book Without Losing Your Mind: 10 Tips to Make It Easier

How to Write a Book Without Losing Your Mind: 10 Tips to Make It Easier

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“Writing a book is hard.”

In the last three years of working on Pivot — from the book proposal that my agent first rejected, to re-submitting one a year later, to the book deal with Penguin Random House in 2014, to turning in the final draft last month — that was the one phrase I wouldn’t let myself say.

Writing a book is a privilege, and complaining about how hard it was throughout would not make the process any easier.

Writing a book is complex, don’t get me wrong, but I adopted the motto, “Let it be easy, let it be fun” instead. Stress is a systems problem; an opportunity to get even more organized.

These 10 tools helped keep me sane throughout the book outlining, writing, and editing process.

1. Setup

Create three collection buckets (notes) in Evernote: Articles, stories, and ideas. As you go, even before you have the book outline, you can save relevant notes to each category.

I highly recommend the Evernote web clipper for saving content; you can also forward emails directly to your Evernote email address.

2. Outlining

I started my outline with Post-it Notes on the back of my front door. I first put a bunch of blank Post-its under the following categories: Inspiration books, core skills, process, personal stories, and quotes.

Every time I had an idea I would add it to the wall, or sometimes when I was taking a break from other work I would stand by the door and just stare until ideas came up — and they always did!

The Post-it app allows you to take pictures of Post-Its (or a whole wall), then move them around digitally in the app.

3. Research

Save all citations early as footnotes, including page numbers from the books you reference!

This will save a ton of hassle down the road. Even if you don’t know (or don’t want to take the time to do) proper citations, at least save the book and page numbers — or article name and link — as a footnote as you go.

Otherwise, it’s a huge pain to remember where you found everything. To make the research process easier, check-out Ask Wonder — they’ll do research for you with a quick turnaround and comprehensive list of links for any question you pose. 

4. Structure

Thanks to a tip from Shane Snow, author of Smartcuts, I created Google Drive folders for each of the book’s parts, then a Google doc for each chapter within each part.

At one point I had seperate Google docs just for essays that would go in each chapter, but it started to get unwieldy. It was helpful in the beginning, though, for feeling like I could write in manageable chunks.

5. Writing

With all the tools available, one of the most enjoyable apps to write in was OmmWriter: peaceful music, blank background, and those glorious typewriter sounds!

6. Editing

I didn’t do this nearly as much as I could have, but after I wrote an essay in OmmWriter, I would sometimes do a quick grammar check in Hemingway Editor, a super-helpful automatic text editor. You’ll have to try it out to see what I mean!

7. Curating

I sent out a Google form for written story submissions to include as anecdotes throughout the book

Once those responses were in, I combined all the results into a Google doc. From there, I printed the doc so I could highlight key quotes and mark potential chapters for where to insert them.

You can also use TypeForm for this, which is really beautiful and easy for the respondent to use.

8. Interviewing

I asked for permission up front to record interviews, letting people know I might release them for a podcast near the time of the book launch.

I’m so glad I did this! I record calls with Skype + eCam Call Recorder. For a conference-call service, I love Uber Conference (no dial-in passcodes, and it texts you when a person is waiting on the line).

9. Transcribing

CastingWords provides audio transcription at $1 per minute. For long interviews, I printed these notes and highlighted by hand.

When it was time to check the quotes for the final versions of the book, I copied and pasted their section into a Google doc with permissions set at “suggest edits only.”

10. Clearing space in your schedule

Copy and set-up this editorial calendar template.

This is the format I use to plan posts and newsletters. Tt’s particularly helpful if you have multiple contributors, sites or guest posts. It helps keep things running smoothly while working on a project as complex as a book!

You might also appreciate my systems and strategy for working with a virtual assistant: A detailed look at what to delegate, how to efficiently set up your systems, and what pitfalls to avoid as you clear up space to work on your big book project.

These are the tips and tools that helped me most. What’s your approach?

What bite-sized chunk of your book project can you commit to this week? Reply in the comments and let us know.

Traveler and blogger Chris Guillebeau

Featured resource

Unconventional Guide to Publishing

Chris Guillebeau introduces the plan you need to finally share your book with the world. Make this your year of becoming an author.

15 comments

  • My experience, both in my own writing and in the writing of my clients, has been that every author must develop his or her own process, and be open to tweaking it for every book. Years ago, I read a statement from a long-time novelist (Lawrence Block, if I remember correctly) that by the time you finish writing a book, you’ll know how to write THAT book; writing the next one may be very different.

    I love my laptop, but when it comes to software I tend not to go very tech-heavy. In one novel, I was struggling with a section covering a couple of chapters. I knew something was off in the ordering of events. I wrote physical notecards with each event or bit of dialogue I wanted to include, then laid them out on a table and spent days rearranging them until it flowed the way I wanted. My cat seemed to understand the importance of the endeavor enough not to reshuffle them while I was at work!

    Yes, there are computer programs that will help with that, but somehow, physically handling those cards was what worked for me, at least at that time on that particular book.

    Whatever methods work for you, I wish you the best with all your projects!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
    http://www.epiclesisconsulting.com
    http://www.epiclesisconsulting.etsy.com

  • Isaac says:

    Please,how do i start earning a living by writing,blogging,freelancing?

  • I’ve bookmark this post.. Thanks for sharing this……

  • Michelle says:

    Great ideas I would never have thought of

  • Brandon says:

    What chunk can I commit to this week? Organizing locks my mind up when I contemplate even trying to do it. So far I have just written as much as I can. I will commit to doing a couple of mind-maps for the remaining chapters of my book. Including creating outlines from those

  • Andrea Fazio says:

    I write Poetry. So I’m sure that would be a lot harder to get published than a novel. Any Ideas???

  • khatar says:

    Your site is really nice Thanks

  • Wow great tips i really liked it and now looking forward to write a book of my own.

  • stuart gray says:

    Thanks for sharing this amazing post here i have read it and i like it throughout

  • moviebox says:

    never read a post like this . Really great post thanks for sharing.

  • python quiz says:

    That’s what I was looking for. Very nice blog indeed, thank you admin

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