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

by | May 5, 2016 | Craft | 12 comments

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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.

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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 Dialpad Meetings (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.