Before You Try to Write a Book, Complete These 3 Tasks

by | Jul 22, 2016 | Craft | 24 comments

Overwhelmed by the thought of finally writing that book of yours?

You’ve dreamed about it forever.

You’ve almost started several times before, then convinced yourself you weren’t ready.

You worry you’ll be forever trapped in the planning stage, never fulfilling your dream.

After more than four decades in this game, believe me, I’ve been where you are — more times than I’d like to remember.

How to eat an elephant

The most well-worn cliche (after “well-worn cliche”) in publishing is that you write a book the way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

If you envision it as a whole, you’re likely to give up before you start.

Don’t give up. Take it from one who knows. The rewards can be worth the work.

Here are three lessons I learned that can serve as your flight plan to get the book inside you off the ground.

1. See that elephant as parts, not the whole

An African elephant can stand 13 feet tall and weigh as much as 15,000 pounds. A book can easily total well over 450 double-spaced manuscript pages and more than 100,000 words.

Both are daunting when viewed that way.

But you’re not eating an elephant. So let’s look at your potential book manuscript.

View your potential manuscript as pages. These will consist of headers that will include your name, the book title, the chapter number and perhaps chapter title, and the page number. These can be formatted once and inserted automatically thereafter as you’re writing.

Then you’ll write a line at a time, deciding when to end sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. You may break your book into parts or sections.

You may have such elements as a dedication, acknowledgments, an epigram, a prologue or introduction or preface; and at the end an epilogue or author’s note, an index, bibliography, or footnotes. Certain academic works may have even more esoteric components.

But you will be responsible for writing these various pages, and one way to keep your head is to focus on them as just that — daily, hourly, manageable projects broken down to a page at a time.

Stay at it and they will accumulate.

Before you know it, you will have produced a manuscript. But to do that will require the second prerequisite:

2. Make time to write

All right — let’s get real.

I didn’t say find time. You have to carve it out of your schedule.

Like everyone else on the planet, you have 168 hours in a week. You have to eat and sleep, and then decide your other priorities.

What has to go so you can write? How important is this dream?

No one can answer that but you, and the answer is in your calendar.

What will you sacrifice for the sake of time at the keyboard?

Concerts? Ballgames?

Dinners? TV?


Reading? (Be careful with that one.)

Social media?

Face it, you make time to do what you really want to do.

Pros make time to write. If you want to be one, you’ll do it too.

3. Know. Know.

I say it twice because there are two things you must know: Know what you want to say and know to whom you want to say it.

Please don’t start writing a book just because you fancy yourself an author.

Successful writers don’t write because they’re writers. They’re writers because they have something to say.

A book must not simply be about something. It must be for the purpose of something.

Knowing your message and your audience allows you to write from your passions, and that’s what will draw you to the keyboard every day. That’s what will keep you there when the manuscript begins to again look like an elephant instead of small manageable bites.

When you can distill your entire book into one sentence and can picture your audience in your mind embodied by one person, you’re ready.

Eat that elephant a bite at a time.

Which of the points above will you focus on this week? Tell me in the comments section.