A typical book is 60,000 to 100,000 words long.
While some writers can crank out a 500-word blog post without too much trouble, coming up with 100,000 words is an entirely different endeavor.
How do you make time to write a book? And how do you break down such an enormous and intimidating project into manageable chunks?
Follow these steps to manage the process from brainstorming to writing, editing, publishing and marketing.
1. Break it down
If you put “write a book” on your to-do list next to “pick up bread at the grocery store,” it’s easy to never get it done.
Writing a book can be intimidating, so the best way to tackle the project is to first break it down into more manageable tasks.
While it’s important to identify the tasks ahead, it’s also important not to get too bogged down making huge to-do lists. If you write 10 pages of tasks, it’s easy to sigh and put the project aside indefinitely. You don’t need to outline every task. Just a basic idea should do the trick to get started.
Early on, it’s probably better to leave large steps such as “marketing plan” as a step, without detailing every element of it since it can be overwhelming to have a massive to-do list.
You’ll have a number of basic “large steps” that you know you’ll need to get to like brainstorming, writing, editing, publishing and marketing. It’s helpful to know what these steps are, but you don’t need to spend too much time fretting about the intricacies of finding a publisher when you’re still in the brainstorming phase.
It’s always helpful to have an idea of what you’re working toward and to have an overview of how the process will work, but if you find yourself deep in the weeds, you’ll get bogged down with details.
Once you have the big steps outlined, start with the first one and break it down into smaller actionable steps. For example, “brainstorming” could turn into “brainstorm characters” or “brainstorm settings” and other important details.
2. Batch your tasks
Once you’ve started, it’s often easiest to batch your tasks.
When you’re brainstorming about a character, it can be hard to suddenly switch gears and move to your marketing plan.
Everyone works differently, but it’s often easiest to batch similar tasks together so once you get on a roll, you can keep it going.
For example, if you’re writing a nonfiction book and have a series of interviews you need to transcribe, it’s often easier to spend an afternoon transcribing all of them than to switch back and forth between transcribing, editing chapters and developing chapter outlines all in the same afternoon.
Experiment to find what works best for you, but once your brain gets going on one path, it’s often best to let it continue down that path for a while.
3. Schedule your to-do tasks
If you have a day job or other freelance commitments, it can be hard to find time for your project.
But if you schedule some time every day or week as your book writing time, that can be very helpful in terms of getting things done.
Mark the time on your calendar and don’t let any other projects or commitments interfere with this time. If you want to get your project done, you’ll need to make it a priority.
Use your body rhythm to your advantage and plan time when you’re at your writing best.
Morning people might get up at 5 a.m. to squeeze an hour of writing into each morning. But if you’re a hard-core night owl, that would be akin to torture — and unproductive. It’s almost impossible to find the best words when you can barely stay upright. Some find a mid-afternoon slump their least productive time of day while others hit their stride around 3 p.m.
Use your body rhythms to your advantage and guard this time as you would any other important task, like a meeting.
4. Set deadlines
If you are working with a publisher, you likely have a series of deadlines to meet, but if you’re going to self-publish, or you don’t have a publisher yet, that’s trickier.
It can be hard to find the motivation to push through writer’s block and procrastination and make your project happen.
So set some deadlines. Create deadlines for various stages of the project (such as chapter deadlines, first draft deadlines, etc.) and mark them on your calendar. Remind yourself with alarms and sticky notes. Treat them as you would any other important deadline.
If external motivation is something you find helpful, set a time for a critique group to look at your work. You’ll have to get it ready by the time you meet with them.
Or sign up for a writing conference and a critique session. If you’ve already signed up and paid, that’s a good incentive to pull things your work together in time.
5. Stay on track
Accountability can be tricky when you’re working on your own project.
Consider a calendar and giving yourself a literal gold star or unicorn sticker for each day you hit your target (whether that’s working on the project for an hour or writing 500 words a day).
Spreadsheets can also be helpful as you can record the number of words you write or log your hours. Adding the numbers up is a great motivation to feel like your small steps are adding up to something big and exciting.
Consider signing up for NaNoWriMo or other community-focused writing events that help people work towards goals.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always meet your goals. But use them to stay sufficiently motivated to keep things moving.
Working with a friend to collaborate and congratulate each other on making your word count is also very helpful. Just like a gym buddy gets you to work out and meet your fitness goals, a writing buddy can help you meet your writing goals.
Writing a book is a huge task, and it’s one that has to become a priority for it to happen. By treating it like a series of important deadlines and tasks that must be completed, you’re setting yourself up for success.