10 Steps to Writing a Better BookJanuary 24, 2007
Writing the book was a very long process filled with surprising twists, frustrating moments, and, periodically, a real rush of accomplishment. There were moments when I was sure I could write down 1,001 things I'd rather be doing and nights when I fell asleep thanking God for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
Now that it's over, of course, many of the struggles are fading from memory and writing a book sounds like the greatest thing in the world. All I have to do to kill this feeling is mention it to Lori and Ben and see the look on their faces! They have much better memories than I do.
I don't know if or when I'll be blessed to write another book, but just in case, here's a list of what I would do differently the next time around. If you're facing a big writing project, you may find a helpful idea in here somewhere.
Top 10 Steps to Writing a Better Book
10. Get more exercise
I found myself always feeling the pressure of the next deadline and thinking I couldn't afford the time to exercise. Whenever I did, though, the obvious happened - I had more energy and a clearer mind, so I was actually more productive.
9. Allow time for editing and formatting
I wrote the book using a text editor, partly so I wouldn't spend hours messing with formatting. However, when it was finally time to turn in the final draft, I faced many, many hours of converting the document to Word and formatting all of the text to meet the publisher's specifications. And once you start this process, you naturally start editing at the same time because you're reading it in a totally different way.
The next time I would make sure I had at least one full week after I was done writing before it was time to turn in the draft.
8. Have a regular place to work
At first, I took advantage of having a laptop and wrote wherever I felt comfortable. I later learned the value of having a primary place the provides a focus and reminds you subconsciously that it's time to work.
Of course, a change of location now and then is still a good thing. During the last two months, it occurred to me that it might be fun to write at our local library. It wasn't completely free of distraction, but getting out of the house and knowing that my time there was limited helped me focus.
7. Schedule rewards at each milestone
I wish I had planned rewards for significant accomplishments during the writing process, instead of focusing on when the book was done. Breaking up the process into smaller victories (such as finishing a chapter or hitting a certain word count) would make the whole experience more fun.
6. Disable wireless for long stretches
Having wireless internet access throughout the house, at the library, and seemingly everywhere else means that endless distractions are never more than a click away. I would recommend turning off wireless internet access for a few hours and then rewarding yourself with a quick fix.
5. Write a small amount each day
My goal from the beginning was to write 200 words a day, which is a lot less than this post. Even that was often a struggle, though. I always felt a certain pressure to try to get every word perfect - a book is just so permanent. Blog posts are great writing practice, but I don't agonize over each word in the same way.
When I struggled, I would finally decide to skip a day, then another. Next thing you know, it's Saturday afternoon and you have to write 800+ words just to break even. It's much better to write something, anything, each day and leave the perfecting for later.
4. Set aside time for book busywork
I had no idea that there are so many parts to writing a book that have little to do with writing. There are contracts, marketing materials, photos, emails, book design, contributors, permission and release documents, research, interviews, blogging, formatting, and more. Next time, I would choose a day each week to focus on the side projects and take a break from writing. On other days, I would make it a habit to write first, then tackle everything else.
3. Develop one writing process and stick with it
I'm sure this was because it was my first time, but I invested a lot of energy into experimenting with different writing approaches and then transitioning from one to the other. I tried just about everything - outliner software, text editors, Word, and Writeboard. I created one complete file containing the entire book and then saved every chapter individually. I tracked my progress in a least three three different ways.
2. Print it out
I doubt many people need to be reminded to do this, but I actually didn't print out and edit any of the pages until the very end. I did all the writing and editing on the computer. Of course, when I did finally print it out, it was a revelation. I was able to see the text in a totally different way and find mistakes and areas for improvement much more easily.
The editing part was actually fun, so I wished I had printed out each chapter as it was finished and made editing part of the ongoing process.
1. Schedule regular getaways to write
After the first month of writing, Lori suggested that I pick a weekend and go stay in a hotel for a night or two to write. I was a bad combination of naive, arrogant and cheap because I consistently resisted that suggestion until the deadline was just one month away. I finally went to a local hotel and spent two days and nights just writing. It was easily the most enjoyable and productive 48 hours of the entire experience.
Writing at home during evenings and weekends is a huge challenge. You are surrounded by people you'd like to spend time with, things you wish you could do, and things that need to done. It's a formula for frustration.
Getting away gives you permission to be selfish with your time and gives your family permission to really enjoy the weekend without having to make sure the movie isn't too loud. You come home refreshed and with a lot of momentum heading into the week. Plus, you get to feel like one of those cool writers who goes off to a cabin or secluded resort to write. It's the best investment you can make.
After all, writing is a wonderful privilege that should be thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.