Writing a book is like writing anything else: You sit down and type. After exhaustively researching the work habits of successful writers, Ralph Keyes, a professional writer, noted that “the simple fact of sitting down to write day after day is what makes writers productive.” That is from “How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing”. Here are some other lessons from the book.
Writing is a skill you can learn
Writing is a skill, not an innate gift or a special talent. How do these great writers write instead? Guess. Successful professional writers, regardless of whether they’re writing novels, nonfiction, poetry, or drama, are prolific because they write regularly, usually every day.
Instead of finding time to write, allot time to write. The secret is the regularity, not the number of days or the number of hours. To begin, assign a mere 4 hours per week. After you see the astronomical increase in your writing output, you can always add more hours.
Defend your writing time
Ruthlessly defend your writing time. Close your Internet access, turn off your phone, and shut the door. Always write during your scheduled time, but don’t be dogmatic about writing only within this time. The best kind of self-control is to avoid situations that require self-control. Writing is more than typing words: Any action that is instrumental in completing a writing project counts as writing. Use your scheduled writing time to do it. You’ll no longer feel stressed about finding time to read those papers or do those analyses because you know when you’ll do it.
Equipment will never help you write a lot; only making a schedule and sticking to it will make you a productive writer. Research has shown that waiting for inspiration doesn’t work. Struggling writers who “wait for inspiration” should get off their high horse and join the unwashed masses of real academic writers. Also, reject the idea that they must be in the mood to write. Writer’s block is a good example of a dispositional fallacy: A description of behaviour can’t also explain the described behaviour. Writer’s block is nothing more than the behaviour of not writing. Struggling writers wrote a lot when they simply followed a schedule—that’s all it took.
Developing the right kinds of goals will make you a more efficient writer. List your project goals. These goals are the individual projects that need to be written. Break the goal into smaller units. Then set a concrete goal for each day of writing.
- Choose good words. Abbreviations and acronyms are bad words. Delete very, quite, basically, actually, virtually, extremely, remarkably, completely, at all, and so forth.
- Write strong sentences. Simple sentences have only one subject-predicate pair.
- Avoid passive, limp and wordy phrases. Delete all to be _____ive of phrases by rewriting the verb.
- Write first, rewrite later
- Follow a writing schedule. An unexpected joy of following a schedule is a craftsman’s sense of pride.
- Less wanting, more doing
- Writing is not a race
- Writing a book involves monstrous amounts of reading, research, and filing. Organise your resources by chapter, not by topic.
Two easy steps and one hard step
Step 1: Find a coauthor (that could be #bookin8days). For your first book, consider finding a coauthor. Book authors face hard decisions about structure, organisation, and coherence. Pick a coauthor who writes a lot. That is obvious advice, but disasters happen when a productive writer and an unproductive writer decide to write a book together.
Step 2: Plan your book. You can download the checklist here. The first step in writing a book is developing a strong table of contents. Develop your table of contents by brainstorming about what you think your book is about. As you brainstorm, you’ll see a hierarchical structure to your ideas. The higher-order ideas will be your chapters. Some authors write many brief chapters; others write a few long chapters. As a rough guide, a typical scholarly book has between 8 and 14 chapters, and a typical textbook has between 12 and 20 chapters. Write an outline for each chapter. You should be able to describe, within a few paragraphs, what each chapter is about.
Step 3: Write the damn thing. By now, even the dimmest reader has discerned the simple message: To write a lot, you must make a schedule and stick to it.
That’s how you write a book.