Are you sure you want to write a book? This book? Get on with it then.
Wow – stop right there. A book, yes. A bestseller, a masterpiece, even a novel, hell no – if that’s what you’re after, you’re on your own. Well, I’ll help you part of the way. I wrote a book last year. Nothing exciting, it’s about Plato. But it’s a book, and it’s published. And now I’m half way through the second one. But a couple of years ago, I was exactly in your position: I wanted to write a book.
Is this the book you want to write?
One of the first thing I did was to ask a senior academic for some advice. She looked me up and down, and through pursed lips said: ‘You must really want to write a book. Are you sure you really want to write a book?’ Well, yes, of course I was sure! But I can see now that if I hadn’t been the next few months would have turned out to be rather miserable – there’s nothing quite as bad as being committed to something that’s 1) not what you really want to do and 2) incredibly easy to avoid!
Well, I’m pretty sure that if you say you want to write a book, then that’s what you want to do. But what if you wanted to write a book, and this topic or this opportunity came up. Is it really the book you wanted to write? Is now the time? So I’ll just say this out right: make sure writing this book is what you want to do now.
It’s only one hour a day!
Now we’ve got that straight, when exactly are you going to write this book? I mean, is there a gap in your weekly or daily schedule that’s waiting to be filled? I thought not. So something’s going to have to go. Because you can’t make extra time just for book writing some other aspect of your daily life will have to have less time allotted to it. What will you be cutting on? Time with the family? Work? Sleep?
Which brings me to my next point: it’s fine only to work on the book for two hours a day. Even one hour. Just as long as it’s every working day and free from other distractions. So if you can free that time, make sure no one else can claim it – take the phone off the hook, don’t respond to email, lock your office door, be away from the children, whatever it takes. Hey, it’s only one hour a day!
If you’re only working one or two hours a day, it’s really important to keep track of your progress. For my new book, I have drawn rough tables to track how many words I write each day. I start by setting a goal for this month, and I divide up the month in however many days I know I’ll be able to work, and that gives me a daily word goal. If one day I don’t write enough, I try to make up for it the next day. And at the end of each day I add up my words.
It’s mostly about writing.
Of course, not all book writing is about writing. You have to do some research, you have to plan. Yes. But it’s mostly about writing, so don’t kid yourself that you need to spend more time on research than you do. Chances are, the research you need to do is chapter related. If you’re worried you haven’t done enough research for one particular chapter, never mind – it’s only a draft, and you’ll come back to it. But if you’re saying that you need to do all your research upfront, you’re probably making excuses, and you need to ask yourself whether you really want to do this.
Planning takes time too, of course. You need to plan the entire book, and then each chapter. A publisher will often ask you to include a chapter by chapter summary in your proposal. What they won’t do, however, is demand that you stick to it. That would be crazy. Because no matter how well and carefully you plan your book, chances are, you’ll change things as you’re writing. So yes, you need a well structured, coherent plan. But it’s not definitive so doesn’t need to be perfect. As soon as you’ve anything you’re vaguely satisfied with, you should start writing, and see how the chapter shapes itself.