How I Learned to Write a Book

Thu, Oct 1, 2009

My Projects

Nine months ago I stared at a blank page in Open Office. I was excited and overwhelmed to be starting my first book. I had a publisher and had cleared my schedule, but I was beginning to realize that was the easy part.

What follows are the lessons I’ve learned so far getting to the first complete draft.

Write Every Day

The most common writer’s maxim turns out to be true. Writing every day makes it a habit. Once writing became part of my routine, I ensured that I could take advantage of a powerful force: the large accomplishments that come from the compound effects of daily progress.

I was also greatly helped by continuing other writing. My productivity spiked once I had daily posts to log with Programmable Web. The outcome was contrary to my initial thinking, but daily accountability helped cement my routine. Plus, blogging works the writer’s sprinter muscles. I was able to write more, faster.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

My original schedule had me finished with the book by May. Like most estimates, it was overly optimistic. But I had yet to learn an important lesson about my brain. It wouldn’t let me write for more than three hours per day, maximum.

Truthfully, some of my most productive writing days were over within 90 minutes. Writing a book is both a marathon and a sprint. It requires a series of short bursts of energy over a long period of time. The best part is that when my writing was done for the day, there was time for other projects. And whatever part of my brain controlled writing wasn’t used in programming or event organizing.

I wish I’d realized writing did not require a full day sooner, because I could have been easier on myself. If I write another book, I’ll do it alongside other projects. You do not need to clear your schedule or quit your job to write a book. To start, you don’t even need a publisher (remember, that’s not the hard part). Just write it.

Make Time For What’s Important

You can accomplish any large task if you consistently make small amounts of time for it. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield described the things that keep you from forward progress:

“The secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

I read Pressfield’s book, on my friend Kareem’s recommendation, in the middle of my writing process. Because many examples involve Pressfield’s life as a writer, it resonated on that level. It also reminded me of side projects that gather dust un-launched. We all have them. I believe writing a book is an excellent practice and can give you the encouragement to execute any idea.

My friend Tom recently begged readers to stop talking and start doing. “Just decide what you want to do and work your ass off doing it,” he says. It’s easy advice to give, but it’s even easier to ignore.

It turns out that writing a book–or finishing whatever project you have–isn’t hard to do. Just follow this simple list: 1. Start working on it. 2. Keep working until it’s done. If it really is important to you, the continued effort will be well worth it.

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Mike Duffy Says:

    Great post, Adam. This is also the “incremental improvement” theory from the Toyota Production System. It’s also the “putting on your gym clothes is the hardest part” when you’re trying to exercise regularly.

    “Begin at the beginning,”, the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” — Alice in Wonderland

  2. AdamD Says:

    Like I said… it’s easy to say, hard to follow. 🙂

    I can’t believe I missed a chance to link to my incremental improvement post:

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