List For Writing A Book

pencil-918449_640Since writing Listful Thinking I’ve spoken at several public events and book signings about my writing process. It’s come up at pretty much every event.  I suppose it’s because “write a book” is on so many people’s bucket lists.  People always want to hear my checklist for writing my book.

Well, first of all, you can’t just stick “write book” on your to-do lists along with “buy milk” and “pick up laundry.” That’s a sure way to know your off to a bad start. That’s because “write book” is way too big a feat for just one task on a to-do list.

But imagine you’ve set some time aside in your day and you’re determined to finally get your idea onto paper.

Now what?

Writing a book, like raising a child, is a case by case basis thing. What works for me might not work for you so feel free to adapt these tips based on what works for you.

Break It Down – When it’s comes to writing a book there’s no point too small. So to start I wrote down everything I thought I would need to do to write my book. That included brainstorming ideas, conducting interviews, carving out time to actually write, etc.

Then I broke that list down into chunks and then I broke those items down into even smaller chunks. The more specific you can be the more likely you are to achieve your goal. For example, if I put “Outline chapter 1 on Thursday” on my list. Then I don’t really have much wiggle room do I? You have to commit your time, or if you’re like me you’ll just end up procrastinating.

Outline Everything – Speaking of outlines, once you have the book idea this is where you need to start. It’s super tempting to just crack open your laptop and get typing – but that’s a quick way to end up rambling off topic. What I did was write out all the topics I wanted to cover in the book on index cards much like I did for my reports in high school (who knew that technique would come in handy again!)  Once I have all my ideas on those index cards — I would distribute them between the chapters. Then I have a guide as I’m working through each chapter and don’t get off track.

TK – Nope that’s not a typo. What is TK? What does is mean? It’s not some secret writer code. It just means “to come.” I learned this trick from my friend Terri Trespicio who spent much of her career as a senior editor for Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine.  I find it really helpful when I’m in the flow of writing and I don’t want to get distracted looking up some statistic or study. So I just write “TK % of Americans use lists.” That reminds me to look up the statistic at a later date but it doesn’t stop me from writing. Plus it’s easy to go through a document and search for and replace.  

Have A Capture Place – You can guarantee that all your best ideas are going to come to you when you’re in the shower, out for a jog or about to fall asleep. Basically anywhere that isn’t near some pen and paper. When this happens you need a place to save your inspirations. I like to use Evernote, as everything can be sorted into different notebooks for different chapters. In a pinch the memo pad on your smartphone will probably do.  But I also like to use audio notes. That’s great when you can’t physically write anything down.  Or maybe you should leave yourself a voice message.  

Create a Rundown — Once you’ve sold your book proposal to a publisher — it’s crunch time.  You need to actually write the book.  There’s no better way to do this than with a rundown. We use one in TV news, my day job, which is why it’s so ingrained in me to use this tool. In TV producers use a rundown to organize the order of the stories in a newscast.  The most important stories go first and so on.

You’ll need to figure out what order you’ll write in.  Maybe it’s not a book that needs to be written chronologically.  I wrote my book out of order at times.  Do what works for you.  To use a rundown — basically look at your list of to-dos and prioritize them.  Then use that rundown and plug due dates into your calendar that correspond.

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