As I've mentioned, I'm not an authority on making money in general, but I do make a livable income through my two books, Make Her Chase You and Life Nomadic. I won't claim to be an expert on writing books, but I definitely have enough experience that I can probably offer a good starting point for anyone interested in doing the same. In this article I'm going to focus on how to actually write the thing, as I've come up with a pretty cool system, and then in the next I'll talk about how to actually publish it and make money.
After leaving Smiley Media, the only real job I've ever had, a friend of mine asked me why I'd never written a book about pickup. I didn't have a good answer, so I went home and decided I'd write the thing. Forty eight hours later the rough draft was completed, and a month later I was selling copies of it. Point is-- writing a book is actually a lot easier than you might expect. If you take my advice, you could easily have most of the hard work done in the next couple days, week, or month. So here's the system:
Step One: Chaotic Outline
A book has two main components: content and structure. If you try to create both at the same time, things get complicated quickly. I like to start by getting all of the content out of my head first; this creates a big hunk of literary clay that you can mold into a book. So first, in no particular order, jot down everything topic you might want to write about. If a subtopic that you want to make sure you cover comes to mind, indent it below.
Let's say that I was going to write a book on living in an RV (it's actually half written...). Here's my chaotic outline that I might create:
- Finding parking
- Choosing an RV
- Why live in an RV?
I'd spend no more than half an hour on this list. It's supposed to serve as a solid starting point, not as an exhaustive list of everything you need to write about. There are steps later that will ensure that you don't forget anything.
Step Two: Write the Easiest Chapter
Writing the first chapter of a book is daunting, because all you can focus on is how little you've written and how much more there is to go. So start with the chapter that you're most excited about. This also serves to inject passion into your writing, which makes it a lot more fun to read. For example, right now I'm really excited about inverters (nerdy, I know), so I might start just writing about choosing an inverter. Or maybe I'm just loving being in my RV and I really want to write the "Why live in an RV?" chapter because I'm excited about it. Often times the introduction comes last because I don't fully know what I'm introducing until the book is mostly written.
Step Two-and-a-half: How to write
Before you write, you might want to read the Elements of Style. Beyond that, don't worry about getting everything right. The key is to go for sheer volume, written as well as you can possibly write without rewriting a sentence or dwelling too much. Unless, of course, you're having fun. If you're working on a paragraph and are really excited to get an idea out in a certain way, stick with it. But if something isn't coming together quite right, just move on. If the first step is getting the clay to mold into a book, this step is just molding the rough form. It doesn't have to even look like the final product, it just has to have bulk and be close enough that you can get it there.
This way of writing is scary, because you realize that there's no point in writing a book that's not excellent, and it doesn't feel like you're writing an excellent book. But you are. It's just like when you're building a house, there's a stage where it's imperfect 2x4s, bent nails, and pencil scrawlings all over the place. But that's the frame that eventually supports the marble floors and crown molding.
Here's a trick I learned from Neil Strauss, who was a journalist before becoming an author: to mark something as needing atttention, just write "tk" in parenthesis, with a note. Like this (tk - this is an example of something I would come back to). No words (I'm not actually checking this, so some a-hole might prove me wrong) have the combination of "tk" in them, so you can easily search your manuscript (yep... you'll have a manuscript. Fancy!) for the combo and quickly see what needs major work.
As you write, you will undoubtedly come up with other topics that need to be added to the outline. If I was writing about inverters, for example, it might occur to me that the inverter is connected to the battery and I haven't made any reference to battery selection. Whenever this happens, just add it to the bottom of the list (or, in this case, indented under the proper category [power]). This makes your outline a living outline. Sometimes it will get shorter as you chip away at the chapters, and other times it will get longer with every chapter because you'll keep coming up with good ideas.
Once you finish a chapter, delete it from the list and start with the next most exciting one. If none of them ore exciting, pick the one you think will be the shortest. Just keep the ball rolling. Usually what happens, though, is that once you're down to the chapters you don't really want to write, you're so far through the book that the promise of finishing it is enough motivation to make any chapter exciting.
Step Three: Fix the TKs
At this point you should have 90% of the content of your book on paper, thoroughly disorganized. Before we start organizing it, search for "tk" and address every single one. A lot of it, at least in my case, is stuff like: (tk - this paragraph sucks. Make it better.) or (tk - add something about removing the air conditioner here) or (tk - can you fit the story of the drunk woman with the dog in here?). This might be a few hours or a full day of adding and cleaning up paragraphs. From this point on, I'm considering everything I write to be worthy of final publication. It may be edited again, but I'll take the time to make sure it's solid. It's okay to do this at this stage, but not in step two-and-a-half, because now I'm not in danger of losing steam by getting stuck on a paragraph on page two.
Step Four: Arrange it
Now the content is in passable form, but the book is totally out of order. The easiest thing to do from here is to write the titles of the chapters in a notepad file and rearrange them in an order that makes sense. Then go back to the document and copy and paste the chapters to fit the new order. You'll continue to tweak the order in the next steps, but this will get most of the work done.
Step Five: Revise
This is the fun part. For the first time, you'll get to actually read this book you've written. You'll do this step several times, and I'd advise you to work your way from the beginning to the end each time. If you don't, you'll tend to lose sight of the whole picture and revise the beginning a lot more than the end.
I continue to read through the book and make edits until I sense that the edits are becoming insubstantial. The first time you read through you'll be rewriting paragraphs, moving chapters around, cutting things out, and maybe even adding chapters needed to bridge gaps. By the end you'll be wondering whether an analogy is more potent when you relate RV fans to the "sweet western trade winds" or "the breath of God himself". That's when you know you're done.
My next post will be 72 hours from now. Will anyone have finished at least steps one and two by then? It's a challenge...
I wrote the first version of Make Her Chase You in forty-eight hours on a subcompact laptop with a 9 inch screen. I should mention that I did absolutely nothing else for those forty-eight hours. I may have slept for eight and eaten a couple meals. Here's a picture of the same model laptop I wrote it on (with some married guy's hand on it):
I think I said this a few posts ago, but it's still on my mind so I'll say it again: the comments recently have been awesome. Thanks a lot for taking the time to chime in.
A few people have complained about the slide down email thing. I get a lot of new readers from these things, so I need to have something. I've tried to make it as unobtrusive as possible and am sticking with it even though it's 50% as effective as the old one. I WILL make a way for readers to hide it forever, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Really busy these days!
Speaking of which... if you get this post by email, it should be formatted correctly now. Send me a screenshot if it's not.