The phases of writing a book


Writing a book can look a daunting task - a bit like climbing Everest. To make it seem a little less daunting, I lke to break it down into stages.

Base camp. Your Elevator Pitch. Some people may balk at this, asking angrily what the Elevator Pitch of War and Peace is. But most books benefit from having a basic theme, a basic something that makes them special. If Tolstoy were looking for a book deal today, he could pitch something like ‘A group of people search for meaningful lives against the background of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia’.

Camp 2. The Outline. Having established what you want to say, it’s time to scope out how you are going to do that. I advise people to do two outlines. One very simple one; a page, like a page of contents. Then expand this to five pages of A4 or thirty slides of PowerPoint. I then suggest that potential authors give a talk based on these thirty slides. It gets you thinking about the topic again.

Camp 3. The First Draft. Time to sit down and actually write the thing. Follow the outline, and – most important – GET IT DONE. If something doesn’t feel quite right, don’t agonize, write it anyway. If it then feels totally wrong, take it out, but otherwise leave it. You can always come back to it. If you think there needs to be more research on an aspect, do a little bit and stick it in provisionally. The motto at this stage is ‘Perfect is the Enemy of Done.’

Camp 4. The Big Consideration. Live with the First Draft for a bit. Worry away at those bits you felt weren’t quite right. Research those ‘holes’ you know should be there. Tinker with the order if you feel the need to. If you do a lot of the latter, it can help to go back and redesign those thirty slides to fit the new shape you have created for the book.

Camp 5. The Second Draft emerges from the consideration above and the piecemeal work you do based on it. Sorted out all the bits you weren’t happy with? Filled all the holes? Happy with the order? Congratulations, you’ve got a Second Draft.

The dash for the summit is the Final Edit. Ideally, live with the Second Draft for a bit. If that’s not possible, it will need a final edit. A final check that it says all you want it to say, and does so with maximum clarity, vivacity and elegance.

Done that? You have reached the roof of the world and can plant your flag there. Your manuscript is ready to get out there and amaze.

I shall talk about getting published and about using a book to build a ‘personal brand’ in another piece.

(PS thanks to photographer Christopher Burns for the attached picture)


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