If you think landing a book deal is difficult, try writing a manuscript within today’s tight timelines. Some multi-year projects still exist, but many authors count book schedules in months, not years. How does a writer navigate all the tasks that must be completed to become a productive book author, while juggling life, a partner, children, work, exercise and more?
A few strategies I used turned out to be useful. When employed diligently, they unlock abilities you may not believe you have. I found this when I wrote two books during the pandemic in 2021. Three of my books will launch this year, and I am on track to publish two more in 2023. How? I credit these five productivity tips.
Here’s what to do to become a productive book author:
1. Build up your confidence.
Take long, reflective power-walks. Remind yourself how far you’ve come in life by visiting a childhood neighborhood or friend.Talk to mood-and-ego-boosting friends. Run while listening to aggressive metal music. Do whatever it takes, but get yourself in a confident headspace.
Why? Confidence leads to a strong inner voice. And that voice is going to guide you in writing. It makes the entire book process go faster and with fewer mistakes.
Without the right mindset, projects wander and lose momentum. Your inner voice gives your project a way to move ahead.
2. Find and develop a structure.
Do not rush headlong into a writing project. My rule is not aim at the birth of the book. Instead, work to gestate. Build an outline and work organically. Know what you’re going to say and start saying it in a methodical way using your well-developed outline. Otherwise, you run the risk of your book heading to the rewrites ICU down the road.
Think about this outline becoming your book — as being your book — not as part of preparation. The task is to fill it in, word by word, or, as author Anne Lamott says, “Bird by bird.” A successful and robust gestation means you will have a solid structure and central concepts on which to continuously build. This completed and detailed structure allows you to effectively calendar your deadlines.
3. Calendar backwards.
Let’s say you have a detailed structure you feel confident about. You know how long the project will be and where all the sidebars and extra material go. You even know whom you want to name in the acknowledgements.
It is time to calendar. Get a sense of how much you need to write each day to complete the job. Because you are reasonable about life’s distractions, calendar backwards from a month before the project’s actual due date. You’ll need this time at the end. Now calendar the halfway point, the quarter points, and what’s due on days, mornings and evenings. Read more about this type of small goal setting below.
Spread the project across those calendar days. Acknowledge that this calendar now runs your life for the next few months.
4. Establish micro goals.
Whether you need to finish 60 pages, six pages or six sentences by next week, establish tiny goals to motivate yourself. A lot of little due dates means you cannot fall behind. Or, if you do fall behind, you can catch up before it becomes a crisis.
With the project broken into manageable daily pieces, you will always know where you are time-wise. You can turn on the gas over a weekend or even finish early as your book gains momentum. Finishing early means a better book because there is more time to plump the manuscript and fix awkward spots.
5. Shake up your location.
Yes, putting your butt in a chair regularly is the only way to be a productive writer. However, becoming a productive book author allows you to use little psychological tricks. The trick I have found most successful is to divide my days into two: I write in the morning in one space, and then start a second writing session later, fresh in another location, such as a coffee shop.
For me, no good comes from reading and re-reading the same lines in the same environment. I find myself slowly grinding to a stop. If I’m really busy, I’ll even edit on an exercise bike for a third round later. Whatever it takes to get energy and concentration up!
Finishing a giant undertaking like a book is daunting, even for veteran writers. But by confidently building your book from the ground up, and executing it with a disciplined timeline, you can avoid the pitfalls that put many projects on the wrong track. Over the years, I’ve found that these five steps allow me the freedom to write even more than I ever dreamed possible.
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André Darlington is a former restaurant critic and restaurateur turned award-winning beverage writer. He is the author or co-author of eight published and forthcoming books, including Booze & Vinyl, Booze Cruise, and Gotham City Cocktails and Bar Menu, which comes out in October. Currently, he is writing his seventh book for Running Press. Find him on Instagram, or sign up for his newsletter on Substack.
Don Genova says
This column comes at a great time as I’m just about to embark on the second edition of my first book…which is promised to be ‘new and improved’ but will also be much more complicated! Numbers 2 and 4 are definitely top of my mind!
Andre Darlington says
Sometimes the re-writes and updates are worse than starting from scratch! Best of luck, you’ll kill it because you’ve done it before!
Don Genova says
Yes, the first edition was easy because I had already gathered all the material as part of an ongoing radio column. Now I have to update all the old entries and research all the new ones! And the publisher has changed the format a bit, so I guess you could call it worse but I’m looking forward to the challenge 🙂
Wayne Christensen says
It’s difficult to imagine writing a book given all the challenges one faces trying to get one published. But, then again, thanks for the insider info!
Andre Darlington says
It’s daunting but can be worth it! Don’t get discouraged!
Staci Perry Mergenthal says
Thank you, André and Dianne. These tips are helpful even for small writing projects.
Andre Darlington says
Great to hear!
Thanks Andre for some valuable tips these are really helpful ones
Glad they’re helpful!
Very helpful tips you have mentioned here
so helpful for me as i was stuck in my book
So great to hear – best of luck!!
Carol Zamora says
This is so helpful, your blogs always inspire me to write! The Nano Challenge was a big let down for me, I know it’s not over, but I’m going on vacation this week and next. But on the other hand, I wrote 5k words in a couple of days which I’m pretty proud of 🙂
Sounds like you made the best of it, Carol. 5k words is impressive!