To Gain Momentum on Your Book Project, Avoid “Writing”

Anyone can find time to write. The trick is to not think of yourself as a writer.

I find this idea to be far more useful than all the time management clichés about making time for a new activity:

  • “Everyone has the same amount of time—24 hours per day.”
  • “If it’s really a priority, you’ll make time for it.”
  • “Drop one of your current projects so that you free up some time.”

You already know all that stuff. But perhaps you haven’t considered the art of non-writing.

I’m amazed by the images that people have about writers and writing. They cling to mental pictures of people holed up alone in garrisons for hours at a time, chained to a computer and inhaling coffee, booze, or harder stuff. For 8 Hours. At. A. Time.

Writing a book involves many activities that don’t look like that. Following are three examples. There’s no need to think of them as “writing,” and they’ll allow you to build momentum.

1 Capture ideas on the run

Much of “writing” can be done in the midst of other activities. The secret is to capture ideas that occur to you at random moments—for example, while waiting in line or taking a walk.

A single sentence, phrase, or word captured at an odd moment can grow into a paragraph or page  at a later time, when you actually have access to a computer or pad of paper.

Today we have many options for “continuous capture.” Many of them are online tools that you can access via laptop, tablet, or smart phone. These are designed specifically for jotting notes on the run and organizing them later. For instance:

My other cherished tools include a stash of blank 3×5 cards and a pen. Carry them in a pocket or purse. They don’t require re-charging, and they never go down for network maintenance.

2 Just answer questions

I think of books as frozen conversations—question-and-answer sessions that are reduced to text and images.

Imagine that you are talking to a prospective reader of your book. You’re sitting with her in a coffee shop. This person is bright, friendly, and uninformed about your topic. You mention that you’re writing a book, and she starts asking questions.

What are they? List those questions in any order. Then jot down quick answers as they occur to you.

Again, this isn’t “writing.” It’s just a form of conversation.

3 Just say yes

Another bizarre idea about writing is that we’re all supposed to produce perfect prose on a first attempt. A precious few people can do that. The rest of us write terrible first drafts—”sloppy copy”—and edit later.

Remember that “writing mind” differs from “editing mind.”

Writing mind gives full permission. Its job is to say YES, YES, YES. To writer’s mind, all ideas are created equal. All deserve to be captured.

In contrast, editing mind says NO and MAYBE. It asks probing, tough questions.

Save those questions for later.

For now, forget about editing or even writing. Just ask questions and capture answers.

Does this make sense?  What works for you in moving a book from idea to finished manuscript?