For years I searched for the holy grail—the long-lost secret to effortless book writing. I sought an algorithm that would eliminate chaos from the process. I craved a checklist of steps to follow that would eliminate uncertainty. I collected, applied, and tested strategies.
Eventually they all fell away before the mystery of the human mind confronting itself and groping for clarity—one word, one sentence, one page at a time.
Messy, messy, messy.
Don’t get me wrong. Some strategies actually help. They contain the chaos a little. For example:
Following your energy levels helps. Tony Schwartz says it well:
For my first three books, I sat at my desk for up 10 hours a day. Each of the books took me at least a year to write. For my two most recent books, I wrote in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions — beginning first thing in the morning, when my energy was highest — and took a break after each one…. Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed both books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work.
Planning helps. In his book Writing for Story, Jon Franklin makes a case for the benefits of outlining: It allows you to troubleshoot structural issues early—before you generate thousands of words.
Editing with the “three R’s” helps. Got this idea from Theodore A. Rees Cheney. Start editing with the first “R,” which is Reduce. Then Rearrange and Reword. Most people start with rewording, which wastes time.
Most of all, showing up every day helps. Scott Berkun’s classic post about his writing process gets to the heart of the matter:
- Wake up – be glad I’m not dead
- Write something (could be in my private journal, a draft blog post, part of a book…)
- Work until I run out of steam, or it’s finished
- When stuck, go to the gym (do something physical)
- Write again later in the day
- Do other life things
I like that: Get up every day. Give thanks for being alive. Then walk straight into the abyss.
There’s not much else to say.