Three Questions to Ask Before Writing a Book

 file6151303951841You should write a book. These are words not to be spoken lightly. Yet they are often uttered by well-meaning people who have no clue.

Talk to someone who’s actually written a book. They’ll describe it as a form of intentional suffering, temporary insanity, or both.

Imagine the amount of time and effort that you think a book will take and then double it. Then be prepared to double that and you might be close.

“Writing a book is intellectually, emotionally, and physically taxing,” notes John Butman, author of Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas. “It is also quite exposing and revealing—of your knowledge, the quality of your ideas, your writing skills, and your personality. You are putting yourself out there in a big way, which you may not want to do.”

Ryan Holiday, author of three books, offers a similar caution. “If you honestly think you might be fine if you nixed the project and went on with your life as though the idea never occurred to you–then For The Love Of God, save yourself the anguish and do that.”

Even so, it might be true that you should write a book. How do you know? See if you can answer the following questions.

1. Can I live with myself if I don’t write this book?

“If this idea keeps you up at night, it dominates your conversations and reading habits, if it feels like you’ll explode if you don’t get it all down, if your back is to the wall–then congratulations,” says Ryan Holiday, “it sounds like you’ve got a book in you.”

John Butman agrees. When people ask him about whether to write a book, he asks: “Is it impossible for you not to?”

2. Can I pass the one-day test?

Here’s the full form of this question, as stated in Breaking Out:

Can you talk about your idea for an entire day and keep an audience’s interest and attention? If so, you probably have enough material to go ahead and write a book.

According to John, passing the one-day test means having a “great heaviness” or “preponderance” of content. Your ideas must be developed with reams of supporting material—stories, examples, facts, quotations, and references. If you haven’t wrestled with your idea for a while and filled a commonplace book with notes on it, then put off your book project for now.

3. Can I pass the one-page test?

“One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was to–before I started the process–articulate the idea in one sentence, one paragraph and one page,” Ryan Holiday says. “This crystallizes the idea for you and guides you on your way.”

Amen. This is an intellectual achievement of the highest order. Stating the essence of your book will test you in a way you’ve never been tested before. I’ve written about how to do this in The Message Hierarchy—A Power Tool for Describing the Essence of Your Book and Three Ways to Understand Your Book’s Big Idea

In short, the time to write a book is not when a compelling idea first occurs to you. Rather, be willing to live with your idea for long time. Work on it, and let it work on you. Then you’ll know whether it’s time to begin.


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