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How to Write a Book

opened book on table

Writing a book was by far one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on and it is among the most satisfying accomplishments of my life. It took several years and required me to develop a whole new level of focus and discipline.

I’ve encountered a number of people who have told me about their plans to write a book.

I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts on how I wrote my book. I hope that this encourages you to get started.

How I Wrote a Book

Let me preface by saying that there are a lot of different opinions about how to write a book…I know a lot of authors. However, there are some parts of the process that mostly everyone agrees on.

NOTE: For an in-depth look at how to write a book, may I recommend reading How To Eat The Elephant by Ann Sheybani

The process includes the following:

  • Identify the Big Idea
  • Outline the book
  • Write the book
  • Edit, Design, and Publish the book

It sounds simple enough but there are many ways to do each. I’m going to show you how I did it, however I want to share the most important piece of advice right up front.

Perhaps the most important wisdom that I can impart to you about writing a book is to not let advice from anyone invalidate what feels right to you.

There is no one way to write a book. If there was ANYTHING, I could go back and tell myself at the beginning of the process, it’s this. I wasted a lot of time not writing because I was worried that I was going about the process differently than others.I recommend that you just get started, and you find the system that works for you.

Read through how I did it, and adapt it for your own style.

1. Start with Why

man in black crew neck shirt

Why write a book?

If you’re going to write a book, I suggest you have a good reason. If for no other reason than for the fact that it is the most effective way to keep you going when you lose momentum on this long journey.

  • Maybe you want to be famous
  • Maybe you want to write something valuable that will change the world in some way
  • Maybe you want to bolster your speaking career
  • Maybe you just want to say you’re an author

Whatever it is, a strong “why” is helpful. Because writing a book is pretty hard. At least I thought so.

For me

I write the Lovable Leader because I believe business is broken and, despite being absolutely essential for success, we vastly underestimate how important leadership training is. I believe this is the core reason why our work environments are so problematic. My hope is to create a movement for a new type of leadership and have the opportunity to share it through the book and speaking engagements.

2. Identify the BIG Idea

incandescent bulb on black surface

No one really wants to write “just another forgotten book.” If you’re going to write a book, make it your own.

  • Lots of people write books about sales, or marketing, or leadership…how will you make it your own?
  • Many people want to write a fictional novel…how will you make your characters unique, and not just a slight retelling of stories that came before it?

It’s not enough to pick your general theme, you have to figure out what your unique take on the subject is.

For me

What if all business was personal? What if the leadership that could change the world was simplified and could be taught?

2a. What is the central premise or tension?

brown ram

For any good story there must be conflict. Perhaps it is something that keeps the main characters apart, or perhaps it is the friction between what people believe and the premise you want them to adopt. In any good book, there needs to be some friction that leads to change and action.

For me

The primary friction is in the framing of leadership as a title versus as a mindset. Many books on leadership treat the subject as a tactic. They imply leadership as a function of your role. I set the stage that leadership is not reserved for any job title or position but rather for those who adopt a certain mindset.

2b. Who is it for?

woman reading book while sitting on chair

When writing the book, it’s helpful to know who you envision reading it. This will share your examples, the tone of voice, the vocabulary, the cultural references, and anything else.

If you’re writing a business book, you want to know exactly who you are helping and what their pain points feel like. If you’re writing a novel, you need to know who will identify with the protagonist.

For me

The Lovable Leader is primarily written for people who are new to a leadership role or to the practice of leadership, and who want to have a strong foundation for creating a cohesive, high-functioning team.

2c. What is theme or change?

man sitting on brown grass field playing with smoke

At the end of reading the book, how do you want to change how the reader sees the world? Is there a particular moral of the story? Is there a set of key takeaways that summarize the book? For the book to be great, it should leave an impact on the reader. What’s the impact you seek to make?

For me

I want people to see leadership as a responsibility, and I want to inspire those who want to be a catalyst for change and leave their mark on the world.

3. The Outline

Once you’ve done the introspection, it’s time to put a structure in place. Don’t get too hung up here whether or not this is the perfect outline. The structure I’ve listed below is just a good starting point. You can always adjust later if you need to add or take away chapters.

3a. Beginning-Middle-End

I recommend thinking of any type of book as having three parts. It’s easiest to think of it as a beginning, middle and end. If it’s a fiction book, this provides the opportunity for a traditional story arc. For a non-fiction book, this is a way of taking the big idea and breaking into three big components.

3b. Subtopics

Once you have a beginning, middle and end, I recommend breaking each of those sections into 3-5 parts. By the end, you will then have 9-15 chapters.

For me

I outlined this book on the first day and then changed the outline 4 times. It was primarily moving pieces around or renaming chapters. In all, I think I have 15 chapters.

4. The Writing

person using MacBook Pro

Once you have your BIG idea and your outline, the only thing left to do is write.

How long does it take to write a book?

Writing a book could take you 30 days or it could take you a lifetime. There is no way to know until you sit down to do it.

If you talk to different authors some will swear that there is a right way to write a book. The “right way” is almost always to write a certain amount everyday. They’ll tell you to set a word count and write everyday. Well…

Sprinters and Marathoners

This part is super important.

  • There are morning people and there are night people.
  • There are those who work best with consistency, others who work best in short and intense bursts of productivity.

Neither is right, neither is wrong.

Do not feel any sort of shame about when and how you write. Just find what works for you and then do it. If anyone tells you how you “have to do it,” feel free to ignore them.

For me

I began writing my book in October 2017. I added 18,007 words on the first day that I sat down to write. I wrote only 3,387 more words by the following December. I finally finished the book in August of 2020 after writing 20,000 words in 2019 and another 20,000 in 2020.

I wrote the entire book in 23 days…over the course of 3 years. I’m not a marathoner, I’m a sprinter.

Sometimes, I look back and wish I’d been more consistent, and written more frequently. However, much of my best writing came in late 2019 and early 2020. If I’d written those sections in 2017, I wouldn’t have yet had the life experiences I needed to make this book what it is today.

5. Edit, Design, and Publish

Once you’ve completed the first draft, it’s time to engage a professional editor, designer, and a host of other services including formatting and optimization for different ebook stores like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

I would not advise trying to do this part yourself.

For me

I’m working with Page Two and they are magical to work with. I am not yet up to the design and publishing phase, but having an editor review your manuscript is very exciting and makes the who thing quite real. I just completed the first round of substantive edits and am in the process of making some small additions and changes to send back to my editor.

Should you write a book?

I think writing a book is one of the most long-lasting legacies you can leave behind. So, if you ask me, anyone who wants to leave their mark on this world, should write a book.

In the midst of everyone trying to become the next Tik Tok star, for my time and energy, I would rather write a book that changes how—at least—one person sees the world.

So, what are you going to write your book about and why?

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