There are two ways to write a book — at least, two effective ways. I’ve written nearly five books with one method; I’ve wanted to write a book with the other. Which kind of writer, books or otherwise, are you?
This is the ideal writer. He or she writes every single day. You don’t have to churn out a lot of material, you have to churn out material consistently. Write 600 words every day — that’s about 1 word processing page — and at the end of six months, 180 days, you’ll have a book.*
(* Nerdy tech specs: This is based on the ratio of 1 word processing page equalling 1.5 trade paperback pages, like Branding Yourself or No Bullshit Social Media. This will be slightly different/more for regular paperbacks, and I couldn’t even tell you what it equals for the big computer Dummies-style books.)
Of course, most biz-tech book publishers are
slave driversinsistent about their schedule, and they give you four months to get your book done. So you’d actually need to jump up your output to 2 pages per day, giving yourself weekends off.
Still, if you can write 1 page per 60 – 90 minutes — again, slow and steady — you’ll be doing okay. You just can’t slack off or skip a day, because you’ll need to double-up on the next day.
This is how I write books. It’s how I studied in college. It’s how I face a lot of projects that I have to do. (Unless you’re a client. Then I work on your stuff all the time, and think about it, and you, constantly.)
The Hare waits until a day or two before the deadline, and races through all the pages needed to meet the deadline.
When Kyle Lacy and I wrote Branding Yourself, I could generally do 1 chapter, about 10 – 12 pages, in 4 hours. Of course, that meant a lot of late nights, fast typing, and serious editing before it was finished. I got smarter when I wrote No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls: I took 4 days to write a single chapter, not because it was harder, but because I didn’t want to give myself such short deadlines and long hours.
You Need to be a Tortoise
I cannot stridently stress enough how important it is that you write like a tortoise, not a hare. I like to call the hare’s approach cram writing.
Cram writing is not for the novice writer, or even the person who has been writing for a couple years. Cram writing should only be done by someone who has been writing for a long, long time, and even then, you’d better be prepared for extensive editing and rewriting. There’s no one-and-done in cram writing. Anytime I’ve done it, I’ve had to edit everything twice before turning it in, and even then, my editors still had comments and questions.
Compare that to famed humor novelist, Christopher Moore, who is lucky if he finishes 2 pages in a single day’s writing. That’s 1200 words in about 5 – 6 hours, and it’s his job. He’s a trained professional with more than a few best-selling books to his name, and he can barely finish 2 pages in one day.
On the other hand, he rarely, if ever, has to edit his work.
Think of it. No rewrites, no edits, no typos, no mistakes, no snarky comments from editors. Nothing. Write it once, wait for the galley proofs, and you’re golden.
I try to avoid cram writing whenever possible, and I do recognize the difference in my writing when I give myself a few days to meet a deadline, rather than racing to beat it. I’ve managed to give myself extra time for the last couple of efforts, and have appreciated the difference.
If you’re thinking about writing a book, or an extra-long piece for publication, unless you are a seriously-trained professional who knows his or her limits and capabilities, I do not recommend you try cram writing.
Plan out your schedule, work at a comfortable rate, and pace yourself to be productive over the long haul. If you have to rush to get everything done, look at your time management and see if you can figure out where you’re falling down.