By Jacqueline Moore
There are lots of reasons you might want to write a book, whether it’s non-fiction or fiction.
- It can boost your business.
- It can increase your profile at work.
- It can help you spread your message.
- And frankly it’s immensely satisfying just to hold your own book in your hand.
So why aren’t you doing it?
The number one answer people give is, ‘I don’t have time.’
Can I be blunt with you? This is a myth. It’s a myth that may be stopping you from achieving one of the most satisfying goals you will ever accomplish in your life.
But you’re not alone. It’s a very widespread myth.
‘I Just Don’t Have Enough Time’
Recently my husband Steven and I went for dinner with friends, Sarah and Paul. We hadn’t met since our children were young, so it was lovely to see them. The years dropped away in an instant.
They’re smart people and they’re very busy – they’re both school teachers. But their children have now left home. So they’re beginning to wonder what else they can do with their lives.
Then Paul mentions he is working on a novel. Every now and then he spends an enjoyable evening typing a few hundred words.
The thing is, he’s been doing this for a couple of years now. And it’s obvious that, deep down, he doesn’t believe he will ever finish it.
‘I just don’t have enough time,’ he says. He feels he’s just playing.
‘Where’s this great novel, then?’
At family gatherings his brother-in-law teases him about it and this is beginning to get to Paul.
‘My brother-in-law always asks with a big smirk on his face, “Where’s this great novel, then?”’ And Paul sighs.
Steven and I look at each other. We’ve heard this so many times before.
‘When’s the next time you’ll see him?’ Steven asks Paul.
‘On his birthday, in about four months.’
‘How would you like to give him a book as a birthday present? Your book?’ Steven asks. ‘We can help you do it.’
‘That would be brilliant!’
‘That would be brilliant!’ Paul replies, grinning. ‘I’d just love to see his face.’
In fact, if Paul follows our guidelines to the letter, not only will he be able to hand over the birthday present to end all the smirking, he will solve all his gift-buying problems for some time to come.
But can he do it by his brother-in-law’s birthday?
Because, of course, it does take some time to write a book. But it doesn’t have to take as much time as you think.
By following the guidelines in this post, Paul will be able to write and publish his book in about 12 weeks. We’ve done it a number of times for ourselves and we’ve also done this for other people. We know our system works.
And the system will work for you, too.
The Six Key Steps
Let me summarise the six key steps here – of how to write a book even though you’ve got no time.
How important is writing a book to you?
Before we get into the strategy and tactics of writing your book when you have no time, let me ask you this question.
How important is writing a book to you? Or – to put it another way – why do you want to write a book?
Because if writing your book is really important to you then what I’m going to say next makes perfect sense.
You know what’s coming in the next paragraph, but stay with me.
Hold your nerve
The first thing you have to understand is that you will have to set aside some time for writing. There’s no way around this – it has to be done.
But not as much as you think.
And not yet.
First, let’s ease your way into your book, one bite-sized step at a time.
Step 1: Craft a Killer Title
The question uppermost in your mind is probably how are you going to speed up the actual writing? But trust me – let’s just park that for a moment.
Instead, what you need to do first is craft a killer title and this is going to help focus everything you do from here on in. (Especially if you’re writing a non-fiction book.)
There’s a lot more to say about crafting a killer title and a few tools that can help you refine your idea. I’ve listed those in the resources section along with the checklist.
Don’t skip this task, by the way. Even if you think you’ve got a cracking title it can be made better. And a better title will streamline the writing process. It will shave weeks if not months off the total time you need to spend actually writing.
Why? Because it will help you focus.
Step 2: Plan Your Readers’ Journey
Next comes the Table of Contents or chapter plan. This is the structure for your book – it’s the journey you take your readers on.
This may seem to be where fiction books diverge from non-fiction books. A novel doesn’t have a Table of Contents as such, does it?
Perhaps not, but you do need to have a plot and a chapter structure. You might make it less explicit to the reader than a non-fiction author would, but you still need one. So much of the advice remains the same. Nevertheless, I’ve split the advice here into two sections, to make it more relevant.
a) The Non-Fiction Journey
When you’re crafting a table of contents for a non-fiction book, you’ll top and tail with an Introduction and Conclusion.
In the Introduction you’ll set out your reasons for writing the book, summarise your argument, and tell the readers what they will get out of it.
At the other end of the book your conclusion will summarise the argument, tell the readers what they got out of it and hopefully answer the question ‘what’s next?’ (The answer? Buy more things from you, and perhaps also your next book.)
The middle chapters of the non-fiction book form the argument – and this is sometimes where you can get lost.
Here’s the answer that will slash the writing time for that difficult middle bit of your book.
What’s Up? So What? What Now?
The quickest way to structure the main body of your book is to split the middle chapters into three parts. Then each part could be, say, three chapters, making nine in all.
The structure would look something like this.
Part 1: What’s up?
In this part you can set out the current context or situation.
Part 2: So what?
In this part your can argue what options or possibilities or changes lie ahead.
Part 3: What now?
In this part you can discuss the better of the solutions available and guide the reader towards making a decision about the way forward.
Your best recommendation can be included here or in the Conclusion. It’s up to you.
Case Study: The New Rules of Living Longer
This three-part structure is how Yvonne Sonsino, my sister-in-law, structured her book, The New Rules of Living Longer. After the foreword, author’s preface and introductory chapter, the book is divided in three parts.
The first part ,‘Living Longer’, consists of two chapters that set out the current position. The second section, ‘Working Longer’, is two chapters outlining the challenges ahead. The third part, ‘The New Rules’, is three chapters arguing what changes we need to make. Chapter nine is her conclusion.
‘Having that clear structure and knowing what I wanted to say in all those chapter headings was crucial,’ Yvonne says. ‘It made the difference between starting with a blank sheet of paper, faffing about for years and doing nothing, to actually creating the first text.’
Yvonne, for example, very much appreciated being urged to stick to her structure once she’d set it out.
It was crucial, she says, ‘having the brief that “You’ve done your structure – stick to your structure. Do not go outside your brief. Focus.”’
Yvonne expands on the lessons she learned about focus and speed in this video.
Click the picture to watch the video. It’s about 5 minutes.
Case Study: The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders
This is the structure Steven and I used in The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders. After the preface, introduction and overview (which we call the Inspirational Leadership Blueprint), each subsequent chapter deals with one of the failings.
To give the book more coherence, we collected these failings into two groups – four personal failings and three company failings. We also included a bonus eighth failing, ahead of a number of appendices.
The book we used as the model for ours, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, has a similar structure.
There are many other forms of Table of Contents.
As well as the three-part structure and the list, you could have a chronological TOC – for a memoir say.
Or a regional or geographical structure for a travel book. (Around the World in 80 Days anyone?)
Be creative, but do give yourself a clear structure you can work with. It will streamline the writing process if you know where your book is going.
Above all, once you’ve got one, stick to the TOC! Don’t deviate. Unless it all feels appallingly wrong, in which case rejig it. But only a bit. And do please get a second opinion before you delete anything.
b) The Fiction Journey: Something Happens. It Gets Worse. It Gets Sorted.
Just like non-fiction, one simple way of constructing a novel is in three acts.
Act 1: Something happens.
Act 2: It gets worse.
Act 3: It sorts itself out.
And if you keep this simple structure in mind as you write, you can speed up the writing part of the job dramatically.
Now you might think that the human imagination is so fertile that literally anything could happen in a story. In fact, says Christopher Booker, in his thought-provoking book The Seven Basic Plots, you can be pretty sure we know certain things about a story even before it begins.
First, there is likely to be a hero, or a heroine, or both: ‘a central figure, or figures…with whom we can identify’.
We will meet our hero or heroine in an imaginary world – and then something will happen: ‘some event or encounter which precipitates the story’s action, giving it a focus’.
This event will lead the central figure into a series of adventures or experiences, ‘which, to a greater or lesser extent, will transform their lives.’
The action that ensues will involve conflict and uncertainty, because without these there will be no story. There will be a villain or opponents of some kind.
Finally the impetus of the story will carry us to a resolution. ‘Every story which is complete…must work up to a climax, where conflict and uncertainty are usually at their most extreme. This then leads to a resolution of all that has gone before.’
So the story will end either unhappily for the central figures, or happily. In disaster or triumph, in frustration or liberation, in death or in the renewal of life.
Lessons in speed for fiction writers
If as Booker suggests there is a limited number of archetypal plots then before you start writing, sketch out your plot and assign parts of the plot to certain chapters. This will speed up your writing.
Actually, many novels don’t include a contents or chapter list, but you can learn a lot from those that do.
Case study – Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase
I like the simple contents list from Jonathan Stroud’s thriller for young adults, Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase (below). Before you read the book, you have some idea of the journey you’ll be going on.
Case study – Life after Life
From a glance at the contents list in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (below), with its leaps through time and repetitions, you know you’re in for a complicated journey with many twists and turns. I suspect Atkinson’s sketch for her plot looked like a complex spider diagram or mindmap.
Step 3: Assess How Much Research You Need to Do – Then Make It Snappy
So you have mapped out your title and your TOC. But there’s still something else you need to sketch out before you actually start writing.
How much research will you have to do?
And how can you do your research super-fast?
First off, you need to know three things:
- what you know,
- what you don’t know,
- and how to plug the gap between the two.
So a quick way of assessing how much research your book needs is this.
- Write down six bullet points of what you already know about the subject. The first six things that come into your head.
- Write down six bullet points of what you DON’T know, six questions in your head about the topic that readers might want to know.
- Write down how you will research this. How will you find those things out, who can answer those questions for you?
Talk to Cooks or People Who’ve Been to China
For many books, the quickest way to do your research is to talk to people.
- If you’re writing a memoir, talk to people who remember or know about the same events.
- If you’re writing a historical novel, talk to people who know the period. Aim high – approach the top historians if that’s who you need.
- If you’re writing a science fiction novel, talk to scientists and science fiction fans – test out your ideas with them.
- If you’re writing a book about cookery, or China, or golf, talk to cooks, or people who’ve been to China, or golfers.
- If you’re writing a book about time management in the office, talk to human resources people and office workers.
- If you’re writing a biography, talk to people who know, or who have studied, your subject.
The point about doing this is that it’s faster to talk to 20 people than almost anything else you can do. It also produces more original material, too. And a lot of it.
What’s more, most of your material will be in the form of stories. This means, if you have the interviews transcribed, your job as a writer is almost done before you even start ‘writing’ your book. (Not really, but it seems like it and that’s half the point.)
I’m not saying you won’t have to identify and read 20 weighty academic tomes as well and sort through them thoroughly to get extra information. But I am saying that the interviews you get will be a darn sight more interesting to work with. For you and for your readers.
So list about 20 important folks to interview. Make sure you choose folks who want to talk. Make it easy for yourself – a bit. But don’t shy away from the critical contacts who will give you the best inside information.
And the fastest way to do 20 interviews? Take a week off if you can and blitz them. Or – if you can’t take time away from your work or home life – then spread the interviews across early mornings, lunch hours and evenings.
Seriously, be organized and you can get most of these done in a fortnight. Three weeks at most. (Yes, you can take longer, but why would you?)
Also, if you’re going to get the best use out of your time with your interviewees, then do record all the interviews. Just casually ask in advance. Don’t make a big thing of it. ‘Just for my personal use. To help me with note taking.’
How to record? Use a teleconference system for phone interviews, or record them with an mp3 recorder for face-to-face talks.
If your book subject really doesn’t lend itself to interviews then make a list of anecdotes or fascinating examples to use. But there really are not many subjects where you can’t find 20 interesting people to talk to. Look hard! It will make writing your book far, far quicker.
Step 4a: Finally, Writing – It Has to Be Done, but It Won’t Last Forever
Once you’ve got your title and your TOC, and once you’ve done your research there’s nothing else for it. You will have to set aside some time for writing.
The good thing is, you’ve already streamlined this period of writing and it won’t last forever. So devote time to a short burst of writing now. You’ll be finished in just a matter of weeks.
How can you streamline this process still further?
If you can organize it, if you really want to crack the back of this project very quickly, take a week’s vacation.
Then, having set aside the time to write your book, here’s the most important advice I can give you – stick to your schedule.
This is what writers do. ‘Set hours and stick to them,’ says one writer on Facebook. ‘I do better at night than in the morning, so I write after my kids go to bed.’ And she’s positive. ‘You will find something that works.’
Another writer has other advice, if you still find real life intruding.
‘Family and a hundred other things keep me busy during the week, but I devote Saturday to eight hours of writing. Whether it’s one page, one chapter or just research, I punch in at 7:30am and work through until about 4:00pm.’
What else can you do? Well, it may sound childish but this also works – set yourself coffee, meal and exercise breaks at certain times. Or after you’ve written a certain amount. This way they’ll feel like a reward.
Timeout. There are some people who just can’t write to a calendar. If you’re like that, you still need to schedule the time in your own way. When the muse takes you. Because when it comes to getting your book out of you there are no excuses.
Step 4b: No Distractions Brings the Finish Line Closer
While you’re writing, don’t let yourself be diverted or distracted. Make a pact with your office (if you have permission to write at work) and especially with your family. Arrange a treat you can all share once you’ve finished. Leave the housework. Disconnect from social media. Turn off your phone. Go screen free!
But there’s an advantage to being connected when you can’t physically write. You can make notes when you get ideas. So make sure to carry a tablet/dictation system/pen and paper wherever you go.
Can technology help? Oh yes. My sister-in-law wrote a 190-page book in three weeks using Siri on her mobile phone.
‘I send myself a lot of emails,’ says one writer. ‘If I’m not in front of my computer at home, I send emails from my phone or another computer of ideas, thoughts, concerns, etc.’
Even while you’re travelling or walking, you can mull things over in your head. Bestselling author Ruth Rendell said that by the time she comes to write, ‘I will have thought it through already and thought it in words. Not perhaps the words I shall ultimately use but something very like what they will be. They have been written and re-written in my mind as I go for a walk or before I go to sleep at night.’
One way of making sure you stay on track is to get someone to chase you. Ask a family member or friend to make sure you’re writing when you’re supposed to be writing, to check how much you’ve written, to urge you to carry on. They don’t have to be writing specialists – they just need to hold you to task.
In case you’re in danger of losing heart, keep a tally of how much you’ve written each day. This will encourage you and keep you going.
Step 5: Speed Up by Writing Forwards or in sequence
One tip to speed up your writing is to write forwards. By that, I mean keep the momentum going – don’t go back and edit what you’ve written until later. Maybe you shouldn’t edit your book at all. Give it to someone else to edit.
Some people gain speed by writing in sequence. My husband – and co-author – Steven Sonsino is one.
‘I need to know where I’m going,’ he says. ‘It’s faster and streamlines the process for me. I know what I’ve got left to do, I know where I’m going and can almost “sign off” chapters as I go.’
I, on the other hand, prefer to assemble everything I want to use in each chapter in note form – just clumping all the related research, ideas and links together in folders. Then, when I have ‘enough’ for each chapter, I can start writing.
Step 6: Write to length
Another speed tip is to write to length. After choosing the book size you want, write to fill that length. Don’t write to any old length and say, ‘I’ll cut later.’
Writing to length gives you discipline and focus. (You can always increase or decrease a bit for the gems or essential items you missed.)
And that’s all there is to it. In about 12 weeks you too can live your normal life AND write and publish a book.
Six Steps to Turbo-charge Your Writing
Let’s summarise. To write your book fast you need to:
1. Prepare a title to give you focus.
2. Prepare a table of contents to give you structure.
3. Research by talking to people. About 20 should do it.
4. Map out your time and eliminate distractions.
5. Write forwards and maybe in sequence.
6. Write to length.
If you do all this, you will be the proud creator of a 50,000-word manuscript – or longer – in a matter of weeks. Now you’re only a few steps away from having that book in your hand.
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If you’re already a successful author how do you save time when you’re writing? Share your experience in the comments.
And if you haven’t taken the plunge yet, are you ready now to commit to writing your book?
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GET THE ULTIMATE GUIDE DOWNLOAD
If you’d like to download a PDF of this blog post as a resource click the link here.
There are also some additional resources I’ll send you to help you write your book even though you have no time.
- 6 Key Steps to Writing Your Book When You Have No Time to write (Fiction and Non-fiction)
- How to Make Time to Write (Advice to Writers from Writers)
- The Table of Contents Crash Course (Fiction and Non-Fiction)
- The Seven Basic Plots (Fiction)
- 10 Crucial Strategies for Writing Your Book Fast (Fiction and Non-fiction)
- The 12-Week Book Blueprint (186-step checklist)
I’ll hook you up with those, too, when you click the button here.