This is one of a series of posts that will be chapters in my forthcoming book, Don’t Sell Your Book. CLICK HERE to find related blog posts.
In addition to the Three Day Method, there are other strategies for writing your first draft quickly and/or painlessly. In fact, there are probably as many ways to write a book as there are writers. This isn’t a piece about mindset. If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I am a “get it done” gal. I don’t talk about your big why or motivation. I figure if you’ve decided on a task, you probably have your reasons and as an adult, you’re most likely old enough to motivate yourself. Or, old enough to know how to trick yourself into getting something done. (I use chocolate.)
The only mindset thing I will tell you is that you are writing a first draft. All you want to do is get the bulk of the information out of your head and onto the page. Hemingway said the first draft of anything is shit. He was absolutely correct. You will need to edit, add, cut, and tweak once you have the first draft done. The goal here is simply to get the information onto the page in a relatively organized manner.
Do NOT make the mistake of editing as you go. Many people end up with a well polished two or three chapters, but no book. Spew the words while you have that initial enthusiasm working for you. You can make it pretty later. I promise.
So here are three more ways to write your nonfiction book fast. The key behind all of these methods is organization. They all start with deciding first, on your book topic and second, what you choose to cover or include in your book. The information you don’t include can be as important as the information you do include in that it shapes and develops the information that will appeal to your specific target market. If you’re writing a book on using QuickBooks, the information you include for a target market of CPAs is going to be different from what you might include if your target market were small business owners. You can skip some of the more basic information on accounting with CPAs; small business owners will need that background.
Depending on the type of book you are writing, I recommend creating a list of 10-15 topics (chapters) that will provide your readers with either a fully defined process on how to accomplish something or a comprehensive treatise on your topic.
Method 1: Use Material You Already Have.
Have you written blog posts or articles on your book topic? Many authors’ first books are a collection of their columns (from newspapers, remember them?) or blog posts. Go through all your old written material looking for posts and articles that fall under or relate to your chosen topics. Some of the posts may only have a few paragraphs that you can use. You will be able to use others in full with just some minor tweaks.
The next place to look is any audio or video trainings or talks you have done that fit your topic. You can have the recordings transcribed, using Rev.com, Otter.ai, or other transcription service. When you get the transcriptions back, you will need to edit them—usually heavily—but you will have good first draft material.
Organize the material within your chapters. You will have to write additional material of course, whether it is transitions from one topic to another, clarifying points and possibly going deeper into a subject, or creating some chapters completely. But you will have a large part of your initial writing done. And it’s easier to add to something than to start from scratch.
Method 2: Interview Others
This works particularly well if you do not already have established expertise in your field or if you are new to a field or niche. Interviewing others allows you to leverage their expertise in a number of ways. First and most obvious, it gives you raw content for your book. In fact, there are many successful nonfiction books that are really a collection of well (and not-so-well) edited interviews. If you already do an interview-style podcast, you may have material for your book.
A bonus to this is that you are curating varying opinions, experiences, and perspectives which will give your reader a much more well-rounded understanding of your subject. While readers may not agree with everything you or your interviewees say, there is a strong likelihood that they will find one or more people that they resonate with.
The second benefit to interviewing experts in your field is that it opens up a world of connections for you. Being asked to showcase your expertise for someone’s book is flattering. While some upper level experts may decline being interviewed, others will happily talk with you. You now are connected with them and through them you have access to people they know, including their followers. This is a privilege, not a right and certainly not something to be abused. But most people who are featured in a book would be happy to let their followers and subscribers know when your book comes out. You may be able to ask for an introduction to someone else who you have not been able to reach, whether it is for the book or for some future endeavor. Remember to conserve your “asks”—they are like little bits of karma currency. Don’t take advantage of your new relationship, but do stay in touch and be aware and supportive of any projects they might be involved in.
A third benefit is that by associating with these known experts, a bit of their starshine rubs off on you. There’s a reason why people get their picture taken with celebrities. (Something I fail to do on a regular basis…) It may look cheesy, but people see you hanging out with Sir Richard Branson and suddenly you are a lot more interesting. Amazing how that works. Interviews work the same way. There’s a reason why talk show hosts try to “land” name guests for interviews. Having them on creates buzz for the show and adds to the host’s status. It also makes it easier to land other big name guests.
That being said, your experts don’t need to be rich and famous. Depending on your subject matter, they may only be famous in certain circles. That’s okay. You are looking for their knowledge and expertise.
A Few Dos and Dont’s
Do be well-prepared and well-organized. Make it easy for the interviewee to help you. You may decide to ask people the same set of questions in order to get different perspectives, but make sure you ask them several unique questions that only they could answer. I like to send my questions in advance so interviewees have an idea of what I’m looking for and can pull up any information they need to review or have handy before the interview. This is not an “ambush” interview. Help them look good.
If you’re unfamiliar with the tech that you are going to use for the interview, do several practice runs and write down the steps so they are in front of you when you start interviewing for real. Once the appointment is made, send reminders (many online calendars have pre-scheduled reminders) and make sure the person has the information they need to be at the interview on time. If it’s a video interview and you think you might want to use some video clips in some of your marketing, let them know and get their permission to do so. If it’s a video interview and you’re just going to use the audio, let them know that, too. You don’t have to get dressed up for a phone or audio only interview. You need to be presentable for a video interview. You need to look professional if the video is going to be shown to the general public. Let people know so they can be prepared and more important, comfortable.
Don’t waste people’s time. Two to three minutes of ice breaker conversation, let them know how you run the interviews, and then let them know when you start the recording. That way you have it on record that they knew they were being recorded.
Do send a thank you note after the interview and let them know the progress of the book, as well as when you are releasing it. Some may want to “see their chapter” or interview. In fact, I would offer up front to send it to them in order to make sure what you wrote is what they meant. This gives the interviewee a comfort level that you will do your best to be accurate, that you’re not going to twist their words, and that they will be shown in a good light.
Method 3: Go Old School
This takes longer, but if you are comfortable with putting your butt in a chair and writing, then there’s nothing wrong with going old school. In fact, this is the method I probably use the most because I actually like the process of writing. (Gasp!) I also understand that a book is a means to an end, especially in the context of this book. If you’re just writing a book to have something to put in your bio and sell at the back of the room, the previously-mentioned methods are really the way to go. If this is a book that is your signature book, a reflection of your principles, your experiences, and it is your be-all, end-all book, then you will want to spend more time on it and immerse yourself in the process.
The best way to employ this method involves outlining your content first. What are the broad topics you want to cover? What are the subtopics for each topic? The outlining helps you form your book’s structure. You may decide to cover each topic in a similar fashion. For example, define the premise you are talking about, why it’s important, how to put it into action, then illustrate it with a real world example. Your structure may be chronological. It may be a sequential process. You may show cause and effect or problem and solution. A solid structure gives you something to hang your words on.
If your book is a how to, you will outline the logical progression that someone needs to follow to get their desired result. So each chapter might be a step of the process and then you would develop the content of what goes into each step and how to put that information into practice.
Once you’ve got your structure, go back to your outline and go more in-depth. The more detailed your outline, the easier it is to write your book. An additional benefit to having your book outlined in advance is that you can allow yourself to write out of order. Sitting down and writing a book from A to Z is a grind. Some days you might not have it in you to tackle a topic. Maybe it’s technical, you may need to do more research, or even the content is too emotional and you’re just not up for it. You can jump to something else that’s easier to writer. Save the tougher stuff for the days when you have the mental energy for it.
Remember, your first draft is all about getting the words on the page. Editing and polishing will come later. First drafts give you something to work with. It is easier to go through the first draft (especially if you print it out) and find that you have forgotten to cover some aspect of a topic or that you have been less than clear in a place or two. That’s great. It means that you now have something to make better rather than a slew of ideas in your head.