:: Thinking of writing a book? There are many compelling reasons to do so. Writing a book can transform a career, opening up new possibilities and expanding your reach. Perhaps you’ve learned a thing or two in the course of your career and want to share that wisdom with others.
By the time you’ve accumulated the wisdom to share in a book, you’re often busy doing whatever you’re good at.
Unless you plan to pen a post-career memoir, you may not feel you have time to write a book. There’s always something more urgent to do. So you put off the book for some future day, for a quieter spell, for a sabbatical, for retirement.
By waiting to write the book, you may miss an important opportunity for growth.
If you approach the writing process with an eye to learning, writing a book will deepen your understanding of your topic. If you were knowledgeable before the book, imagine how you’ll feel by the time you finish. Writing the book connects you with people beyond your usual, day-to-day scope. You may grow in unanticipated ways.
To experience those benefits, you have to answer an essential question:
“How do you find the time to write a book?”
A 5-Step Plan to Finding the Time
No one is slowing down the earth’s rotation for you, delivering an extra few hours per day. Cloning yourself is likewise off limits.
Cutting back on sleep is a poor idea for many reasons. For one thing, the brain processes connections during Rapid Eye Moment (REM) sleep, which may feed the creative insights that make your writing better.
Ideally, you want to emerge from the process of writing the book healthy, sane, and still involved in your career.
The trick is to rearrange your priorities and activities so that writing finds a place in your daily or weekly schedule. During dedicated writing periods, work as productively and efficiently as possible. Here are five suggestions for making time for the craft of writing.
One: Set Deadlines
Start by creating a plan, complete with goals and deadlines. Account for the entire process of writing a book—including research, outlining, drafting, and revision. If you expect to sit down fresh and write a brilliant book, you’ll be disappointed.
Set firm dates and deadlines for those plans. For example:
• Do 40 hours of research by September
• Create a preliminary outline by October 15
• Start writing the first draft on November 1 and write to 5,000 words per week until the draft is done.
Commit to those deadlines. Post them on your walls or make them part of your screensaver. Deadlines are your best defense against procrastination.
Two: Classify the Book as a Client
Work for other people usually seems more urgent than writing you do “for yourself.” Imagine the book as a demanding, valuable client that you don’t want to disappoint. The long-term rewards of completing a book may be deeper and more satisfying than the short-term satisfaction of a paying client or customer.
Three: Commit to Dedicated Writing Times
How much time can you put aside for writing a week—15 minutes a day? Four hours a week? Schedule the sessions, and when you’re in that time slot, work only work on the book.
Don’t open the laptop intending to write and then spend 40 minutes on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Set a timer, shut down email, silence the phone, and focus on the writing until your time is done. If possible, work early in the day when you’re mentally fresh; we have limited reserves of willpower during the day, and drain them quickly in a world of distractions and temptation.
Attention and focus are essential skills for writers in a noise-filled world.
Four: Write When You’re Not Writing
When you finish a writing session, think about the things you need to do: the next section, a problem, something you need to develop further. Make a short list of a few issues.
Then bring them back to your mind when you’re doing something that doesn’t require much concentration, like riding the train or working out at the gym. Let the problems drift around in your head. Part of your brain continues working on unresolved issues even as you do other things.
Often you’ll come up with an insight. If not, the next days’ writing will most likely be easier, as your mind has had the chance to work on it. Psychologists call this the Zeigarnick Effect. It’s a great way to boost your writing productivity and creativity.
Five: Celebrate Small Successes
Writing a book is an exercise in delayed gratification. Find a way to celebrate small completions and victories: finishing a chapter, a section, or a phase of the process.
Remember that writing is a journey that changes the traveler. Acknowledge any signs of growth, such as new contacts, lessons learned, and experiences outside your comfort zone.
The biggest barriers between you and a finished book are usually within yourself: the motivation to get started, maintaining faith in the process, and continuing to completion. These five strategies may help you with the inner game of writing a book.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Nonfiction Author’s Association website.
Image: Eric Rothermel on unsplash