Certain tenets apply to all vocations. The guys who play weekend hoops at the Y take a few jump shots before playing a game to eleven. They don’t practice like Steph Curry. Whether you get paid to play golf, belt out tunes, or give speeches, pros don’t just wing it.
Professional writers are no exceptions to this rule; they approach their craft differently than their amateur counterparts. When beginning the process of writing a book, pros focus on:
In other words, they tend to do very little actual writing—at least at first. Here’s a visual:
The professional scribe spends most of the early days setting up pins so she can systematically knock them down. Near the end of the writing process, they’re tweaking, editing, tightening up figures, reaching out to prominent folks for blurbs, and continuing their marketing efforts.
On the other hand…
When approaching their first book project, newbies just jump in and write, unaware of the quality and cohesion of their words. (Cue Rumsfeld quote on unknown unknowns.) Their process looks something like this:
At the start, the amateur often thinks that writing is relatively easy. Hammer out 1,000 words per day and, at the end of a few months, Voilà! You’ve got yourself a completed, publication-ready manuscript. What’s so hard about writing a book? Guffaw.
When approaching a new writing project, amateurs just jump in and write.
Except that, at the end of the process, the amateur gives the manuscript to a friend, colleague, agent, or acquisitions editor. And here’s where things break bad.
Feedback isn’t positive. Case studies are lacking or confusing. The organization and flow of the book are off. Odds are that a substantial or complete rewrite is in order. Entire parts and chapters need major surgery—or to be put out to pasture. The neophyte wrote a book, just not a good one.
Which One Are You?
Allow me to answer your question with a question.
When undertaking a long-form writing project, how do you start?