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I’m sure you’ve heard at least one story of a writer who went away to the mountains (or the beach or something like that) for a number of days (a week or a month or whatever) and wrote their latest book. Ads are all over the Internet for “How to write a book in 28 days” or “Get your book done this year” or even “How to write a book in a weekend.” (Really! Google it, I’m not kidding! I’ve even met someone who runs classes on that!)

You might read something like that, then get inspired to set aside a couple hours one day to write—and what do you get? Maybe a couple of pages. Maybe nothing. Maybe, if you do really well, you’ll write five pages! (And then look at them again the next day and think they are rubbish. Ugh. Definitely been there, done that!) And then you think, “That one woman I heard of wrote her bestseller in eight weeks, and I can’t even write a couple of pages in a day—what’s wrong with me?!”

My best guess? There is nothing wrong with you.

You just need to know a little (ghost)writer’s secret. (Hint: It’s part of the writing process I shared in my post last week.)

The step most writers miss

Now I’m not to going to pretend like it’s a piece of cake to write a book in a month, but I can say that I have done it—and on more than one occasion. (And yes, I am usually pretty frazzled afterwards.) In fact, most of the books I have done (more than fifty now), I wrote in four to eight weeks—I even did one series of four books in about a week each!
So, in my experience, what’s the secret? In a word: prewriting.

Some books I get a contract for and with what the author has give me and/or what I know on the subject for myself, I can dive right into writing the book. All of those materials I would consider part of prewriting, and some have been collected over a several years, if not a lifetime (so it is a bit of a cheat not to count those days, but bear with me on that). At other times, when I am pretty new to a topic, I will take a few weeks to get more acquainted with the subject by reading as widely as I can, researching on the Internet, watching films or documentaries, or whatever I can do to get up to speed quickly on the subject. Usually if I have, say, three months to write a book (twelve to thirteen weeks), I’ll take six to eight weeks of that time to research the topic, and then write the book in whatever time is remaining. Now that means writing six to eight hours a day and turning my office into a disaster zone of teetering piles of books, file folders, yellow pads of notes, stickies all over the place, mail I’ve ignored, etc. as well as living in a bit of a zombie-like trance thinking about the subject all of the time—but that usually works to meet my deadline.

Now, I am not recommending you do that, especially if you have other responsibilities to keep your business afloat—which is a big part of why people hire ghostwriters in the first place—but there is a lesson in this for anyone who knows they will want to write a book one day to promote their message. It’s simply this:

the more you do to prepare to write your book ahead of time, the easier it will be to write—and the better the book will be when you write it.

When preparation meets opportunity

There was a point work was slow for our business a few years back and I used the time to read up on some of the heroes of prayer from St. John of the Cross to Rees Howells and Martin Luther King, Jr. I drafted over a hundred pages of stories and lessons from their lives thinking of doing a book on them that would be sort of a God’s Generals of prayer meets Jesus Freaks. In the midst of that I received a call from a publisher asking about doing a book on prayer. I think that was the easiest manuscript I have ever pulled together, and not because I used any of the writing I’d already done in my research (I wanted to save that for my own project), but because the subject was so fresh in my mind. I put together a 150-page manuscript (about 40,000 words) in just under four weeks. And, if I do say so myself, I think it was a pretty good book.

The thing is that the more pre-writing you do—and the more you are committed to writing regularly as a way of honing your message, whether that be working on pieces that will one day be in your book or journaling on a regular basis—when the time comes for you to work on the best idea you have as your first book, the easier the writing will come and the better it will be.

Many authors I meet know their message, but they have done very little research to see what others have said on the same or similar topics. They may have a keynote address, for example, but that can fall fairly flat when it goes into a book if you don’t have more supporting information, stories, quotes, photographs, talking with or interviewing people, diagrams, outlines, articles, and the like. Before you dive into writing a book, you should know what other bright minds have said or are saying in the same field. That’s one of the reasons doing a book proposal before you begin writing can be such a great exercise, even if you are not going to be shopping the proposal around to publishers. It can help you organize your thoughts and give you a “worksheet” for evaluating the viability of your idea. (I’ll talk more about proposals in upcoming blogs, but for now, if you want to check out a proposal that is currently being shopped around, sign into “the workshop.”)

So, as you go about your week, do you have regular times to sit and journal, read up on your subject, work on your blog, or anything like that? What prewriting could you be doing in getting ready for the day you will start your book? What prewriting activities would be good for refining your message even if you never write a book? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!