Thursday, March 28, 2013

How to Write a Book in 30 Days (5 Tips)

My career as an author had only recently begun. The Cauliflower Chronicles was published the month before, and I had finished writing Marcelo Garcia's Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques and Neil Melanson's Mastering Triangle Chokes. Marcelo's book took me about five months of full time writing, and Neil's book took about four.

Over lunch, Erich Krauss (CEO of Victory Belt Publishing Inc and the author of Got Fight? among a slew of other titles) and I discussed process. We both agreed that the classic author model of spending five years on a book was not professionally sustainable, especially in today's competitive market. Erich then revealed that it took him roughly seven weeks to write his first bestseller, Got Fight?.

To me, that seemed like an impossibly short amount of time, and when I said as much, he chuckled.

"I wrote Wave of Destruction in about a month," he said.

Wave of Destruction chronicled the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004. Erich, a professional Muay Thai fighter and world traveler, spent a great deal of time in Thailand and jumped on the opportunity to  share the story of the tsunami almost before the waters had completely receded.

"My bed in Thailand was right next to the computer, so that while I was writing I could fall from the chair right onto the mattress."

Erich, in the literal sense, wrote until he collapsed. When he woke up, he would resume writing and push until he fell asleep again. It was an intense pace, but that pace allowed him to tell the story well before any other writer.

When I turned in Mastering Triangle Chokes a few weeks after that lunch, Erich asked me how long it would take me to write another book, saying that Victory Belt had a backlog of planned books that needed written as quickly as possible. I remembered our conversation from before.

"One month," I said.


"Yes." I really had no idea if I could do it, but I would try.

I tried, and I succeeded. Here's how.

1. Research is everything. Going into this book, which was BJ Penn's Open Guard, the research had already been done by another Victory Belt author that was needed on other projects. I had the photographs, and I had the fodder. It was well-organized, and it was thorough. From writing a travel memoir and from writing countless other articles and pieces, I know that the research is essential. It provides the lumber from which you build your house. If you don't have all of the lumber you need (and extra is always nice), it's very difficult to half-ass the construction without something going horribly wrong.

2. Plan your process. I knew that I had 30 days to write the book, and I had a rough idea, based on the research material, of how many chapters (6) the book would contain. On a big whiteboard, I plotted out the month, day by day, chapter by chapter. I gave myself 5 days for each chapter. 2 to draft, and 3 to revise everything I had written up until that point. If I shaved half a day off of that budget here or a few hours off of that budget there, I dove right into the next chapter to keep the project moving forward and to save up time, just in case I hit a major roadblock. With that schedule laid out, I could craft very specific daily and weekly goals, which kept me organized and motivated (small victories go a long way).

3. Your best work is in revision. With a tight schedule to keep, I could not lose a day pondering a single sentence, at least not initially. My first draft of every chapter was a word dump, an extremely rough idea of what I needed to say and accomplish put to paper through a stream of consciousness writing approach. I just kept writing and did not look back to adjust word choice or sentence structure. With that very rough pass done, I had material to work with, to refine, which is much easier than trying to draft the perfect sentence on your first try. Having something there that you can critique and evaluate allows you to accelerate your writing, and as long as you dedicate ample time for revision, you won't sacrifice quality for speed.

4. Rhythm and focus are essential. I had an office to write in, an environment that I designed around what I found comforting and creatively stimulating. Thanks to that office, I could hide from distractions and shut myself off from the rest of the world so that it was just me and my book. I relied heavily on music to keep my energy level up, especially in the drafting stages. While this will vary from person to person, I use mostly techno (Erich's suggestion) or instrumentals to accomplish this. Music with words interrupts the conversation in my head, which disrupts my ability to communicate with my manuscript.

5. Time and ruthless determination are your fuel. My whiteboard was always a glance away. It loomed over my desk, reminding me every second of every day that not only did I have to write, but I had to write enough to keep me on schedule. For me, that was motivating. I had a promise to keep, which was more important than anything else. I can't see keeping a 30-day pace without that sort of motivation.

I fell into a routine similar to the one that Erich had described. I wrote until I could not physically write anymore, and then I would sleep. When I woke up, and it was easy to pull myself from my bed when I knew that my whiteboard was in the other room, waiting for me, I set right to writing. In that 30 day period, I had no semblance of a sleep schedule. As the hours ticked on, I stayed up later and later, writing until 6am and waking up at 1pm to start again. I checked off my milestones and plowed forward.

Toward the end of my third week, my girlfriend (and soon to be wife) Caris demanded that I go to dinner with her and her friends. In fairness, I had hardly seen her because I was always writing. I wasn't feeling quite right, so a night out for fresh air sounded nice. On the drive to the restaurant, I was quiet, and when we sat down, I realized that I couldn't read the menu. I couldn't focus on the words. They seemed to swirl and spill and dance just out of reach. When Caris's friends spoke to me, I had trouble forming sentences. I stuttered (worse than usual) and slurred my speech. I gave up on talking, and Caris had to order for me. That night, I cashed in on the bonus time that I had saved up and slept for 24 hours.

I returned to my keyboard the following morning and continued my process, finishing a 72,000 word manuscript in 30 days. I now use this project all the time, on projects big and small. I hope that it helps you too.

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