After 32 years of not writing books, one day I looked in the mirror and noticed a small patch of my beard turning grey. With my hair already thinning, and now this stain of authority dripping down my mouth, I had no more excuses.
Why look authoritative without having written anything? At this point I had two choices: either shave my head and beard and get covered in tattoos, so I don’t look like an author at all—or write a damn book.
After a dark, scotch-soaked night of the soul debating my options, I woke up with the answer. I thought, “Hey, scotch drinking is also a sign up authorship! Baldness, Beard, Booze… Book!” This alliteration was an obvious sign. “I will write! I’ll do it in 7.6 months.”
I had to give myself an official deadline to avoid quitting. I’ll explain here a little about the practical aspects of this endeavor, in case a similar drama visits you one day.
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32 Years Before
You need this time to get ready. Live life, travel, read and write lots of other stuff (essays, text messages, emails, code comments, etc.) Then write a book.
Write like crazy. Blitz. Say “I will write a book” and start doing it. For me, I just opened up a Google Doc and titled it My First Book, and started pounding away. Get anything out in any format. Your 32 years prior has prepared you, and there will be gold pouring out of your fingertips. Gold mixed with garbage, but still gold.
Quiet space during this time is very helpful. After work, I would grab one last coffee for the day and go to a picnic table at a park outside my house. Though tired from working all day, I could squeeze a good 45 minutes of free-thought writing onto the page.
I knew that getting a high word-count would make me feel like I can really produce a book. So day after day, I would just add words to the page. My well of inspiration was that I knew a lot about AI; having been hands on in the field for several years. Yours could be anything you know that is worth teaching. If you have a mind for fiction, then fantasize and write. I don’t read fiction, I’m not a gifted storyteller, and I don’t know how to write it.
But… I can learn. In month two, I learned that even non-fiction writers need to understand stories.
Research: “How to write a book”. I think you needed to dive into the deep end first. Start writing your book, best you know how in month one. Then it’s time to figure out what you’ve been doing wrong. For me, books and podcasts are my teachers. Some people use courses, but 20-30 minutes of reading a boring non-fiction book before you fall asleep is my key to learning. I read on a Kindle Paperwhite
because the screen is so dim that it doesn’t affect your eyes before bed.
Then, while driving around, I play a podcast on the subject. There are many podcasts on writing. The 1000 Authors podcast by Vicky Fraser, author of How The Hell Do You Write A Book?
taught me a technique that was the biggest influence on my success:
“Work Backwards from a Deadline”
7.6 is my favorite number. I thought this would be a wonderful goal. I calculated how far away 7.6 months was and made that my arbitrary deadline to publish. On a piece of paper, I put that date at the top. Then I broke down everything I have to do to get there. This showed me a realistic path to get to that date.
Another book, Published.: The Proven Path From Blank Page to Published Author
by Chandler Bolt taught me the importance of Mind Mapping and Outlining. Making an outline sounded so boring, so I put it off (a mistake), but mind mapping was fun! This was where I took a piece of paper, wrote an idea in a bubble, then an arrow to the next idea bubble that came to mind. With this technique, I filled up 5 pages and hundreds of bubbles in a matter of hours. This solidified in my brain what my book should be about and how it should flow. These drawings really helped when sitting down to do the 45 minute writing blitzes.
At the end of six weeks, I had chapter titles, and lots of my thoughts on my subjects. Since I was writing on artificial intelligence and human evolution, I had a well of inspiration to pull from. I still had done no research at this point. That came next.
I started seeing books in a different light. I started to look at their structure, their formatting, table of contents, foreword, introduction, chapters, sub-chapters, footnotes and bibliography. I noticed how even in non-fiction, a story would unfold. A podcast mentioned a great narrative non-fiction author Dava Sobel
so I bought some of her books to find out how to make non-fiction entertaining.
I wanted to watch some award-winning dramas, but my daughter wouldn’t let me. Which turned out okay because the format of Disney movies was the perfect teacher of storytelling. I would watch Frozen two times, then Frozen 2 two times, then Moana, every day, as I had been doing her entire life. Of course I knew all the songs, but now I understood the outline.
What I learned from my daughters movies as the essential elements of story-telling:
Theme: What’s the movie about?
Concept / Hook / Premise: Other words for theme.
Villain: Who or what antagonizes the main characters?
(Could be real villain, or emotional struggle)
Opening Image: The back story. War or Peace?
Hero Introduction: Who?
Theme Statement: What?
Tension Building: Why?
Catalyst: What kicks off the action? Is there a problem they’re facing?
Inciting Incident: The moment it’s really going down.
(This act belongs to the Villain)
Rising Action: Progress being made against the villain?
Powers: Introduce the special powers, magic of the hero’s potential.
Raising the Stakes: Lives are truly now in danger.
Setbacks: The special powers aren’t working.
All is Lost: The dark night of the soul.
Support: What gets the hero out of this mess?
Climax: The hero becomes who they are supposed to be.
Against all odds, they defeat the villain.
Victory is Assured: Bring the spoils back to the tribe.
Proving the hero’s leadership.
Falling Action: Resolve the tension.
Fix interpersonal issues and solidify the theme.
Conclusion: It was destiny, we are powerful.
Unanswered Question: Will there be a sequel?
There are many ways to tell stories, but above was my way of describing Disney movies. Try it, it’s fun to follow along with this outline. Your book, whatever genre, will benefit from a better understand of storytelling and the hero’s journey.
I jumped the gun and contracted an editor, cover designer and graphic designer. Since I was confident in my ability to write, I wanted the artistic challenge of the cover to stimulate me. My editor said he was ready to go, he wanted to help me develop the book even though I only had half as many words as I thought I needed.
Before adding him to my shared Google Doc, I ran my manuscript through ProWritingAid
. This caught a lot of mistakes I made that would have been a waste of his hourly cost to fix. I found an editor who really told me where my logic was unclear, or just bad. You can find skilled editors, who are authors themselves, or English professors on PeoplePerHour
Starting early on the cover and editing really gave me confidence in the book’s reality. It also helped me budget and know how much money I will have to set aside.
My back hurt. On top of a job, extra time on a laptop isn’t good for you. I invested in an iPad for comfort. It helped! Though it’s hard to write without a keyboard, the iPad has been great for editing my manuscript: re-reading, filling in paragraphs, organizing freelancers.
You’re an author now, set up your writing space for it. I got this ergonomic chair
that has allowed me to squeeze in a lot more writing before I get sore.
Month 5 (to be continued in part 2)
Marketing. This is where I am now. Luckily, I enjoy marketing, making websites, blogging and sharing my work. Selling yourself and getting out there. Some people don’t like it. But that’s what you get for not having a publisher. Even if you ink a publishing deal, you’re going to do better if you understand marketing.
Can’t wait to talk more about this part! Subscribe to the mailing list so I can notify you about new posts. Click here for part 2 of how to write a book in 7.6 months. Thanks for reading!
Sponsors: Other products that helped me write.