Before You Try to Write a Book, Complete These 3 Tasks

Before You Try to Write a Book, Complete These 3 Tasks

Overwhelmed by the thought of finally writing that book of yours?

You’ve dreamed about it forever.

You’ve almost started several times before, then convinced yourself you weren’t ready.

You worry you’ll be forever trapped in the planning stage, never fulfilling your dream.

After more than four decades in this game, believe me, I’ve been where you are — more times than I’d like to remember.

How to eat an elephant

The most well-worn cliche (after “well-worn cliche”) in publishing is that you write a book the way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

If you envision it as a whole, you’re likely to give up before you start.

Don’t give up. Take it from one who knows. The rewards can be worth the work.

Here are three lessons I learned that can serve as your flight plan to get the book inside you off the ground.

1. See that elephant as parts, not the whole

An African elephant can stand 13 feet tall and weigh as much as 15,000 pounds. A book can easily total well over 450 double-spaced manuscript pages and more than 100,000 words.

Both are daunting when viewed that way.

But you’re not eating an elephant. So let’s look at your potential book manuscript.

View your potential manuscript as pages. These will consist of headers that will include your name, the book title, the chapter number and perhaps chapter title, and the page number. These can be formatted once and inserted automatically thereafter as you’re writing.

Then you’ll write a line at a time, deciding when to end sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. You may break your book into parts or sections.

You may have such elements as a dedication, acknowledgments, an epigram, a prologue or introduction or preface; and at the end an epilogue or author’s note, an index, bibliography, or footnotes. Certain academic works may have even more esoteric components.

But you will be responsible for writing these various pages, and one way to keep your head is to focus on them as just that — daily, hourly, manageable projects broken down to a page at a time.

Stay at it and they will accumulate.

Before you know it, you will have produced a manuscript. But to do that will require the second prerequisite:

2. Make time to write

All right — let’s get real.

I didn’t say find time. You have to carve it out of your schedule.

Like everyone else on the planet, you have 168 hours in a week. You have to eat and sleep, and then decide your other priorities.

What has to go so you can write? How important is this dream?

No one can answer that but you, and the answer is in your calendar.

What will you sacrifice for the sake of time at the keyboard?

Concerts? Ballgames?

Dinners? TV?

Movies?

Reading? (Be careful with that one.)

Social media?

Face it, you make time to do what you really want to do.

Pros make time to write. If you want to be one, you’ll do it too.

3. Know. Know.

I say it twice because there are two things you must know: Know what you want to say and know to whom you want to say it.

Please don’t start writing a book just because you fancy yourself an author.

Successful writers don’t write because they’re writers. They’re writers because they have something to say.

A book must not simply be about something. It must be for the purpose of something.

Knowing your message and your audience allows you to write from your passions, and that’s what will draw you to the keyboard every day. That’s what will keep you there when the manuscript begins to again look like an elephant instead of small manageable bites.

When you can distill your entire book into one sentence and can picture your audience in your mind embodied by one person, you’re ready.

Eat that elephant a bite at a time.

Which of the points above will you focus on this week? Tell me in the comments section.

Filed Under: Craft
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24 comments

  • ohita says:

    Thanks, Jerrry.

    I have decided, based on your advice in previous posts to focus on short stories for now in order to hone my skills before taking on my project of a novel. I cannot actually imagine that I was trying to go to college before passing through elementary school- the proverbial putting of the cart before the horse.

    Therefore, I am applying these before -you- write- a -book steps to a short story I have always planned to write. Right away, I shall focus on step I and work up to 2 and then gradually to 3. These points work for a short story writer like me too.

    Thanks for laying out a road map which is so helpful.

  • Sam Grant-author. says:

    I’m making time to write, because I’ve written about forty chapters and know where I want to go with the ending. Need to write in about ten chapters where characters who have now taken large parts in the story-can’t remember them asking !! and are interesting enough to have separate lifestyle situations and events which the reader will want to desperately know about. Yes, Show don’t Tell, but then what do you do when your characters blabber on a lot later on and you sense that the reader’s going to ask what’s been happening to these people before all this ? A serious re-write is going to be the elephant in the room, but not just yet! I need to get closure on a scrappy “first write”- begin to end version of this awesome novel, which is eventualy going to have ten major publishers blocking my message in listings- pleading to let them please, please give us the final manuscript- to then publish your novel- worldwide, as soon as possible.

    • Jerry B Jenkins says:

      You’re right, Sam, what you do to keep readers from asking is go back and SHOW. 🙂

      Agree with your plan to get the first draft down first.

      Love your optimism; curious what you mean by “blocking my message in listings.”

      Good luck with it!

  • Shannon Lambert says:

    I’m going to make time to write!! I will figure out what has to be sacrificed to do so. 🙂

  • Brian Passman says:

    I haven’t commented before but I just want to say that I read all your newsletters and file them for future reference. I find them extremely practical and very useful guidance. I have just completed a 31,000 word booklet which I plan to publish as blog posts over the next 15 weeks to get the comments of readers before I prepare the final re-write. Unfortunately my blog is dragigng its feet and is not currently fit for purposr but hopefully that will soon be solved.

    • Jerry B Jenkins says:

      Thanks for your kind comments, Brian. I love your plan. Give that final rewrite everything it needs in term of energy, effort, and time, and you’ll be happy with the result.

  • Emily says:

    Thank you for creating this site. I feel encouraged to persist through the resistance. 🙂

  • Viv Drewa says:

    The first one is where I need to concentrate on. I think I’m getting better with each book I write and will eventually re-write my first book. It needs a little more description to make it a better read

    • Jerry B Jenkins says:

      Knowing what you need to concentrate on and what’s lacking in your work-in-progress is 90% of the batle, Viv. Good luck with it!

  • Melinda says:

    Such simple and powerful advice! I ghostwrite books for people and always have my own project going on at the same time as well, and these three strategies have been essential for me as a writer. And not just in the beginning of a project. Just a few months ago I gave up my daily FB habit to complete a revision of my novel. And I think I must remind myself every day that books are written one sentence at a time.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Jerry B Jenkins says:

      Thanks, Melinda, and I’m with you: social media is one of the great time drains ever. Brava for getting a handle on it.

  • Diane says:

    It always feels good to hear that I am not the only one to occasionally find that the elephant has accidentally sat down upon my chest, providing the perfect excuse for procrastination. I have not been very persistent at asking said elephant to scoot over so I can think.
    I have absolutely no excuse not to make time to write over the next few weeks.

    Does anyone else have trouble sticking to one genre? I love so many and am having trouble sticking with one long enough to write a book.

  • sundar says:

    Thanks Jerry !! Let me eat my first bite of elephant to start with 🙂

  • Lynette Benton says:

    I’m going to share your post with my students and clients. Most plan to write memoirs, and even those who have never written anything before, jump on the idea of a book. I urge them to start small, and at least think of their project in small pieces, so they won’t get overwhelmed by the work that goes into a whole book manuscript.

    Thanks for giving me more ammunition!

  • Helen Vanderberg says:

    I’m doing a major rewrite of a novel I first crafted years ago, laying in new plot-lines as deeper research gives me new aspects to consider. Who knew replotting could be such fun? And sticking to it gives fabulous rewards of accomplishment. However, the looming dragon on my horizon is, will Microsoft upgrade Word yet again and blow all my work to blazes? It’s happened before, so what defense do we have? Any ideas?

    • Diane says:

      Get a Mac and you will never have this problem again!!!

    • VC Girvin says:

      Get Scrivener. Crosses platforms and saves as you write. Plus, the handy formatting tools make it invaluable for any genre. I’m not a salesman, just a very satisfied customer.

  • Pre written term paper says:

    Wonderful articles in this post it’s very beneficial for me. Thanks to share this post.

  • Paul says:

    Fantastic advice Jerry. Writing is simply the easiest thing to do but the hardest to finish. The trouble I find is with getting mid way through and feeling as though you should start again because what you’ve got so far is incoherent and ‘no good’.

    This though is solid advice. I’m going to focus on eating that elephant one bit at a time. Some practical tips as to how to arrange that would be helpful too.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom. 🙂

  • Jackie says:

    Wow – I just stumbled upon your site Jerry – I have been in constant prayer for a mentor/writing coach who can help me navigate this DREAM God has given me to write a book. I want it to have purpose and I want to be M.A.D. (Making A Difference) with it! Right now I am writing and writing – looking at resources, reading other people’s writing, watching YouTube videos about writing…pretty much anything I can glean in order to help me continue on and make it work.
    Any suggestions other than what your great resources already provide would be much appreciated!

    • Kimberline says:

      I found my way here yesterday as well and Jackie’s comment resonates with me. I found this place through “Godincidence” and have been excited to get started doing something DIFFERENT than what I have been. I was a writer who wasn’t writing for myself, but would spend hours and hours writing for someone else’s page or blog or contributing to groups on . Yesterday I turned that page and made a decision that ~today~ I will begin writing the books I want to write and contribute to my own writing success. I came back this morning, Jerry, to let you know that I appreciated your article and will be searching out more. This connection was the positive sign I needed to get myself rolling. Now, off to write!

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