Writing A game of inches

How to Write a Book

I’m going to jump right to the punch line. I’m going to start by telling you exactly what you need to do to finally write that book you’ve promised yourself for the past three years. Are you sitting down? Good.

Don’t write a book. Even better, stop thinking about writing a book. Your endless internal debate and self-conjured guilt about that book you haven’t written yet is a sensational waste of your time. My guess is if you took all the time that you’ve spent considering writing a book and translated that into actual writing time, you’d be a quarter of your way into writing that book you’re not writing.

So, stop. It’s the only sure-fire way to begin.

The Weight of Big Decisions

The theory about big decisions is that they require a tremendous amount of thought, and that investing in all these thought results in better decisions. There are many classes of decisions where there is a right move. Deliberate planning around complex issues involving different people with varied goals is essential to making a correct decision.

Your unwritten book is not one of these decisions. Stop debating it.

I’m just about done with my book, Being Geek. This is my second book, so having gone through the process once before has given me experience that I am using for planning. There was an arc that I wanted to write about, and a table of contents eventually did show up, but, by far, my most productive move regarding writing a book was — wait for it — writing.

A blank page. A scribble in a Moleskine. That tweet that captured your thought better than a chapter ever would. Quietly crossing out paragraphs you loved. These are the acts that comprise writing a book, not talking about it, not announcing that you’re going to do it, and certainly not reading an article by a blogger who at this very moment is procrastinating finishing his book by writing about how you should start yours.

The Journey is the Book

Proposal Guidelines

There are scenarios where you’re going to want to plan the hell out of your book. If you’re writing the definitive medical book on the treatment of West Nile encephalitis, I would like to encourage you to plan the hell out of this book. These are books where the structure and the data are essential to this book’s success.

This is not the book that you are writing. In fact, if you’re a frequent reader of Rands in Repose, I would suggest that even if you have a book in mind, that is not the book you’d end up writing. Having done this twice now, I can confirm that the only part of my planning process that made it to the published work is the title.

It’s not that I ended up with an entirely different book than I intended. I wrote the book I intended to write, but the majority of the writing involved discovering ideas randomly, without planning, and in some of the strangest places. The following is the documentation of tools, strategies, and mind games I use to remove barriers and create a book.

The Title and the Pitch

If you’re going to obsess about something early on, my recommendation is to obsess about your title. Giving clever names to people, places, and things is my schtick — I know when I’ve succinctly and adeptly identified a thing, and once I’ve done it I stick with it. There wasn’t a moment during the writing of either book when either title was debated or at risk.

As for the pitch, well, if your title (“Managing Humans“) has done its job, you don’t need a great pitch. However, the other title (“Being Geek“) doesn’t always define your arc as you’d want, so you need the pitch. “A career handbook for geeks” is the pitch for the second book and it came straight out of early discussions with my editor.

The title and the pitch aren’t just the backbones of your book; they help define the literary space that you’ve chosen to write within. While I think it’s important to define some constraints up front, I’m more interested in your writing, so if you haven’t fallen in love with your title, don’t sweat it. Take your best shot and get back the writing.

Mobility, Pt. 1

Once your brain is engaged with your book, ideas are just going to show up randomly.

Field Notes Scribbling

I make it a practice to keep a travel-sized notebook and pen with me at all times. When I forget these essential tools and my iPhone is nowhere to be found, I have no qualms about asking a stranger for any writing instrument to capture the relevant thought on the nearest portable writable surface.

The rule is simple: if you don’t write it down, it never happened.


Haphazard notes are then transcribed into TextEdit.

Doof Draft

The entire first draft of both Managing Humans and Being Geek was written in TextEdit. I eagerly test-drive the latest gorgeous, time-saving, writer-specific tool, but after each evaluation, I always return to TextEdit.

Why? Barriers. I’m uncertain if it’s a nerd perspective or a writer one, but once you’ve begun a book, the world transforms into a menacing place intent on distracting you from doing what you love — writing.

See, you’re chasing an elusive high where the story just pours out of your fingers, and it occurs so infrequently that you start to wonder: is there a system? Is there a perfect sequence of events that conjure writing nirvana?

I wrote four effortless pages sitting on that high bar stool in the Los Gatos Coffee Company. And I had a black coffee, a 10% Kona blend… in my favorite mug… on a Tuesday.

What was a random sequence of events becomes your writing religion and suddenly you’re obsessing over the seating arrangements in your local coffee shop rather than doing what you love.

Humans, especially nerds, are creatures of habit. Often, these habits are designed to make the world a predictable place so that our brains can focus on the creative task at hand. The reason I continue to end up in TextEdit is that my favorite feature is the lack of features.

Here’s just a slice of one of the preference dialogs in a great writing tool called WriteRoom:

WriteRoom Preferences

Do you know what I see? I see hours of gleeful distraction tweaking features and defining the perfect writing environment. In TextEdit, there are no knobs and dials for me to fuss with to optimize my writing experience.

Features create choice and choice is a dangerous distraction and the last place you want to find distraction is in the tool you use to write. In TextEdit, I set one preference – body text: Sentinel 15 pt and then I start writing:

I am not writing


I have two writing states when generating new material. A fresh thought and an edited thought. The fresh thought state is when I’m staring at a blank page and starting a new article or chapter. The edited thought state is when I’m firing up an incomplete article and picking up where I let off.

Starting, in both states, is tricky, but it’s trickier picking up the editing state because I lack the original raw motivation that caused me to fire up TextEdit and attack a blank page. My move in acquiring my train of thought is to re-read what I’ve already written and then retype the last two or three paragraphs of the existing work. This is usually enough of an exercise to kick off the mental dust.

My other momentum move involves the [square brackets]. The writing zone is a tenuous one and sometimes the thought just can’t be expressed in words, yet. Rather than getting lost in a single sentence, I put my best effort in [square brackets]:

  • [Something about writing being hard]
  • [You can say this better]
  • [Blah blah blah I can’t be eloquent in a chair where my feet touch the floor].

[Square brackets] get those niggling thoughts out of your head and onto the paper so you can focus on moving forward.

Mobility, Pt. 2

Given that you can’t predict your writing mood, you need to have the entirety of your book at your fingers regardless of where you are on planet Earth. Better yet, I’d prefer if you had every single version of your chapters at your disposal.

This used to be a daunting requirement before Dropbox. Not only can you now have every single word you’ve written available on any computer on seemingly any platform, but you also have access to every saved version as well.

As I’ve written before, the magic of Dropbox is that once you’ve started dumping chapters into your folder, you simply forget about it. You forget that your writing is seamlessly copied to all of your computers. You forget about that chapter you had to rewrite after accidentally deleting it from your USB thumb drive. Once again, you have a tool that eliminates distracting barriers.

Chapter Evolution

You must become comfortable with incompleteness. At one point during the latest book, I had seven chapters in various state of doneness. When I began Managing Humans, I’d get panicky if I didn’t complete one chapter before starting the next. This is your brain, once again, trying to organize where it shouldn’t.

The reason I have simple, readily available tools is that I can never tell when I’m going to be able to write. I’m on a deadline, and my editor is breathing down my neck, which means I do have a weekly writing schedule that carves off mornings three days a week. As I settle into one of these mornings, it’s just as likely that I’ll write as it is that I’ll count the number of folks in the room who’ve chosen to drink from ceramic mugs versus paper cups.

A singular focus on finishing a chapter is just another barrier to writing. By browsing all my chapters in various states of doneness, I’m more likely to pick one that is going to tickle my writing fancy: Oh hey, I have something to say about this today. Those ceramic mugs have to wait.

A Table of Contents

At some point, it’s a book. This moment is entirely dependent on you, and the best advice I can give is that you’ll know when it happens. Perhaps it’s a critical mass of chapters. Maybe it’s the discovery of one key thought in one paragraph. The point is: you’re no longer actively thinking about not writing a book, you’re writing a book.

Congratulations. It’s time to get organized.

Once you feel you’re writing a book, it’s time for a table of contents. I exclusively use a spreadsheet for this task because it’s flexible as well as being good at math. My table of contents starts with three columns:

  1. Chapter Number
  2. Chapter Title
  3. Notes

I then dump whatever chapters I have into this spreadsheet in whatever order feels right. There. Now, you have a table of contents.

There are all sorts of exciting ways to stress yourself out with this spreadsheet. Word counts, chapter counts, percent completes. There’s going to be plenty of time to do this when your editor starts with their kind yet passive-aggressive threats, so my advice is stick to three columns for now.

Like many of your chapters, your table of contents is a work in progress. When you finish a chapter, when you’re inspired, or whenever the mood suits you, fire up the spreadsheet and read your table of contents. Are the titles right? What chapters are missing? Which ones don’t make sense?

As we’ll see in a moment, the closer you get to a final first draft, the more your table of contents becomes an essential specification for your book.

See It

Ok, it’s a book now. 20 chapters, right? Feel like you’re beginning to repeat yourself? Getting annoyed by the sound of your voice in your head? Thinking about writing an article about How to Write a Book? Yeah, that’s pretty sweet.

There’s a painful threshold when you’re roughly two-thirds of the way through the book where you need an extra shove. My advice is to not write an article about this experience, but rather print out the whole damned book. That’s right. Every single page. If you haven’t already invested in a home laser printer, now is the time. You’re almost an author, dammit.

Seeing all of your work spread out on the floor of your office is cathartic.


You’ve spent the last few months (sigh, years) staring at the words and being lost in the paragraphs, so there’s a good chance that you’ve forgotten what you were up to. Look, there on the floor, you are writing a book.

Now is also a good time to make another pass at that table of contents. The sense that you’re repeating yourself in your writing is a good sign that you begin to tie up whatever stories you intended to tell. The combination of the ready availability of all your writing on the floor and the structure of your table of contents makes for a constructive opportunity to see precisely where you’re at regarding your book. Does it fit together? Is it obvious where the holes are? Are there plans to fill those holes? Do you have an ending?


This is the last piece of advice, and you don’t want to hear it because what I’m about to tell you is depressing. If you haven’t written a word of your book — if it’s just a great title — you are two years away from being anywhere close to done. I base this opinion on entirely unscientific evidence of (almost) having published two books.

Two years is forever, but I’m going to turn it into an opportunity.

Writing is a game of inches. No author I know sits down every morning in their home office and steadily produces three pages a day. I’m sure they’re out there, but these annoyingly efficient and profitable authors aren’t doing this on the side. They’re doing this because they’ve written enough to make it a career.

While the idea of writing books for a living is appealing, my impression is that if I stopped being a software engineering manager, my voice would quickly become an echo of how things used to be rather than how they are. Thanks, no.

You have time. In fact, you have lots of time. There will be weekends where all you will find is a paragraph. There will be a week where all of your progress will circle around in your head finding precisely the right title for chapter 12.

In writing a book, you’re going to find all sorts of interesting ways to mentally beat yourself up. You’re going to consider new tools and different writing schedules. You’ll discover that inspiration can be encouraged, but never created. You’re going to find constructive ways to procrastinate and your friends are going to stop talking to you because all you talk about is that damned book.

Super. In the meantime, let’s write.

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75 Responses

  1. I just finished a book for O’Reilly (Programming Windows Azure). All I can say is – amen, brother!

  2. ranatalus 14 years ago

    I suddenly feel justified in writing only in notepad

  3. Insightful!

    As another idea (to further distract you from ceramic mugs and, y’know, actually writing), a Part 2 would be interesting as well.

    (“Okay, so you have a complete book. Now what? Editors, illustrations, publishers, and aftermath.”)

  4. I am writing a novel – slowly, but consistently. I’ve learned that I’m not able to write creatively on any electronic device – computers touch the internet, which is a tremendous procrastinating tool, and even electric typewriters still have the negative attribute of allowing me to re-read what I wrote. I hate first drafts, so I prefer writing on a legal pad – whatever I’ve already written is there, waiting to be transcribed, but my handwriting is too sloppy for me to accidentally start reviewing and criticizing and editing before completing the damned first draft.

  5. Excellent. I forwarded this to my wife, the budding author. And thanks for the link to your new book – I was waiting to pre-order it.

  6. Sage advice … I’m about 10 months into a book I’ve been writing/blogging about and with one layoff, one new job started, and second child born, sometimes this writing thing feels like pushing a rock up hill!

  7. Peter 14 years ago

    Another great post. I totally agree with your minimum-feature toolset. Only what you need to get the job done.

    I also like your comment about printing the entire thing out when you start to stall. I suggest going one step further and “binding” the thing – with comb-binding or whatever. It makes all the work you’ve put into the book feel more substantial, and will likely provide a boost of motivation.

  8. This is a great blog post, Rands. I’ve been contemplating putting my experiences into a collection of some kind, so perhaps I’ll make it a short book.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Do you have any suggestions re: self publishing vs. getting noticed by agents and publishers?

  9. Gregory Brown 14 years ago

    @John Whittet:

    That Part 2 was the part that scared me most when I was writing “Ruby Best Practices” for O’Reilly. But actually, I must have been pretty lucky. My process was basically (aside from some minor hiccups) wait two months and then you gots yourself a book. I have had a totally different experience with writing a chapter for another publisher, but O’Reilly seems to be on top of their game.

    Rands, please do write a part 2 if there’s anything to write about 🙂

  10. ‘The best performance improvement is the transition from the nonworking state to the working state.’- John Ousterhout

    This quote guides me through rough times when I’m chasing my tail trying to come up with a plan.

    Very interesting post, thanks!

  11. I’ll agree that WriteRoom does go a bit overboard on preferences. I’m not good at saying “NO”, maybe I’ll be better in the next version. And TextEdit is great, I use it for lots of things.

    But I don’t think that I agree (for general case anyway, individuals are of course individuals) that WriteRoom’s abundance of preferences lead people to distraction where TextEdit would not.

    If you want to tweek and fiddle I think pretty much any modern app, and the OS behind it, gives you an infinite surface area to get caught up in. Especially if you are writing a book, there are lots of scripts and workflows to setup to get from text on screen to published book. So, yes, WriteRoom does have too many preferences, but in the big picture I don’t think it really makes much difference.

    WriteRoom (as with all tools) doesn’t force you to ingore distractions and write, but when in full screen mode I think that it’s very good at allowing you to concentrate and keep writing once you’ve started. TextEdit is good to, but editing in TextEdit is a completely different experience, your trying in one window amoung many. WriteRoom’s fullscreen editing on the other hand focuses you one just your text. Both tools have there place, but in my very biased opinion WriteRoom is a pretty great place to start a book.

    If I were to critique WriteRoom I would say that the preferences don’t really make any difference. But, depending on the writing, WriteRoom’s full screen mode can become a barrior if you need to do lots of web research/etc as you write. I use TextEdit for that sort of writing, but when I really want to concentrate on just my text that for me WriteRoom feels much better.

  12. Nice article. I really liked your choice of snippet for the TextEdit screenshot.

    Unless you’ve really been unlucky in your startup adventures, I’m pretty sure I know your Doof and tried to get him fired too. Tried hard.

    Good luck with the new book. If you need a semi-experienced author/geek to review it let me know. I’d be happy to offer up any suggestions.

    – Curtis

  13. Brilliant! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience.

  14. ZZamboni 14 years ago

    Very interesting article, thank you.

    I have a question: at which point in the process do you submit a proposal to a publisher? Most guidelines for submitting proposals I’ve seen request you submit a sample chapter or so, but what I’m wondering is whether you sit down and write the sample with the purpose of submitting the proposal, or if you start writing your book, and at some point you have enough material, and then you submit proposals to the publishers.

    I’ve been considering writing a (technical) book, have a good topic in mind, but I keep procrastinating because I have no time pressure and there always seems to be something more urgent to do (e.g. day job). I’ve thought maybe if you already are signed up with a publisher, there must be some element of time pressure to motivate you.

    I would very much appreciate your thoughts on this! I might as well take the opportunity to say I very much enjoy your writing.


  15. Scott Guelich 14 years ago

    Rands, great article and congrats on being almost done! I wrote a tech book with an aggressive deadline several years back and the marathon of writing can be draining, especially at the end.

    I agree that it’s key to avoid distraction (internet off when writing). But I’m not sure I agree that WriteRoom’s preferences would be too high a hurdle. Sure, a writer’s bound to waste an hour or two tweaking the first couple days… but any decent size book takes months to years and writers would settle into something that works after the first few days. The key is to grab something and just start and keep the words coming.

    @ZZamboni, if you’re primarily interested in writing for a particular pubisher, then there is some value in checking in with them early — since they may already have someone signed on to write the book you have in mind. That said, recognize that writing a book is a huge time commitment. You’ll never make enough money on sales to offset the hours you put into it, and you end up sacrificing all your free time for months on end.

  16. Ken Hansen 14 years ago

    Nice article, reminded me of a column by a SF writer who described how he writes his books – at the end of the process, when the book had it’s “shape” but wasn’t done, he’d go into a guest room in the house, fire up an older computer, running an older version of WordPerfect (in line with your distraction notes, he was “hard-wired” to use WP, no thought involved), and the machine had no internet connection. The author was Jerry Pournelle.

  17. Janet Swisher 14 years ago

    I disagree with your statement that if all you have is a title, you’re two years away from being done. You could be a week away from being done, like the folks who wrote Collaborative Futures (http://en.flossmanuals.net/CollaborativeFutures/Three). Not every book has to fit into the traditional publishing, sole-authorship model.

    However, your statement is probably still true for fiction.

  18. The Antipodean 14 years ago

    That last pic reminded me of this post regarding P.G. Wodehouse’s writing technique.

  19. As a 3-time author, I agree with every word. Great post!

  20. Johan Strandell 14 years ago

    This probably goes against the gist of the post, but I find Scrivener brilliant for writing longer texts. It does have quite a lot of features and preferences, but it mostly gets out of the way, and what gets in the way does so in useful ways. Just a small thing like the autosave every 2 seconds means that it’s possible to concentrate on writing rather than when you last saved, and the inbuilt revision control is primitive, but works well enough to make large re-edits less scary. This might sound like an advertisment, but anyone writing longer texts on OS X should check it out.

    My favourite anecdote about writers and writing is about Raymond Chandler: apparently he used to lock himself into a room with very few things (and crucially, a typewriter), without any commitment to writing – he just had to stay in the room for a couple of hours. Normally he’d just whittle away an hour or two, but after that it got so boring so that he started writing because it was more interesting than staring at the traffic outside.

  21. I agree that the tools can be distracting and that simple is usually better.

    What I have found is that themes and jot outlines work great for me.

    Themes are just simple one to two sentences that I write at the top of the page. They are throwaway sentences that capture what I want to write.

    Jot outlines are like your [ ]’s. Just some organizational thoughts on how the piece, page or chapter is loosely structured. This is a tremendous help when stuck on topics to write about.

    Really looking forward to your next book.


  22. Nice article, Rands. Looking forward to your new book.

    I liked your mention of a light-weight tool. I too believe that it helps a lot when you’re trying to focus on the item. Also liked the last picture, where you visualize your work.

    Enjoy your writing. Thanks.

    – Satya

  23. My favorite writing tool is rapidly becoming the iPad. I will place it on its dock and use the apple Bluetooth keyboard. When you are staring at the ipad in this way, it looks pretty much like a blank slate without any distractions since it takes over the entire screen. I have Pages, but lean toward QuickOffice which has autosave and saves to drop box automatically. When the ipad screen is sitting vertical, it takes up the equivalence of half my macbook pro 17 screen which is about the same as a word processor window. Good stuff and it is just the beginning.

  24. I find myself accepting a seemingly-hypocritical dichotomy when it comes to the feature-richness of editors. When writing words, I’m totally with you on having a minimum feature set. When your goal is prose, the editor had best get out of the way and let there be as little friction as possible between the voice in your head and the text document you’re creating.

    However, I appreciate feature-richness when writing code. While I still demand a clutterless interface, having an ever-expanding set of commands and macros only a few keystrokes away increases my ability to interact with source code. The dynamic nature of document and file navigation when in developer mode demands more features.

    Looking forward to reading your new book. Best of luck as the publication process wraps up.

  25. jonathan 14 years ago

    Ah, 15 pt Sentinel – that’s the secret!

  26. bowerbird 14 years ago

    textedit? um… ok, whatever floats your boat…

    likewise, if you _must_ keep every chapter in

    a separate file in order to get yourself to write,

    well then go ahead and feel free to do that…

    but be aware that that means you are probably

    going to introduce all kinds of _inconsistencies_

    across the separate files. just as a for-instance,

    did you spell “guesthouse” as one word? or two?

    or as a hyphenate? if you have the whole book in

    a single file, it’s very easy to search it and check…

    or let’s say you find yourself misspelling the name

    of one of your characters (or worse, a real person).

    it’s a lot more convenient to search one file to see

    — and fix — an error like this, rather than dozens.

    now, if you have a publisher, they will (hopefully!)

    have a copy-editor, whose job it is to find and fix

    stuff like this. but if you self-publish, it’s on you.

    (even if you have a publisher, they will appreciate

    you a lot more if you turn in a clean manuscript.)

    so, other than that, “just write” is very good advice.

    the only thing i’d add is to buy a duplex printer,

    one that prints on both sides of a piece of paper.

    even if it costs more, you will save that in paper.

    plus, over and above that, having a draft that’s

    printed on both sides feels more _professional_,

    and that little thing can perk you up considerably.


  27. jonathan 14 years ago

    Nice article.

    I like to write with Lyx – it won’t let you style your text explictly, only mark your text as for example, a title, emphasised, etc. This was a major distraction for me.

    When you export it, you choose a template and it makes it look very professional. It’s a pleasure to work with, supports LaTeX and utilities such as BibTeX.

    Check it out – http://www.lyx.org

  28. I’m 40,000 words into my 7th novel. One of the things I’ve found is that the process changes. What I did for novels 1-3 didn’t work for novel 4, what I’m doing now bears no resemblance to any of my previous processes.

    I do write the first draft by hand. I type first draft using a different font than the final format. I prefer minimum feature writing software. I read one of the closer to final drafts out loud (your ear catches more than your eye.) Everything else — how I plot, the amount of outlining and research, when I write, where I write, how I rewrite — that all changes.

    As for how long it takes, I think that depends on the writer. I’m currently doing a challenge — writing a 60,000 YA novel in 6 weeks. YMMV.

  29. Brian 14 years ago

    Your new book looks very promising. What are the chances that you will publish it in a Kindle edition?


  30. Kathy sierra 14 years ago

    Whew…so relieved I am not the only one to use TextEdit. Wonderful post Rands, and from what I have seen of the upcoming book… your process paid off!

    The one thing I would add, though, is that most of us are not writers no matter how many books we create (and sell). Tim O’Rielly helped me early on my first tech book by saying, “This isn’t Faulkner.” The moment I quit trying to think of what I was doing as “writing” was the moment I began “crafting” a user experience that happened to be in book form.

    We try to get the authors we work with to use the words “design”, “create”‘ and “craft” rather than “write”, and–most importantly–that they have “users”‘ not “readers”. The point for much of non-fiction (and virtually ALL tech) is to give the user/reader an experience that leaves them with new capability, not an appreciation for our “writing”.

    You are one of the very rare who manages to do both. My husband and I, meanwhile, have proven you can be a crappy, talentless writer and still produce tech bestsellers ; ). The secret, in our opinion, is to always remember that it is never about us or our writing… It is–as with software–about what our users are able to do as a result of our work.

  31. Wonderful article, and very reassuring to read as I sit pondering how to put together a proposal for an edited academic volume. I’m editing it with a colleague, and I wondered whether anyone had any recommendations for low-friction collaboration platforms/software? I’ve looked at Google Docs, drop.io and Google Wave, but they all come up short: none of them is especially iPad-friendly, for one thing, and I’m looking for something that my non-geek colleague won’t find off-putting in terms of signup and access.

  32. Will Hentz 14 years ago

    I came up with an idea to write my book in 2000. Ten years have passed. Nothing has been accomplished. My life has gotten in the way. The military, my family, my masters in procrastination. Sometimes I wish I were in prison so that I can have more alone time with my thoughts and more free time to write. If only procrastinating were illegal.

  33. Hi,

    I thought about writing a book a couple of times, a sort of adventures novel in the style of Jules Verne.

    But then I’d have to ask someone to revise it and so on, because I wouldn’t want a book with errors.

    Then finding a publisher, registering and so on…

    Well, maybe I’ll print a small one myself and send it to a free friends to see their reaction.


  34. Together with a colleague of mine I have written a scientific book using LyX. This is my favorite – especially if you write camera-ready. Furthermore, from the beginning, even if you have only 20 pages, the nice automatic tools of LyX (ToC, references, index, …) give me a remarkable motivation boost along the way: just using the export function at the end of your writing session will create a PDF and you will get to see how your book will look like. At the same time, LyX itself hides the fancy layout during writing and allows you to completely focus on writing.

  35. Thanks for a great post Rand. My book the Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 Cookbook came out two weeks ago and I appreciate seeing how others write. I’ve decided that the solution to procrastination is writing a book. I’m incredibly productive at everything but the book. One tip, everytime I sat down to write, I turned off the wireless on my laptop. That was a huge help in minimizing distracitons.


  36. I write novels, and I found everything in your post just as relevant for fiction. This afternoon I’m busy rearranging colored sticky notes that represent plot events in order to figure out if the story progresses in the most effective order. It helps me a lot to see a book spread out across the floor.

    Thanks for writing up this great advice.

  37. Chris 14 years ago

    I’d like to write a book and I was planning on using MS Word. Is that out of the question? Should I purchase a special program and if so which would you recommend? My laptop is HP however I also have a mac.

  38. K Heath 14 years ago

    Stephen Kings On Writing is a must read for any writer as it offers great advice on the actual physical act of writing. Basically, stop talking about it and just start writing. Use any free time you have and learn to close the door (sealing out the outside world). I don’t like to talk about writing so much because then I’m promising too much and setting up for failure. Surprise people and announce you have a book written. I will be experimenting with self publishing. Times and changing. It’s importantly not to forget that writing a book is also a team effort. You need readers to see if they like it and an editor to help keep you on track.

  39. The mention of Sentinel in 15pt is a trojan horse. If you spend an hour trying to track down a torrent of an otherwise $200 font, you’re not ready to write a book 😉

  40. Johnny 14 years ago

    Damn nice article, and really inspirational. I startet just over a week ago with just taking some notes of some pretty strange changes I have had after I came home from England this summer. Now it’s like I cant stop.

    This is the first article I have read by searching on google for inspiration and help. It really did it! Thanks Man,



  41. Maryrose Gamino 14 years ago

    looked at the kindle and nook but they dont have what i need. Maybe next year, don't want to pay for the ipad w/OUT all that I need.

  42. Dana McCollum 14 years ago

    I’m not a techy, but found your blog from a google search. Thank you for your honesty. This was a great article for a reluctant, but emboldened mom of four with a passion to share my story. Time for me to move. Thanks Again, Dana

  43. Terry Nawalaniec 14 years ago

    I am so glad I ran into this post. I have just started a book. Right not at the point where I am just typing facts and typing and typing. Then go back and do some editing but at this point it is just a hodgepodge of stories and feelings. Does everyone start at that point? I feel I have my chapters and outline, but they are not being written in the order right now. Is this a normal experience? Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks. Terry

  44. Carmen 14 years ago

    Thank you for the article. I am just starting to write a book and need basic information. I just have MS word, but I feel like if I focus too much on the software, (any software) that will become a distraction. However, I like disabling internet- makes sense. I took at look at Dropbox, then got nervous about the fine print and them being able to close your file at anytime for any reason??? What if I havent saved alternately- sounds like I would be SOL. I plan to get Stephen King on writing because it sounds like it has the basic information that I need such as do you sketch a plot first, then add characters, then write? Or start writing and let the characters and plot be self leading (wishful thining??) I’m an excellent writer in every other aspect, but now I want to write fiction. Any tips would help.

  45. Ekwoge Evaristus Enomba Enongene 14 years ago

    First I must comment on your website on how to write a book.

    But,I do not really know how to go on with it.

    I will be very pleased if you can help me again with some more advises.

  46. Holly 14 years ago

    “And So it is”……That’s my beginning of beginning of beginning. Great Motivation. Stumbled on your blog to and it truly made a life of difference in my dedication. Just think, if your advice causes the chain reaction you intended and books are written to continue the flow of mankind? How sweet is that?

  47. Megan 14 years ago

    Ok, I am 13 years old and by reading your article I must start off by saying, wow! That really helped a bunch. I am writing my second book, but really the first major book. I needed help with one problem I have stressing over for a while. How do you know when a chapter is long enough? In books that I have read, some chapters are 3-4 pages, but others are 20. How can I know when my chapters are long enough and complete? Thanks for the great advice! I hope this could help me get my book published.

  48. Hi, I’m 11 and a half years old, turning 12 this december, and I can’t find Sentinel on TextEdit! I have turned to Trebuchet MS to help solve my problem, but can you help me find Sentinel I like it!

  49. A young Writer 13 years ago

    I am writing a book. I have felt horribly gloomy after reading Howls moving castle and house of many ways. I found that as soon as I started to write, I lost that horrible feeling, and wrote tell I fell asleep. I hope to be a writer, zoologists, or veterinarian.

  50. Great post as usual… And I agree using a fancy tool is the biggest disability you are buying in most cases.

  51. Distractions are everywhere. We all have many excuses for not sitting down quietly and letting the words flow out. I find that I promise myself I will write another article on my current topic, whatever that is, on a daily basis. However I find that other things creep in and for a plethora of reasons it doesn’t happen. But that is life and it seems that this is a common problem. You need to have some form of motivation to get you to sit down and start writing. I think your blog has perhaps given me the incentive to write another article…soon. Perhaps this weekend. Hopefully.

  52. Wesley 13 years ago

    Loved the article. Very helpful, really. It’s crazy though. Whenever I sit down to start writing I get distracted. It’s just whenever I’m on my computer, I HAVE to check my facebook. So I think “Just 10 minutes”, but I always get stuck on the yahoo! News page or end up chatting with someone on facebook for an hour. I’ve been thinking about writing this book, then making a feature film based on it. Ya. I sense some intense years of typing, frustration (like my cat jumping on my keyboard right now as I’m typing), and some major capal tunnel. I truthfully have no idea what to expect. It will be crazy. But I’m young, Only 16, and I have a lot of time to practice, come up with ideas, and make sure I write my book and feature film, look just right. Plus I enjoy writing and telling stories. Time to unplug the internet and start this damn thing… right after I check my facebook status.

  53. gabrielle 13 years ago

    I chuckled a lot while reading this post. (Thank you, Rands!) It gave me an opportunity to connect with my two old friends, Procrastination and Despair, who I see less and less frequently these days, but whose power I still respect. I will never take them for granted…

    I especially liked:

    “…hours of gleeful distraction tweaking features and defining the perfect writing environment.”

    Hours? Ha ha! A couple of years ago, Procrastination and I spent WEEKS searching for and testing the perfect writing software, then rearranging/streamlining my home environment to more comfortably support my writing life. Results: my laptop at one end of a crowded desk, a round robin with three writing programs (a different WIP on each), and higher productivity. Ahhh — happiness.

  54. Gabrielle 13 years ago

    Advice to WESLEY (‘couldn’t resist) who wrote:

    “But I’m young, Only 16, and I have a lot of time to practice, come up with ideas, and make sure I write my book and feature film, look just right.”

    1) Do not leave the age of 16. STAY 16 (at home, where you have no bills). If you somehow cannot manage that, then

    2) do not fall in love,

    3) do not marry,

    4) do not have children, and most important,

    5) do not allow unexpected events into your life.

    There. Now, if you follow my advice, there’s a good chance you can easily fulfill your goals.

    Of course, I’m joking — sort of. What I’m really trying to say is:

    Do not take TIME for granted; she does NOT like that!

  55. procrastidude 13 years ago

    I don’t know if this is actually going to help me write a book but it certainly is a great post. (I found it through the Mac Power Users podcast.)

    Seeing the care you obviously put into your prose, I feel I should point out the(?) remaining typo:

    “you’re begin to tie up”

    I’d also second the Scrivener suggestion. It has far more tools than I need, but there are two that make a huge difference. First, the binder works well as a container for lots of bits of writing. So I make a folder for each planned section or chapter, each of which can contain lots of bits of writing, which can be reordered at any time and viewed separately or combined. I also have a folder for notes that are relevant to the project but I don’t know where to put. I find this way better than square-bracketed notes to myself, because each note can be given a name that is viewable in the binder, ready to be moved later on to somewhere where it fits. There’s also another folder for quotes from other works that I want to refer to, along with the bibliographical information. All in all, the binder makes it much easier to start writing anywhere in the project and then incorporate the writing into the structure later on.

    The other feature that makes writing easier is the split editor. That allows me to refer to external sources or to earlier rough notes of my own while writing something more polished. It occurs to me that it would also be ideally suited to your tip to retype a few paragraphs you wrote previously to build momentum.

  56. Norman Zachary Taylor 13 years ago

    Thank you for the advice that you gave, I have my words jotted down on paper I just need to put them together, like it suppose to be, it is very interesting how my life was generated and my family being railroad and taken advantage of. My book is about, Behind the color of the skin. We have been left behind for greed. I need help shoul I send an essay about my book and would I be able to sell my essay. I am ready to get my story out there but I don’t have funds, what can I do, my story will sell I need to do this as soon as possible. My land is being stolen and nothing is being done about it, how could this happen, why do we have to be a prisoner in our own hometown, I am ready to bring my story out, I am homeless sleeping in my van I need a place to call home, please give me some pointers on how to start it off and how to sell my story. I have about 30 pages or more that I wrote.

  57. Genie 12 years ago

    The iPad has really helped Apple to make great strides in getting into places they struggled with in the past, mainly acceptance in the business community. The MAC was never widely adopted in the business world, but the iPad is being quickly taken in. Everything from accounting firms to medical practices are using them everyday. Pretty incredible considering how easy it is to forget that it is a product that has only been out for less than 3 years now.

  58. Grace 12 years ago

    I like what you wrote about the last one, patience. As a writer, you really need to have that attitude to keep you afloat. I actually came across a video that talks about how to write a good book and how to make yourself get better on doing it. It’s a video from Marie Forleo, a woman who made her way to selling her great book to the world. http://marieforleo.com/2011/03/erotic-fiction-writer/

  59. Chyerel Coldwell 12 years ago

    I love writing , I don’t care if it’s a book or not , i just have to get stuff out of me . I don’t know if i’m author material , i have spontaneous thoughts written as far back as 1987 , with about a decade gap and then another bunch of writings with about another decade gap . The gaps were the years of loosing who i was and loss of inspiration with life in general but writing something lingered with me all day like air , but i couldn’t bring myself to believe that what i love so much mattered any more than i did . So i just want to bet back at it again . I feel alive i have a lot on my mind . And you sound a lot like me and i needed to know that i’m not the only one who has these desires , you pretty much taught me how to channel them . I love your tips . thank you so much.

  60. Superb tips and guides for the beginners as well as writers! I’ve not written a published book, but I’m a experienced writer in writing short stories for 1 year. I do agree with you that environment is important to minimize distractions and improve your writing.

  61. KC Marie 12 years ago

    I’m a teenage writer, and everytime I get to the sixth chapter of my book, which will have taken me a few months to write, I re-read what I have, realize it’s crap, and have to delete everything and re-write it. This has happened several times.

  62. Lorna 12 years ago

    I’m just commenting to let you understand what a perfect discovery my wife’s princess went through browsing your webblog. She learned so many pieces, which included what it is like to possess a wonderful teaching spirit to let many more without difficulty fully grasp specific very confusing things. You really did more than people’s desires. Thanks for distributing such productive, trusted, edifying and even fun guidance on your topic to Lizeth.

  63. Wow, very useful information. Based on my experience, writing a book is not an easy tasks to do. We need to research more and more about the concept and also from our life experience.

    But this article helps me much more about that and now i feel easy. Thank you for the great article.

  64. Amalia 11 years ago

    I was wondering if I could get some advice. Well in short I am, unfortunatly one of those so called lucky people that can sit and write two to three or maybe even more chapters a day. My mind is a constant battle of lyrics and short stories to even poems that marvel u

    In jumbles rattling through my mind day in and day out. I am also very talented in drawing just about anything I can see visually or mentally, however my only problem is the lack of paper pencils pens and basic writting materials due to funds. I am unable to work due to an unfortunate situation and an accident that ultimately ended up with cervical spine surgery.. needless to say time is not an issue.. lol in fact that’s the one thing I have plenty of. Do any of you now a way to obtain simple materials so that I can put this talent to use and release

  65. As a predominantly visual art-oriented person, I find that much of this insight applies equally well to the making of a body of paintings or sculptures. (Or, heck, one substantial painting or sculpture.) It always amazes me the tricks my mind will play, requiring the “mood” or the tools to be just right. In the end all it boils down to is me and the work. Working makes its own inspiration.

    Great essay. Thanks for sharing!

  66. I’ve been inspired to write a biography of a dear late friend who was a senator. I really would like to begin right away, I have a million different voices in my head, and don’t really know which way to start. I say start with chapter one, but in order to do that (I’ve never written a novel before) I have to know what it takes, what it includes etc. etc. How do I collect my thoughts and put it down on paper. Another thing, This senator is deceased now where can one research (i know she graduated at a N. GA. College) maybe start there. I’ve also connected with family but they aren’t really interested in talking about her. Any tips would be great. I really enjoyed this post.. Thanks for sharing.

  67. Patience is not a friend of mine 🙁 however, I guess when writing this, it will be a good teacher for me to learn about patience.

  68. Shawn Vincent 10 years ago

    Man…this post totally hit home with me. I just finished writing my first novel…about 10 years after I decided I wanted to write one. Could not agree more that the best step to starting is deciding to not write one. Ha!

    Time to go buy myself a laser printer…

  69. Everdil 9 years ago

    Thanks. I needed to read that.

  70. Thank you so much for this. This is the kind of writing inspiration I need. I’ve got a fair amount done already, but maybe it is time to make a table of contents, type out all those notes and print them out. I’m writing a book dammit! Just starting on an organised excel spreadsheet, and seriously considering familiarizing myself with TextEdit, this font is really striking my fancy…

  71. Robyn Hofland 7 years ago

    Thank you! Two simple words that don’t convey the appreciation I have toward your thought filled, generous feedback that was exactly what I needed to hear on this rainy Monday morning in Des Moines.

  72. Hey this is a cool way to go man. Thanks, it gave me heads up on my own book writing about my startup journey involved around venues and parties.



  73. Robyn 6 years ago

    When self doubt creeps in and the process seems daunting, we writer’s need reassurance…thank you for sharing your thoughts and reminding us ‘I’m not the only one.’

  74. I love how you said that your recommendation is to obsess about your title early on. I recently have been working on a book and still haven’t found a title. Thank you for the tips on how to write a book.

  75. Kelly Holliday 6 years ago

    Enjoyed reading this. You’re funny. Been researching ( ok, procrastinating) specifically on finding your own unique voice. Really like yours. All the best.