How to Write a Book Without Even Trying

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This might sound a little ridiculous – writing a book without even trying – but since I’ve done it myself (that’s how I wrote Project December: A Book about Writing), it’s not as impossible as it might seem. The key for me was not realising that all the little things I was writing were adding up to a whole book (I thought I was simply writing blog posts). That might be harder for you since if you’re reading this post, then you’re probably already thinking about writing a book. But the further you can push the idea of the book out of your mind, the easier the process will be.

Stay Away from Fiction
I’ve thought about it a lot and I just don’t see any way anyone could write a novel without trying. So step one in this process is to rule out trying to write fiction. If you want to write fiction, then that’s great. Buy a copy of my book, Project December, read it and then get to work. But when you want to write a book without even trying, the two types that will work best are autobiography and non-fiction.

Pick a Subject You Already Know Well
If you pick a subject for your book that you already know really well, you basically eliminate having to do any significant research. Most people know themselves pretty well so that’s one option.

The other option is to choose the subject you are already an expert on. For me, that was writing. For you, it might be model trains. Maybe it’s dog breeding. Or decoupage (I’m not really sure what that is but I know it’s a thing).

This is how most autobiographies and non-fiction books are written – their authors are simply experts on the topic already so it’s not a huge stretch to put it down on paper.

Think about it like this: if there’s one subject that you bore everybody stupid with at family gatherings, football matches, dinner parties and after work drinks, that you never get tired of talking about, that you have endless information and opinions on, then that’s the subject you should choose for your book.

Don’t Set a Deadline
Setting a deadline is simply setting an arbitrary date that you will watch go by and then feel bad because you didn’t finish the process by then. Deadlines are important for publishers because they plan their whole publishing schedule in advance. Publishing is a long way off for people writing books without even trying.

What you should do instead is set goals. Yes, that’s goals; not one big goal but lots of little ones. My little goal was to write one piece of writing every Wednesday and Friday. Sounds pretty easy, right? It was. In fact, it was so easy that on some days I would write two or three pieces of writing and at the end of each week, instead of having just two completed pieces of writing, I would have six.

Setting goals that are simple to achieve means you will achieve them and also means you are likely to achieve a lot more and feel good about yourself while you’re doing it.

Create a List of Mini Topics
My list of mini topics is also known as my ideas board. Whenever I have an idea about something I want to write about, it goes straight onto the ideas board. It might sit there for a few hours, a few days or a few months. It all depends on the cogitation process going on in my head, which decides for me which topic I will be writing about at any given moment.

It’s a good idea to have your list of mini topics on prominent display where your eyes will frequently be drawn to it, even when you’re not writing. Thinking about the mini topics for long enough will eventually get you to a point where you know exactly what you want to say about it and you can’t keep it inside your head any longer.

Take a Mini Topic and Write
Once you’re at the stage where you can’t keep it inside your head any longer, this is probably the point at which you would lecture friends and strangers at the pub, over dinner, in the supermarket queue. You must resist this temptation. Instead, take all the things you are thinking about saying to them and write it down. As well as having the first part of your book down on paper, you’ll probably have the added advantage of finding that your friends like you a little more, strangers avoid you a little less and the rolling of eyes when you talk is almost completely eliminated.

Don’t Look at the Big Picture
Once you’ve written about your first mini topic, then you have your first chapter. Yay! But don’t cheer too hard, because it probably isn’t your first chapter. It’s more likely to be a chapter somewhere in the middle of your book. The piece of writing that ended up being the first chapter of Project December was the fifty-eighth piece that I wrote of all that chapters that ended up in there.

And there were actually plenty of things that I wrote that never made it into the book because when I realised I had written more than enough to fill a book and was figuring out where each chapter belonged, some of them just didn’t fit into the structure I ultimately decided on (which was “Getting Started”, “Characters”, “Writing”, “Editing”, “What Happens Next?” and “Reading”).

At this stage of the process, you shouldn’t have any idea of the big picture, what structure your book will take. Because if you are trying to write towards that big picture, trying to fill that structure, then you are trying. And remember, the whole point of this is to write a book without even trying.

When You Think You’ve Written Enough, Keep Writing
Even when you think you’ve written enough to fill an entire book, keep writing. Because you won’t have enough. There ended up being sixty-four chapters in Project December but there were thirty-two other pieces of writing I did that didn’t make the cut for various reasons. That’s a third of everything I wrote during that period. That’s a lot of writing.

So using that basic equation, even if you have fifty pieces of writing, about fifteen of them won’t be quite right for what your book ends up being, leaving you with only thirty-five chapters and what is starting to seem like a rather short book.

It’s always better to have too much to choose from than not enough. And if you do end up with more writing than you can include in one book, great! That’s the start of your second book. And all of sudden, you’ve started writing your second book without even trying.

*****

There are no guarantees with this method. And it’s undoubtedly a slower process of writing a book than other methods might produce. But those methods can be stressful. This is virtually stress free. Of all the books I’ve written, it was the book I wrote without even trying that was the most fun, the most simple and the best experience for me.

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