I signed my first book deal with Ten Speed Press (an imprint of Penguin Random House) months before the world changed and we were all hit with the harsh reality of a global pandemic and healthcare crisis. I’d dreamed of writing a book since I was a kid (both my parents were published writers), but my fantasy of amassing an impressive word count while lounging in cafes sipping lattes with my laptop did not come to fruition.
Even though it wasn’t how I envisioned it, I managed to write a 320-page book during a global pandemic while actually enjoying the process, and I am going to break down my step-by-step process for you.
Step One: Solidify Your Message
My agent told me early on that editors need three questions answered to even consider taking a chance on your book:
What is your original idea?
Why is it important right now?
Why are you the right person to write this book?
Before you even think about putting pen to paper, you must clarify and crystalize your answer to these questions.
There are so many great books on home organizing and minimalism already, so I spent a fair amount of time clarifying the ways in which my book would bring something new to the conversation.
I came up with a few key differentiators:
- My organizing philosophy combines principles of minimalism, life coaching, and styling
- I’ve spent the past twelve years organizing hundreds of homes, and I have recognized some universal pain points and challenges and figured out how to solve them in the simplest way possible
- My process breaks down a seemingly overwhelming project (organizing your home) into manageable bite-sized chunks, so even the busiest people can make progress towards their home organizing goals
- My home organizing book is highly visual and stylish enough to be displayed as a coffee table book (most organizing books contain only text)
Once I’d clarified these important distinctions I was ready to dive into step two.
Step Two: Sort Out the Structure
Now, I’ll be honest, this part was excruciating for me. There was so much I wanted to share in my book, but I also didn’t want to overwhelm readers with a firehose of information, so arriving at the right chapter outline took some doing. My agent and I went back and forth for months and months (I wanted to throw my manuscript out the window several times) until she finally told me I had nailed it and could start writing. I may have cried.
Consider how you can organize the content you want to share into broad categories, and present it in the most reader-friendly format possible. Don’t stop until you feel confident you’ve nailed it. This will make the writing of your book SO MUCH EASIER.
Step Three: Break It All Down
Once you’ve clarified your message and structure, you’ll have to write the actual book. Spoiler alert! This undertaking will likely feel a wee bit daunting. Here’s where simple math becomes your new best friend. Look at the structure you’ve devised for your manuscript and divide the time you have given yourself to write the book by the number of pages or chapters you plan to write. Say your book has 24 chapters. You could do what I did and write one short chapter a week, and you’ll complete your first manuscript draft in six months! Believe me – If I had focused on having to complete a 300-page book, I might never have started. Instead, I challenged myself to knock out a single chapter each week until I was done. My mantra was small, consistent action will lead to massive results. My other mantra was progress over perfection. The weekly chapters I completed were sloppy first drafts, and needed editing and polish, but they enabled me to build momentum and make progress.
Step Four: Create a Consistent Writing Routine
As I mentioned earlier, my fantasy of lattes and my laptop did not come to fruition for this book. Instead, I was faced with a new reality that included two kids distance learning from home, a husband who is very loud on his Zoom calls (Hi, Jordan!), and a very barky dog. Focus felt impossible with all of the noise and distraction, so I had to quickly change course and make a plan. Since my husband was on calls from 9am – 5pm, and the kids needed attention during the day, I decided that I would write for two hours each morning before anyone could harass and interrupt me. Luckily, I am sharpest first thing in the morning. I slept with my computer at the foot of our bed, so that I could wake up and immediately write for two straight uninterrupted hours. It took some discipline but became a habit in no time, and proved to be a very predictable and productive way of getting work done. I’ve since realized how much time I typically waste during work time getting snacks, answering text messages, swapping laundry, etc. The lesson here is that if you are laser-focused you can get more done in less time.
Step Five: Help Meeeee
I have always had the ability to both know my strengths and recognize my limitations. When it comes to writing, I am great at coming up with creative concepts and content, but I get lost when it comes to important details like proper comma usage, and I can repeat phrases and words a surprising amount of times. Fortunately, I have some talented and generous people in my life who were excited about my book, and were willing to help me fine-tune my manuscript when I hit roadblocks.
After 21 years together, my husband, Jordan, knows me better than anyone and has the ability to help me clarify exactly what I’m trying to say when I am fumbling over words. As soon as I was done with my weekly chapter, I would hand it off to him so he could make sure my overall tone was on point and I didn’t have any mortifying typos. My dear friend, Leila, then read every single page editing for content clarity, technical errors, and word repetition. I think at one point she told me I had used derivatives of the word “simple” over 100 times! Once I had reviewed the entire manuscript and received a stamp of approval from both Jordan and Leila, I felt ready to submit my manuscript to my brilliant editor, Dervla Kelly. Dervla noted questions and small changes throughout the manuscript, which I had several months to address. In addition, I also had a talented production editor (Kim Keller), and several expert copy editors from the Ten Speed team who weighed in on everything from grammar to tone (sometimes my tough love came across as too tough!) and ensured that there were no glaring errors before the book went off to print. Writing this book really did take a village and I felt so lucky to have such a talented and committed team behind me. Whether you’re self-publishing or working with a big publisher, make sure to curate the support team you need to produce a final product you can feel proud of.
It was a long ride, but in the end, I am totally thrilled with how the book came out and so excited to share it with all of you.
Click here to order your copy of Minimalista.
Photography Credit: Vivian Johnson
8 comments on “How to Write a Book: My Step-by-Step Process”
This inspires me to write a book! Now if I just had a good idea …
Oh, I bet you have plenty of good ideas!Xx
Hi Shira, Just wanted to say thank you for all the content that you put into the world. You have helped me in so many aspects of my life with the simplicity and do-ability of your concepts. Thank you! L, Lauren
Hi Lauren, Thank you so much for this lovely note. This feels so good to hear and I’m so glad my work has been helpful! Xx
Such valuable advice! Thanks for sharing your journey and inspiring the rest of us to follow our spark.
Cheers to following your spark! Xx
Just pre-ordered the book! So excited to read it!
Aww, thank you! Xx