In my work as a coach, I spend a lot of time in conversation with scholars planning complex writing projects. Lately, this has meant developing writing plans for books, as nearly 80% of my 1:1 clients are writing one. The meta cognitive work required to successfully plan and execute the writing of a book is no joke. It’s time-consuming and iterative. Unfortunately, most scholars are ill-prepared to take on this work because they didn’t have time to learn project management while they were becoming experts in their respective fields. Thus, we often start with a crash course in project planning.
To make this planning work more straightforward, I use metaphors, analogies, and other examples. One analogy I’ve been playing with is considering writing a book as a road trip, with the final destination being a completed book. What do we need for our journey? How do we get there? Thinking through those questions is how we make successful writing plans for books.
The elements of a successful plan.
Intention: First, we need to know why we’re going there. Normally, you know why you’re getting in your car. You go to the grocery store because you want some chocolate chip mint ice cream to eat while watching Schitt’s Creek. You drive to the airport so you can travel to that conference with the outrageous registration fee. Why are you writing this book? What’s your goal? Write down your reasons and keep them in a safe place. Being clear on this will help you when you feel lost or discouraged.
A map: This is your guide. Two types of guides are a writing schedule and an outline. Both provide structure and some predictability. You wouldn’t start driving to a brand new destination without firing up your Google maps. Similarly, you shouldn’t start writing without putting some writing sessions in your calendar, creating a thematic outline (no matter how sparse it might be), or even brainstorming some chapter titles.
Preparation: Make sure you’re prepared for the journey. Does the car have gas? Are the wheels properly inflated? Did you remember to pack some cashews? This might look like having an organized writing area. As it pertains to the content of your book, it might mean reading the relevant literature and completing data analysis. Doing this groundwork helps you work faster. It also gives you confidence by eliminating uncertainty.
Make the most of the trip: Is there a best time of day to travel? Can you take the route with better scenery or less potholes? For authors, this requires knowing yourself and your environment. Figure out when you do your best writing. Create long, uninterrupted stretches of time to really dig in on a complex argument. Seek out opportunities for meaningful feedback. All of these will make your book writing process way more pleasant.
Rest stops: What types of self-care will we incorporate into our book writing? How will we pace ourselves so that we can sustain our momentum over time? Plan some of this in advance so you don’t trick yourself into using self-care as a reward for meeting some arbitrary measure of progress.
While writing a book can feel overwhelming, there are certain planning principles that work for all projects, and you already know them. If you use those principles, you can simplify the process of making a writing plan for your book. This doesn’t mean the planning will be easy (we didn’t even talk about what to do at a detour!), but it will be more straightforward.