Book writing strategies that DON’T work

Reading time: About 4 minutes

If you want to write a book be sure to avoid these seven toxic book-writing strategies, because they’ll just gum you up.

When I was a child, I was a pack rat. I saved every toy, game, book, piece of paper and photograph. So, my mother (who was actually pretty messy herself, now that I think about it) told me I had to clean my room every week.

What did I do? I shoved everything somewhere else. The family cat could no longer secrete itself under my bed because it was jam-packed with other stuff. And if you were foolish enough to open my closet door, a shoulder-high tsunami of clothes and games would fall right over you.

In short, my mother’s tactic failed.

Similarly, I see many aspiring book authors adopt strategies that I know are only going to cause them to fail. Here’s a rundown:

1-Looking for inspiration

I met with a client recently who had been instructed (by a previous coach), not to let any ideas or bits of inspiration escape his notice. Ironically, he had lots of notes — and a great deal of anxiety because he felt he was working on his book all the time (which he was!) But he had no words. None.

Inspiration is a terrible task-master. Fickle. Unreliable. Untrustworthy. Instead of waiting for inspiration, it’s far better to develop a daily writing habit. See writing as what it is — work — and schedule a small amount of time for it. (Somewhere between five and 30 minutes is plenty for just about everyone.)

To paraphrase Thomas Edison: writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

2-Having goals that are too daunting

Many people tell me they want to write for one to two hours a day. Or, produce at least a thousand words a day. When I hear comments like that, I clutch my scalp. No! Those goals are way too daunting.

First, because you’ve set the goal yourself, you’re going to feel like a failure if you don’t achieve it, and this will make writing the next day even harder. Second, the exhaustion you’re likely to feel after such a demanding writing stint is only likely to lead to burnout.

People sometimes tell me that they can write as many as 3,000 words when they have an outstanding writing session. But when I ask them how often they can do that, they usually admit it’s no more than once every three months or so.

To write an entire book, which is likely to be somewhere between 65,000 and 80,000 words, most people do a lot better if they produce a small number of words every day.

3-Trying to use free writing

The technique known as “free writing” encourages you to write about anything crossing your mind. For example, you might even write: “I really don’t feel like working right now. I’m too tired and I have a headache and this deadline is totally overwhelming me.” But while those thoughts add up to 23 words, you’ll have to agree that they aren’t words that will be able to go into your finished book.

Free writing (or morning pages) can be useful to help you deal with creative blocks. But these techniques will not allow you to write your book. Instead, give yourself a delightfully small goal (say just five minutes) and work specifically on your book. Do it every day. Don’t worry about quality. Just focus on accumulating words. But not just any words. Words relating to your book.

4-Editing on the go

So many people I’ve worked with have the terrible habit of editing while they write. How do I know this is a terrible habit? I used to have it myself. And when I broke it, I more than doubled my own writing speed and even — astonishingly to me — turned writing from a task I loathed into one I loved. Some people even believe that editing while they write allows them to save time. They are wrong. It is always much faster to write first and edit later. To learn how to write in such a fashion, see more here.

Also be aware that editing too early can be just as much of a problem. For long-form writing — such as books or dissertations — I always recommend waiting six weeks before editing.

5-Writing too late in the day

Many people tell me they don’t have time to write in the morning. Here’s what I say:

If writing your book is important to you, do it first — before your day falls apart. Days have the habit of falling apart: bosses ask for unexpected reports, children have unexpected demands, we have unexpected mistakes — car accidents, spilled milk, fights with our partner. But if you do your writing first, before any of these bad things happen, you’ll be able to protect your writing time. (And if mornings are really impossible for you, say because of small children, then do what you can at lunch time. Earlier in the day is way better than later.)

As human beings, we frequently become enthralled by the lure of the urgent, when, in fact, doing what’s important should be our key objective. (For more on the difference between importance and urgency, see here.)

6-Seeking feedback too early

Most writers are hungry for feedback. They write for a while (maybe several weeks or even months) but before long they become desperate to know if their writing is any good. Some are even members of writers’ groups and obliged to read their latest chapter to other people.

I’ve always found this type of early feedback to be a mistake. First, it generally leads to editing too early. Second, it doesn’t allow you to provide your own writing in any sort of context. Getting feedback on a couple of isolated chapters — rather than the totality of the manuscript — is not going to help you meet your goal of finishing a book. Instead, it’s far more likely to shake your confidence.

Finish writing the book before you get feedback. And do a vigorous self-edit first, too.

 7-Hiring an editor for accountability

I have a friend who did this. He’s a high-powered sales guy and he wanted to write a book. But he knew he needed the motivation of continuous feedback. As a result, he spent a lot of money on an editor. He’d write a chapter, get feedback from her and this mostly positive reinforcement would buoy him up enough to write the next chapter.

He sent me the book when it was “finished.” I read it, thought it was pretty good but I knew  that it needed a much better, more sophisticated edit. I connected him with a better editor, she went to work on it and, my friend being a sales guy and all, managed to sell it to a publisher himself.

The story had a happy ending but I wish he’d contacted me earlier. He could have saved so much money if he’d joined my Get It Done accountability group, instead of paying a mediocre editor, too early in the process. Just as you shouldn’t go to a surgeon unless you’re actually looking for surgery, don’t go to an editor unless you’re looking for editing. (And make sure you get a good one when you do.)

There’s a lot of mystique about how to write a book but, basically, it’s hard work and you’re probably not going to be able to do it quickly or easily.

But it doesn’t have to be a punishment, either. As long as you don’t use any of the strategies listed above.


My video podcast last week addressed the issue of what to do with your old writing. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Have you ever been paralyzed by fear of writing? Don’t let this nasty psychological barrier make your life miserable or cost you missed income. I’ve developed a series of 18 videos (with audio and text versions) for just $95 that will help you banish the fear. Plus, you’ll get membership to an online group of others facing the same challenge. Have a look at the program here.


Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


What are some of the book writing strategies that haven’t worked for you? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Beth Farmer, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a Sept. 27/22 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, Beth!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Oct. 31/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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