Book Writing Tips

Recently a number of great folks I know in the L&D field have indicated they are working on a book. Writing a book is a great experience. Writing helps me clarify thoughts, focus my ideas and explore content. The writing process connects concepts in my mind together in deep meaningful ways. For a variety of reasons, I think everyone should write a least one professional book.

In the spirit of community, I wanted offer some (unsolicited) advice based on my writing (and assembling) of seven non-fiction books. My most recent book being “Play to Learn: Everything you Need to Know about Designing Effective Learning Games” co-authored with Sharon Boller. Also, not all of my books have been successful but…my Gamification book has sold over 10,000 copies. So I have had some commercial success with a non-fiction book (but nothing to retire on).

With that set up:

This is my creative process, your process will be different.

Create a detailed outline and then fill-in the outline. Often I have such a detailed outline that I know exactly what I need to write next. Sometimes I get bored with the writing (usually when I am tired) but I always know the topic I need to write about. I look over the outline before I go to bed because I want my sub-conscious to work while I sleep. Sometimes in the early morning my alarm will go off and I’ll write a chapter in my head while still in my warm, cozy bed and then get up and write the chapter quickly on my computer–those are good writing days.

Think of yourself as a writer AND an assembler. Naturally, you’ll write a lot for the book but you’ll also have to assemble references, assemble images, assemble chapters and assemble permissions. I typically do the writing in the morning when I’m freshest and then assemble and organize in evening or afternoon when I don’t need to be as creative. I call the morning work “wet work” because the brain really needs to be juiced up to be writing and then the afternoon/evening “dry work” because to me, assembly and organization are boring. But assembly must be done. Take the time to develop an assembly process and, if you need permissions, start early. They always take longer than you think.

Try this trick if you get writer’s block. Write the following on the blank screen…”I have nothing to write, today I am supposed to write about my topic but I can’t seem to do that even though I know I should be listing the top three things that…” I find that after writing about not being able to write, I eventually start writing. Then, I just delete all junk that got me to the point I wanted to make. This forced writing about not being able to write eventually gets me into a flow and rhythm and is cathartic.

Write in sprints. I always say to myself, I am going to write for 30 minutes and then take a break, go for a walk, get a snack or even go to the bathroom. The sprints keep me focused and then I get a break (I’ve also done that with word count but time is better for me–or sometimes word or page count).

Writing is the process of discovery, so, you don’t have to have all your ideas fully formed before you write (an outline is good but you may not know exactly what you want to write). As you write, it will clarify your ideas. Don’t wait for the perfect word or phrase, just write and it will morph into something that you like. Don’t wait for something that you like before you write it down, just write. I never really understood instructional strategies until I started writing about them in one of my early books.

Writing clarifies. The time to walk away from your writing for the day is when you are on a roll. I know, counter-intuitive. However, if you are on a roll, you can walk away and then pick right back up. When the words are flowing, it’s OK to walk away because it will pick up easily. When the words are not flowing, if you walk away and come back, they still might not be flowing. Force yourself to write something and then you’ll be flying along.

These are the tips I use in my creative process. Hopefully, they’ll help you as well. Good luck and have fun.

Here are the books I’ve created (or co-created):


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