The easiest way to write a book: Digging deeper
A while ago I wrote about the easiest way to start writing a book—that is, to simply begin to capture all your thoughts and ideas in one place. I suggested setting aside some time for a brain dump, writing down or audio recording all the bits and pieces that keep floating through your brain begging to be turned into a book. My second suggestion, after having corralled everything in one place, was that you carry a small notebook or the recording device you’re comfortable with, keeping it handy to capture new ideas when they come to you.
You’re not spending time to judge the eventual value of each idea, nor are you worrying about how the pieces are going to fit together. All you’re doing is snagging every potential concept and getting it into a format that you can access again.
Now you’re in the habit of writing down everything halfway applicable, even if it holds only marginal value so far.
But then what?
You’ll perceive that your attention is attuned to this new line of thought and you notice more and more even in your daily life that seems pertinent. Now you’re even more interested in writing your book. Each notion you record heightens your sense of urgency to get this book written.
Or maybe after your brain dump, you realize that your workable material is a bit thin, not quite enough for a proper book. You’re still convinced that it’s worth pursuing, so you’ve jotted down some ideas to research that could fill it out. But in the back of your mind you know there’s even more that needs to be captured.
Beyond good research skills when you do know what you’re looking for, I recommend two methods to uncover what you’re looking for when it isn’t so apparent.
Open the file of notes and scribbles you’ve been hoarding all this time, the one you’ve been dumping into earnestly now. Go through it piece by piece and see if each one leads you anywhere new: questions to chase down, additional resources to check out, new and relevant nuances that will have to be addressed. Photos, charts, quotes, research data, histories, details about the competition—everything gets a thoughtful look.
If you have an outline, work through it. Write down queries or other topics that pop up as you contemplate each point. Chase each line of thought out to its logical conclusion and take note of exceptions, unexpected tangents, problems that need to be picked apart. You’ll find bits to investigate and clear up, ideas you’re less sure of, other related rabbit holes you’ll want to peer into. Don’t throw out any jottings now. You may want to make note of your doubt, but don’t throw it out. Right now, you’re still just collecting.
When you have a solid start to an outline, a process, or the chronology that you want to cover, ask someone to interview you. Ideally, you can ask someone who knows how to split hairs and make you detail exactly what you mean. Simply give them a list of points you want them to question you about, and record the conversation (with their knowledge and permission, of course!). Think out loud and let them interrupt you at any point to explore further.
The purpose of this is to dig below what you’re aware of right now, to help you see things from someone else’s point of view, to anticipate the kinds of questions your future reader might ask. By speaking through your process step by minute step, and having someone outside it ask clarifying questions, you will remember to spell out concepts that are so familiar that you take them for granted, but which for someone else might be both less obvious but vitally crucial to clear understanding. Also, in having to defend your ideas at a high level, you may be forced to refine your thoughts so that they become water-tight, so to speak.
You could just take notes by hand for this process, depending your work style and the level of detail you think you’ll reach. For recording conversations, I’ve used conference calling services that include a recording feature. Translating your recordings to text is as easy as hiring a transcriptionist to type out your audio files or using software that transcribes and records audio at the same time. Such software can be found online, each with varying levels of free or premium features. Your transcriptionist can be hired on freelance platforms.
The interviewing process will take more than a weekend, unless you’re renting a cabin in the woods with the plan to work round the clock. A burn-through is fantastic for the waves of inspiration that come from complete immersion, but will also probably wring you out. Slow works just as well, but, I know, it does require patience.
Go deliberately and deeply. As I’ve said before, it’s better to have many ideas and lay some aside than look at what you do have and realize that it needs much more bulk. There are ways to allude to information that you can’t address fully in your book (a second book, perhaps?), but your readers will detect—and detest!—fluffy, gutless words you use just to fill the page.
Refining your outline is still to come—filling it in with the pieces you’ve found or need to research. As you go through your accumulated notes, you’ll eventually, you’ll realize that your ideas are beginning to arrange themselves for you, putting themselves into the order in which they want to be presented. Your jumbled stacks of scribbles will begin to feel like a book.
Stay tuned for ways to take the pain and mystery out of wrestling it all into the perfect order.