Five Steps for Writing a Book

(Author of Listful Living) Paula Rizzo whips out her knowledge of publishing books to bring us a guide to writing a book.

BONUS FREEBIE: Want even more ways to stay organized, productive and less stressed? Click here to get access to my List-Making Starter Kit. It will boost your efficiency and get you back to doing more of the things you love.

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Since writing two books, Listful Thinking and Listful Living, I’ve spoken at several public events and book signings about my writing process. It comes up so often because “write a book” is on so many people’s bucket list. People always want to hear about my checklists for writing my books!

Well, first of all, you can’t just stick “write book” on your to-do lists along with “buy milk” and “send birthday card.” 

That’s because “write book” is way too big a feat for just one task on a to-do list. 

Here are the steps I took to create manageable lists for my books. 

1. Break It Down

When it comes to writing a book, there’s no step that’s too small to include on your list. To start, I wrote down everything I thought I would need to do to write my book. That included brainstorming ideas, conducting interviews, carving out time to actually write, etc. 

Then I broke that list down into chunks — and then I broke those items down into even smaller chunks.

The more specific you can be, the more likely you are to achieve your goal. For example, I put “outline chapter 1 on Thursday” on my list. You have to commit your time, or you’ll just end up procrastinating.

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2. Outline Everything

Once you have the book idea, this is where you need to start. It’s super tempting to just crack open your laptop and get typing – but that’s a quick way to end up rambling off topic.

For both my books, I wrote out all the topics I wanted to cover on index cards, much like I did for my reports in high school (who knew that technique would come in handy again!)

Once I had all my ideas on those index cards, I would distribute them between the chapters. That formed my guide as I worked through each chapter. 

3. TK

Nope, that’s not a typo. What is TK? What does it mean? It’s not some secret writer code. It just means “to come.”

It’s a trick newspaper and magazine editors use. I find it really helpful when I’m in the flow of writing and I don’t want to get distracted looking up statistics or studies. So I just write “TK % of Americans use lists.”

That reminds me to look up the statistic at a later date, but it doesn’t stop me from writing. Plus, it’s easy to go through a document, search for “TK,” and replace it with the information. 

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4. Have a Capture Place

You can guarantee that all your best ideas are going to come to you when you’re in the shower, out for a jog, or about to fall asleep (basically anywhere that isn’t near some pen and paper!). When this happens, you need a place to save your thoughts.

I like to use Evernote, because everything can be sorted into different notebooks for different chapters. In a pinch, the memo pad on your smartphone will probably do. I also like to use audio notes. Those are great when you can’t physically write anything down! 

I also have a whole LinkedIn Learning course about note-taking — you can check that out here.

5. Create a Rundown

Once you’ve sold your book proposal to a publisher, it’s crunch time. You need to actually write the book. (This is different if you’re writing fiction because you need to finish the book first.)  

There’s no better way to do this than with a rundown. We used these all the time when I was a TV producer, which is why it’s so ingrained in me to use this tool. I used a rundown to organize the order of the stories in a newscast. The most important stories go first, and so on. 

You’ll need to figure out what order you’ll write in. Maybe it’s not a book that needs to be written chronologically — I wrote my book out of order at times. Do what works for you!

To use a rundown, look at your list of to-dos and prioritize them. Then use that rundown and plug due dates into your calendar that correspond.

Writing a book might seem like an enormous task, but once you break it down into these steps, it gets a lot more manageable! Join me as I interview developing editor and publishing strategist AJ Harper for Inside Scoop. Bring any questions you have! 

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BONUS FREEBIE: Want even more ways to stay organized, productive and less stressed? Click here to get access to my List-Making Starter Kit. It will boost your efficiency and get you back to doing more of the things you love.

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Listful Living by Paula Rizzo

Listful Living

A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You

A best-selling author and Emmy-award winning television producer for nearly 20 years, Paula Rizzo produced health, wellness, and lifestyle segments with a range of top experts, including JJ Virgin, Jillian Michaels, and Deepak Chopra. Rizzo brings her experience to this new project. Readers will learn their stress style and strategies for shaping their days in more productive ways. With self-assessments and exercises, this guide will bring readers to better patterns and better, more organized lives.