The 5 Steps to Writing a Book

Donald Miller

I’ve read many books about writing. My favorites are William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. All terrific books.

I thought, then, I’d share my five step plan for writing a book. Those books are great, but this is the real truth.

Take it as you will, but this is largely how the process goes.

1. Come up with an amazing idea. Know in your head this book will be a blazing bestseller and change the world. Annoy your friends by always talking about it. When they get too annoyed, mumble under your breath in casual conversation about how your book is going to answer that question or some such thing. Keep this up for about a year before you actually start writing. It’s important.

2. About once a month, sit down to work on the book. Go to a coffee shop and set up your computer on the table by the window. Look out the window for inspiration and notice how many cyclists run the stop sign outside the coffee shop. Think for a long time about how hard it is to actually stop a bike and then restart it and how long it would take to get across town if you actually stopped at every stop sign. Google how much you’d be fined if you get caught. Leave the coffee shop without having written. Blame it on the pastry that gave you a sugar crash. Promise yourself the next time you have a writing session you won’t eat a pastry.

3. Search the internet for images you might use for a cover. Look at other books on Amazon and study their covers. Print one of the covers and cross the authors name out to write yours. Use liquid paper if you can still find any. Sniff the liquid paper and wish they hadn’t started putting the chemical in it that makes it smell bad. Wipe the liquid paper off your nose with the napkin they gave you with another pastry. Blame the fact you didn’t get writing done on another sugar crash and the fact you sniffed liquid paper.

4. Rent a cabin. Get very serious about the book. It’s time. Pay good, hard earned money and hole yourself up in the woods to write the book. Bring with you a copy of Walden. Then, obsess about who is and isn’t following you on Twitter for half the first day. Get angry at yourself for being distracted and throw your phone into the woods as a sacrifice to your craft. Go to bed promising the next day you’ll really write.

*Photo by Arbron, Creative Commons

5. Spend the next morning rummaging around the woods looking for your phone. When you find it and it doesn’t work, go back into the cabin and lay on the kitchen floor, preferably a cold, tiled kitchen floor. Look upward at the oven and lament the fate of Sylvia Plath. Wish, though, you could have a book published like she did before she took her life. Wonder to yourself how happy she must have been having had a book published, so happy she took her life. Pack up your stuff and head home, having written nothing.

If you repeat these steps for about eighteen months, you should get a book out of it. I’ve done it many times and it always works. I don’t know when the writing happens. I can’t remember that part. But a book comes.

Of course, the point is writing is hard. To write is to struggle with your sanity, at times. And there will be bad days and you will feel defeated. This work is more difficult than climbing a mountain because you are doing it in the dark. I want to urge you to keep going. You matter and your words matter. By writing, you are saying to God I agree with you, you gave me a voice and the gift was not in vain. By writing, you are showing up on the stage of life rather than sitting in the comfortable theater seats (there is a time for both) and are casting your voice out toward an audience who is looking for a character to identify with, somebody to guide them through their own loneliness, no matter how transparent or hidden that loneliness is.

And so if you find yourself on the floor of the kitchen (and I am no longer joking. I mean that in the Plathian sense, if you are finding yourself despondent) please know you are not alone. So many writers have been there. And the ones whose voices continue to echo through the theater got up, went back to their desk, and prayed again for words. May they come to you. And may they be gifts to us.

-Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • Amazing. Hilarious and insightful like you always seem to be. Thanks Don.

  • Annie

    This was delightful! I’ve not written a book (yet), but it took me back to a few years ago when I was working on my MBA degree. Doing laundry or cleaning the house was never as much fun as when I had a paper to write…
    Just found your new blog–glad you’re back–and I’m sure I’ll enjoy the guest bloggers’ thoughts, as well. May God continue to bless and guide your work, Don.

  • Truly Brilliant.

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  • Christine Nixon

    Thank you! I needed to read that.I got up this morning with the plan to finally sit down and start writing….five hours later I have done my admin, checked my bank balance and checked my twitter! I discover that “somehow” the association of writers and speakers (AWSA) has started following me. And then I find a link to this page. Talk about a sign. I want SO much to get the words God has given me down on paper. It is a battle but I am determined to do it, with His help.

  • You are always such an encouragement that helps me smile through the misery of it. That, I have found, is a pretty good combination.

  • Bud Brown

    Like a dear friend, now in the presence of glory, once told me. “What makes writers different? They write.”

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