Someone doing his PhD asked me this question a while ago, and it was specifically with respect to writing a dissertation. But I do believe that it applies to writing a book as well.
I have written just one book, which will be published soon, fruit of my dissertation in political philosophy. I have also written about 30 academic articles, a couple of thesis, a dissertation, hundreds of short essays, and two other books are on the making. I’m certainly not the most experienced person on this subject, and I will learn a lot in the process, but I hope that this piece of advice will help others in their pursuit.
- Discipline. Only discipline will get you far, as they process of writing is usually extremely slow. By that I mean that you should have a daily schedule and abide by it at all costs. There are tons of reasons out there not to write. It is really hard to find time. There are also many temptations, distractions, no agent, no publisher, no one knows you yet… However, get to work! Get it in your schedule, and write!
- Look for advice from more experienced people. Try to contact people that have gone through the process, read articles, watch videos, etc. If there is a writer’s club, attend it! There are writer’s conferences as well. There are people out there that are kind and helpful, and willing to lend you a hand to improve your skills, introduce you to other people, etc. One thing that helped me a lot was trying to explain someone more experienced the argument of the book. They would offer advice, help me shape my idea, criticize it, suggest bibliography, etc. There is in Ottawa a book club in which authors meet once a day at a coffee shop, and silently write for 40 minutes. Then they’d relate what they’d written during those 40 minutes. Routine is key!
- Find ways to improve your skills. Don’t settle, even if you think you are amazing and have enough experience. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, wrote, “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” It doesn’t mean that you have to necessarily tackle your weakest spots. You may identify your potential, and keep working at it in order to improve yourself.
- Recognize the obstacles that stop you short from improving. Change your behaviour if that will make you more effective. In my own case, I never owned a TV and have rarely watched TV in my life. That is an obstacle for certain people, or the internet, or so many other little things. Try to device a prototype that you can apply in your life. If it doesn’t work, try something new. The first advice on discipline had to do with time management. This advice has to do with energy management: How to become more efficient and productive. For me, writing in the morning has shown to be way more productive than at other times during the day.
- Don’t lose sight of your goal and purpose for writing the book. It is easy sometimes to lose track of why you are writing. You may get lost in a specific issue, character, or structure of the whole work. Sometimes something new appears that makes you question the approach. What to do? Ask yourself over and over again the purpose. What it is that you want to achieve, what is at stake. It is easy to lose direction, for that reason focus on what is at stake.
- Remember who your audience is. Sometimes we may write something that has no interest for anyone else other than ourselves, and that book will inevitably end up being shelved… It is important to remember the audience, and think about them as you write, for they will be critical of your book, and that potential criticism is very constructive. In my own case, I chose as co-director of my dissertation a professor that was on the opposite end of what I thought. That was very constructive because I used all that criticism to make a very strong argument against any possible criticism, but also helped me open my mind about the validity that other claims have.