“I want to write a book.” You’ve said that more than once. In fact, your book idea has been floating around in your head for some time.
You may have jotted down some notes or you’ve got a file folder with clippings and facts and anecdotes. Maybe you even have an outline. But an actual manuscript? You haven’t made much headway on that, if any.
What you need is a book writing plan — a plan that is simple enough to adjust as needed and specific enough to jumpstart your writing. If you create your own book writing plan and then work your plan consistently over time, then in a year you will have a book manuscript. Let’s look at the process for creating your own book writing plan. It is as much about math as it is about words.
A book is divided into chapters. Each chapter has one main idea that contributes to the overall theme of the book. If you plan your chapters, you plan your book.
So your first step is to calculate how many ideas you want to address in order to drive home the point of your book. Make a list of those key ideas and you’ll know how many chapters you need to write.
“Most nonfiction books have about 12 chapters,” says New York Times bestselling author Tucker Max. Ditto for fiction. The number of chapters in a novel varies, but typically they “have between 10 to 12 chapters, but that’s not set in stone,” according to the New York Book Editors. “You can have two chapters or 200.”
Follow the wisdom of those experts and you have a starting point. Assume your book will have 12 chapters. You can modify that number as needed. But on the basis of 12 chapters, simple math tells you to write a chapter per month.
Each chapter can follow a simple format. Open with a hook. Present the chapter’s main idea, provide supporting content, drive your point home with a takeaway, and then transition to the next chapter.
How many words do you need to write to accomplish that task? The average book chapter is 1,000–5,000 words long (4–20 single-spaced pages or 8–40 double-spaced pages). Less than 1,000 words can lack the substance needed to make your chapter point. Longer than 5,000 words and the chapters will drone on like required reading for economics class.
To put it a different way, an average chapter of 2,000–3,000 words is the equivalent of two or three average-length blog posts. Or two or three articles. If you are a blogger, then you likely already write that much every month anyway.
Using that math in our plan for writing a book, you’ll need to write 500–1,000 words a week to complete a chapter in a month. That doesn’t include research and self-editing, of course. But still. A few hundred words? You can do that.
Check out a simple book writing plan that's fillable and re-usable.
Put your book writing plan on paper. Use a simple calendar with columns for each chapter number, month, chapter title and main idea, supporting content ideas, and takeaway idea. (Here's a simple book writing plan calendar you can use.)
Then work on your book writing plan by writing a chapter a month. Some months you may write more than one chapter. Some months it may be less. Either way, in a year you’ll have a manuscript.
Maybe it will be rough … or maybe you’ll edit and hone and refine each chapter along the way. Regardless, you’ll have your book out of your head and onto paper. Then you can decide the next step, whether it’s a heavy edit or submission to a publishing house or the self-publishing route.
“Time is the coin of your life,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and author Carl Sandburg (1878–1967). “It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”
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