Writing a book is an enormous task. It makes it seem a little less enormous to break it down into stages.
The Basics. Your Elevator Pitch. Some people may balk at this, asking angrily what the Elevator Pitch of War and Peace is. But most books benefit from having a basic premise, a basic something that makes them special. If Tolstoy were looking for a book deal today, he might say something like ‘A group of people search for meaningful lives against the background of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia’. Your Target Readership. Think who the book is for. Managers? Women aged between 20 and 40? People in the IT industry? No book is for everyone. People sometimes think this narrows the focus too much, but I prefer to think of it as concentrating the mind.
The Outline. Having established what you want to say, it’s time to scope out how you are going to do that. I advise people to do two outlines. One is very simple; a page, like a page of contents. Then expand this to five pages of A4 or thirty slides of PowerPoint. I then suggest that potential authors give a talk, or several talks, based on these thirty slides. It gets you thinking about the topic again.
The First Draft. Ah. Time to sit down and actually write the thing. Follow the outline, and – most important – GET IT DONE. If something doesn’t feel quite right, don’t agonize, write it anyway. If it then feels totally wrong, take it out, but otherwise leave it. You can always come back to it. If you think there needs to be more research on an aspect, do a little bit and stick it in provisionally. The motto at this stage is ‘Perfect is the Enemy of Done.’
The Big Consideration. Live with the First Draft for a bit. Worry away at those bits you felt weren’t quite right. Research those ‘holes’ you know should be there. Tinker with the order if you feel the need to. If you do a lot of reordering, go back and redesign those thirty slides to fit the new shape you have created for the book.
The Second Draft emerges from the consideration above and the piecemeal work you do based on it. Sorted out all the bits you weren’t happy with? Filled all the holes? Happy with the order? Congratulations, you’ve got a Second Draft.
The Final Edit. This is all about elegance, saying all the stuff you’ve already said in a way that is maximally attractive to the reader.
Ghostwriters can help at any or all of these stages, of course.