On writing a book by Jeff Goins

I follow Jeff Goins, a writer and blogger, and am sharing his very insightful and instructive lessons about writing a book.

“We have this idea that writing a book is a magical, mystical process involving only inspiration, but nothing that looks like hard work.

The truth is the most creative, successful people I know are also the hardest working. If you’ve got a project you want to share with the world, chances are it’s going to take more of you than you want to give.

It might break you and cause you to scream. But in the end, you will be better for it. And will be worth it. Here are the five drafts I use in any project, product, or book I create (including my most recent book):

Draft #1: The Junk Draft

This is your first try, what my friend Marion calls the “vomit draft.” It’s where you get all your ideas on paper or screen or whatever.

It’s where you dream big and swing for the fences. Save your cynicism and self-doubt for later. Here, anything is possible.

In my case, I decided to write a memoir, something that felt quite daunting and audacious.

The lesson: Your dreams must be bigger than your doubts.

Draft #2: The Structure Draft

This is where you look at the structure of your project. Does the story flow? Is the argument cohesive and consistent? Will people look at it and see something that resembles some kind of order?

At this point, you need to make a decision. Will you commit to this? Here is where you abandon your project, go back to the drawing board, or decide to forge ahead.

The lesson: You have to make what you say work before you can make it pretty.

Draft #3: The Rough Draft

This is the point at which you have an actual manuscript, something you can legitimately call a “work-in-progress.”

At this stage, you will review you work as a whole and see if what you’ve said makes sense. From idea to idea, chapter to chapter, and sentence to sentence.

Now that you’ve got a structure, it’s time to make this thing sing.

The lesson: Excellence takes longer than you think it should.

Draft #4: The Surgery Draft

At this point, you need to start slicing and dicing, cutting your content down to its most essential message.

You’ve gone through enough edits that you’ve added things, beautiful things. Unnecessary things. Distracting things.

You’re too close to the work now and need to have a someone review it. Ask a friend, peer, or professional editor (if you can afford it) to do her worst.

Be ready for the criticism to come — and decide ahead of time to apply it. All feedback is a gift, if you choose to see it that way.

Here, you must cut superfluous phrases and nonessential details. You might even kill entire chapters and sections. It’s hard and painful but so important to making your message clear and good.

The lesson: The simplest version of your project is the best.

Draft #5: The Last Draft

This is when you go through your work and try to tweak the parts that could be better, where you make sure there are no loose ends or dangling parts that don’t make sense or resolve.

Simply put, this is the final edit.

Note: After this draft, it’s wise to have a whole team of people review your work to catch simple errors. But this is the last chance to make major edits to your project.

This is also when you decide to push forward and ship your work. It’s the decision point at which you throw the manuscript in the trash (as Stephen King did with Carrie before his wife pulled it out) or swallow your fear and push on.

Da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” 

You will never have a “final” draft. Your work will never be done, not completely. However, there comes a point at which you must decide to release an imperfect creation into the world — or not.

And this is where so many people stop, which is sad. Because by now, you’re closer than you think. In some cases, it’s only a matter of inches or hours between you and a breakthrough.

If you’ve done the work, this is the easy part. Because chances are, after all this editing and critiquing, you’ve got something good.

The question is, will we get to see it?

Lesson: Your project is never complete. But at some point you must decide to finish.”

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