8 Things I Did To Help Me Complete My First Book

Keep things simple.

By Leo Babauta

A good number of you are either published authors, or more likely people who want to be published authors. Well, I’m happy to say I’ve joined the ranks of those who are published!

My first book, The Power of Less, comes out tomorrow (Dec. 30, 2008), and I’ve created a site to give people more info to help promote the book. It’s super exciting! :)

Some things I’m doing to promote the book:

But the major accomplishment for me was writing the book in the first place, while running Zen Habits and Write To Done at the same time, starting a new ebook publishing company, training for my second marathon, planning my wedding and honeymoon, and helping raise six kids at the same time. Whew! I’m overwhelmed just writing that sentence!

So how did I complete the book while doing all those things? Read on.

1. Focus only on the book. I was definitely overwhelmed with all the things I mentioned above on my plate. My schedule and to-do list was too complicated, and to be honest, I busted my deadline to submit the manuscript for this book.

So what did I do? I simplified, of course. I cleared away my schedule, told people I couldn’t work on certain projects, asked others to fill in for me on my blogs, got someone to help with the wedding planning, turned down many requests. I devoted my time to writing the book, and nothing but the book.

2. Have a deadline to meet. Even though I didn’t actually meet my deadline for the book, it did help that I had a deadline. I hate missing deadlines, although I’ve done it many times. Sometimes it’s a part of life. But having that deadline gives you an incentive to get things done. Even if you don’t have a publisher, set a deadline for yourself to actually complete your book.

3. Be accountable to someone. My editor was breathing down my neck to submit the manuscript — that was his job, and as I was late he had other people breathing down his neck. So there was some pressure there, and it helped me to focus and get things done. I don’t always like pressure, but sometimes a little pressure is a good thing. If you don’t have an editor, find someone who you’ll be accountable to. And make sure they hold you to it. A good idea is posting your commitment and progress on your blog — you won’t want to look bad in public!

4. Keep things simple. One thing that helped was that the outline of my book was simple. I kept the chapters easy to write, didn’t have anything difficult in the outlines for each chapter, and was able to crank out the text. Complicated and hard-to-research books take much longer to write.

5. Clear away distractions. Email, Twitter, IM, RSS feeds, forums, things like that … those all get in the way and distract us from writing. I knew I really needed to focus, so I put my email on hold (and checked it as little as possible), shut down all other types of communication as much as I could, stopped reading on the Internet and RSS feeds, closed my browser. I wrote in a simple text editor and shut everything else down.

6. Do one thing at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a large project. Instead, focus on just the next task that needs to be done. Not even writing a whole chapter — just the intro, or just one section. Don’t worry about everything else — just the task in front of you. Complete the task, figure out what’s next, then do that. Repeat until you’re done. You can’t do a whole project — only one thing at a time.

7. Set a writing time. It’s easy to allow your day to get away from you. You might check email, or do some chores, or talk to people, go do some errands, and before you know it, the day’s over and you haven’t done any writing. Avoid this by setting a time to start writing, and a time to finish — whether that’s one hour, two, four, or eight. I suggest doing your writing first thing in your workday — otherwise it might get pushed back because of other tasks. Stick to your schedule!

8. Be free with your first draft. If you fret over every little word, you’ll never get things done. Instead, just write. Get it out. It might suck, and probably will. That’s what revision is for. After you get the first draft out, let it sit for a day or two, then go back with fresh eyes and revise, clean things up, make them more concise and clear. But with the first draft, just get it out!

Read more about these simple productivity principles in my book, The Power of Less — see the website or buy it today:

Also, I’d love it if you reviewed the book on your blog, or told your friends, family and co-workers about it! Thanks everyone!

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25 Responses to “8 Things I Did To Help Me Complete My First Book”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. I’ll second #8. I figured this out while doing NaNoWriMo a couple years ago. When your goal is 50,000 words in a month, you don’t have time to worry about how great this or that plot line is, you just let it rip and write, write, write!

  2. Shanel Yang says:

    Very inspirational, Leo! Thanks for those great tips! : )

  3. Mary Jaksch says:

    Congratulation, Leo! I’m so happy that you’ve made it happen – you’re a published author now. I just can’t wait to read your book!

    I’d like to add to your excellent tips:
    When I wrote my first book, I set daily goals in terms of the number of words I needed to write and I kept track of my daily output in a spreadsheet. In that way I always knew if I was on track for my deadline.

    The good thing about using the wordcount as a performance measure is that it removes the pressure of having to write something ‘good’. It’s so much easier to produce something of quality if you have enough words on the page to edit!

  4. Mary Jaksch says:

    Guys, I want to say something quite straightforward: please buy Leo’s book! As you know, he’s a very generous person. Just look at how he pours himself into his articles and makes sure that they are really helpful to us all.

    Now is a good time for us to give something back to Leo. And buying The Power of Less is a wonderful way of saying ‘thank-you’ to him, as well as enjoying what is sure to be a fantastic book. Just click on the Amazon image of THE POWER OF LESS above and order it today!

    Have a great New Year!

  5. That’s a lot on one plate. Impressive that you handled the blogs and writing. I like the idea of doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is great, but it’s important that the big jobs are done with complete focus on the task at hand. In the end, the quality of the work will depend on that focus.

    Setting timetables is also a good method. With the digital world and syncing technology it’s easy to keep calendars and progress notes

  6. Glen Allsopp says:

    Great post Leo, I was hoping you would put this together.

    I think the smartest move you have made (just guessing, not sure about results) is to release the free eBook and then be able to push the actual book from there.

    Submitted to StumbleUpon!


  7. J.D. Meier says:

    Great job on finishing your book. Seriously.

    Not everybody finishes what they start.

    I remember when I finished my first book, my Dad said to me, you finished … and that’s more than most people do. It surprised me. He didn’t even care so much that it was a book — simply that it was a finished project. At the time, I didn’t realize how many people set out to do something, but stop along the way. I see it now though. I try to help folks wherever I can, now. I like when people see their dreams through.

  8. Great and inspirational post for so many of us. I have a series of reminders of book ideas that I’ve come up with over the years. However I’ve not committed on the Internet to converting a blog series into a book so here we go. It’s like a promise to myself. It will be called Marketing Right Now and if you Google that you’ll find the reference.

    I think that’s the key: commit yourself publicly and then just follow the steps you’ve laid out, Leo.

  9. Marelisa says:

    Leo: The power of completion is one of the best abilities to have (even if you need an editor breathing down your neck to really get going). There’s lots of people out there with big dreams, and a lot of skill, but who don’t accomplish much because they simply can’t take one small action after the other to get things done. I used to be an A to Z person (try to jump from A to Z in one fell swoop), and although I have been able to accomplish a lot of things in my life, now that I go from A to B, then to C, and so on, I’m able to do a lot more (with a lot less stress). Congratulations on your book and have a very happy New Year!

  10. Wow! What an accomplishment with all the other important responsibilities you have.

    This was a tremendous encouragement for me. I’m plodding along with my book because I struggle with #8. Your words and success have given me a new push.


  11. Congrats on the book release! I’ve had “write book” on my goal list for two years now, but have rarely committed the time to really do it. Appreciate your tips here, especially carving out the time to focus on writing. Hope to join you in the publishing world soon! :)

  12. Nellie Moore says:

    Congratulations Leo on your book! Thanks for all of the helpful tips on getting published. My son told me about your blogs and as a novice student of Buddhism and someone who intends to publish my first book this year I really appreciate all that you share.

    I’m wondering if your or your readers would recommend an e-book software to use to offer my books on-line. I’m looking at E-Book Gold which does not seem to require a reader and Desktop Author which requires a reader. Do you know anything about these two software or have any suggestions about which is best or the name of a better one?

    I see that you used MediaFire it looks like to house your free e-book. Would you share what software you used to create it?

    Thanks so much for the great blogs

    Best of Success


  13. Iain Broome says:

    Congratulations! A good list and probably similar to those who have managed to get through the (often painful) task of writing a book. On top of a full-time job, my novel took almost three years in total. But it was worth it.

  14. Mihla says:

    Excellent tips, and as someone who works best under pressure, I can relate especially to #2 and #3. However, I would go further with #8 or add a #9: “Spend less time planning and more time writing.” I enjoy researching, outlining, and other pre-writing tasks, so consequently have little spare time left to do the actual writing.

  15. Mitch says:

    Very good stuff, but I’ll add one to the list that I did. I purchased voice recognition software, which helped me get a big bulk of what I had to say down on paper, so to speak, and then I found that the editing process was much easier to do than having to type all those words in the first place.

    Congrats; I hope you have great sales.

  16. AJ Kumar says:

    The Power of Less is Brilliant! :)

    AJ Kumar

  17. Thanks for sharing this. Now, I don’t feel guilty every time I turn off my phone and email to work on some stuff.

    Its good to hear that the saying “the simpler the better” still applies today! =)

  18. Amelia says:

    I am in my final year of my PhD and point 7 is a really important one for me. I am really good at filling my days with errands, tasks I need to do for other people, household chores, earning a little extra cash, and I can go a week doing other “important” things and get nothing done with my PhD thesis. I think I need to set an hour or so each day after checking email to just write *something*… it will accumulate day by day, and the rest of the “important” stuff will get done in its own time if it really is important.

  19. Carol Silvis says:

    Congrats, Leo, on the book. You make excellent points. If someone wants something bad enough, he/she will focus to the point of making it happen.

  20. Tessa says:

    I never finished any of the books i started writing but I’ve found that if I write it on my blog where people actually want to read it makes me keep it up! I think it would be amazing to finish and publish a book but I have a lot to learn but I’m working on it! Thanks!