How To Write A Book In A Year

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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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Seven Uk First Edition Hardbacks of Agatha Christie Crime Novels by Vanessa WagstaffI thought it might be useful for me, as someone who can say that I have achieved my lifelong dream of actually writing my first book, to share some ideas and thoughts about how exactly I got that done. Because living our dreams is only partly about ideas and inspiration, and then becomes about doing the work and showing up.

Perseverance and courage in the face of challenges and doubt is what makes living our dreams possible. We just have to keep slogging through sometimes until we make the dream a reality, even in those moments when it doesn’t feel entirely inspiring.

The steps I used to live my author dream could apply to any dream. As is the case with any dream, I took an inspiration, just an idea at first, planted the seeds, watered them, shined my light on them, and let them bloom and blossom into the full-blown flower of a dream turned reality.

How to write a book in a year

1. Make A Commitment:

I made a complete commitment that this was going to happen, period, no matter what events were occurring in my life, no matter whether I was feeling happy or sad, no matter who moved in or out of my life. I would finish this book in one year, period. End of story. Committed, 1000%. Completing the book was my number one dream, goal and commitment to myself for last year.

2. Build A Dream Team:

For me, this started with hiring my writing coach, the awesome best-selling author Ellen Sussman, for her “Memoir-in-A-Year” class. Since my goal was of course to write a memoir in a year, this class seemed perfect, and it was. Then, I stumbled onto the ad for 8womendream seeking a “fun, fearless female writer” whose dream was to write her first book. Bingo! I thought. This is me. I wrote to our fearless leader, Cathy, and told her so. Luckily, she and the team agreed.

3. Take Baby Steps:

My writing coach held us accountable to write a certain number of pages per month. The recommended segment to write each  month was 25 pages. This is less than a page a day. Sounds do-able, right? If I could just make myself sit down and write one short scene, 1,000 words, a few pages at a time, a few times a week, certainly this would somehow grow into a book, eventually.

4. Let Go Of The Need for Perfection:

This for me was the most challenging part of living my dream. By nature, I have been a perfectionist seemingly since birth. I don’t remember ever not feeling the need to excel, to “get it right.” I was like that as a very little, very nerdy,  overachieving girl. So of course writing a book unleashed in me the great desire to write lyrical, swooping, gorgeous, Nobel-Prize worthy sentences and to make it the world’s best-selling book in history. You try writing a paragraph with that kind of pressure on your shoulders. My writing coach helped me to give myself permission to write a “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott teaches in her great book on writing, Bird by Bird. The great thing about writing is that you can rewrite and edit.

5. Create and Respect Deadlines:

Because I had the structure of being in a writing group with a coach, I had some deadlines imposed upon me, and others I created. I didn’t always meet the exact page count I had hoped to by a particular deadline, but there is something about that clock ticking that tends to get the fingers flying (uh, not that I ever write this blog under deadline pressure! Teehee).

6. Carve Out Time And Space To Live Your Dream:

Perhaps the greatest gift I gave to myself in this past year was to set aside a full week right before the book was due to my writing coach in which I had no other tasks, assignments or responsibilities except to WRITE. Now, I realize that I am spoiled in that I could create that space in my professional life, that I don’t yet have children who needed my care, that my boyfriend was away at the time – I could make it happen. Yet if truly committed most of us can carve out some time and space for our dreams, even if it’s just a weekend, or a few hours. I had the luxury of taking a week to write at a lake house, and it was magical.

7. Write When the Spirit Says Write!:

Of course, sometimes you have to sit your butt down to write when you don’t feel like it at all. And then there are those magical inspired moments when you are completely engaged in the story you are telling, and the words just pour out of you. At that lake house cabin, I somehow wrote an additional 187  pages – in one week! Granted I had no distractions, and had the space and time to simply write. Yet I just flowed with it and let the creative juices spill onto the page. It was almost as if I were possessed. I rolled with it!

And then, the day will come when you are done.

As Virginia Woolf wrote in A Writer’s Diary, “And I have just finished, with this very nib-ful of ink, the last sentence of The Waves. I think I should record this for my own information. Yes, it was the greatest stretch of mind I ever knew; certainly the last pages; I don’t think they flop as much as usual. And I think I have kept starkly and ascetically to the plan. So much I will say in self-congratulation. But I have never written a book so full of holes and patches; that will need re-building, yes, not only re-modelling. I suspect the structure is wrong. Never mind.”

I am right now where she was when she wrote: “I am in rather a flutter – proof reading. I can only read a few pages at a time. So it was when I wrote it and Heaven knows what virtue it has, this ecstatic book.”

Who Knows What Virtue It Has, This Ecstatic Book

Time and readers will tell.

In the interim, what I can say is that Step 1 of the dream – writing the book! - is completed. Step 2 – editing! – is underway. Step 3 – finding an agent – will be detailed here as I move forward. Of course, Step 4 will be to get the book published and head out on book tour (hope to see you in your city!). That is the goal by next November 1!

What commitments are you willing to make in your own life to see your dreams through to fruition? What is your top dream to complete by next year?



  • Veronica

    You make me want to write a book. You are an incredible woman whom I inspire to be more like.

  • Cath, you and I were writing our comments at the same time :)

    I loved this that you wrote: “This is a big part of dreaming and taking on a task outside our comfort zone, feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s not always easy and support helps so much with the fear part.”

    Amen, sister! Which is (one of the reasons :) why I feel SO blessed to be a part of this team, especialy with a Fearless Leader like you at the helm who is totally committed to helping us all live our dreams. I’m excited to take on the next steps – feeling the fear a bit, doing it anyways.

    Love you!

  • Thanks Remy! <3 I know can you BELIEVE it's been a year?!? Still so far to go with this dream but the big Step One is done <3

    Yes deadlines were absolutely critical for me… That and letting go of the need for perfection as I create. I think honestly for me that was the biggest learning curve on this particular journey – being willing to just get the story down, knowing that I'd have time to craft it further and that every sentence need not be "perfect" just yet. Letting go can be challenging!

    I truly believe anyone can live their dreams and am so honored to be a part of this awesome team here with you helping others do it! <3

    Love ya!

  • I love this part –

    “Sometimes days it felt like I would never finish, like this herculean task was just simply bigger than me. Who am I to think that I can write a book? Who am I to think that my story is actually interesting to others, and has merit? What if it’s not good enough? What if I just can’t do it?”

    This is a big part of dreaming and taking on a task outside our comfort zone, feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s not always easy and support helps so much with the fear part.

    Congratulations on this major accomplishment and I am here to help with the next step of your dream too.


  • Remy, Photographer & CEO of Cornerstone Creative

    wow, a whole YEAR already. how does that happen. I love that your list can work for any dream. Honoring the time lines and deadlines is one I have to do alot! It does make a difference. I also have to remember to think “through” the dream, not just to it. Your dream was to write a book. You did, but there is still plenty more to ‘do’ to fulfill the bigger picture. So Yeah! congrats on making it happen, Lisa. I cant wait to read it. xox Rem