How to Write a Book by Accident

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My latest book came into being by accident. The story behind that is fun (for me, anyway). Maybe even useful (for you and me).

What really happened is that I was writing one book, but it ended up being two. The second one is the accident.


Here’s the scoop:

Sometime last year, I started writing a series of short essays about words. Typically one word each. Sometimes more, perhaps even a whole group or class of words, but mostly single words.

The theme being that one word – if it’s the right word – is worth a thousand pictures.

This is part of a larger strategy of mine to write books. Book-writing is what I do! My plan was to collect those essays into a book, once there were enough.

The Hardest Part of Writing a Book Isn’t Writing It!

But books are daunting, even for me. No, make that especially for me. Because once a book is “done”, it isn’t really done, and I know this better than most. There are tons of details left.

Finding a publisher isn’t a problem for me, since I own a publishing company (Stonehaven Press). At this point in my life, I wouldn’t dream of submitting the manuscript to Random House or somebody!

But there are details like acknowledgements, a table of contents, editing, questions of house style. Formatting the book for print and electronic distribution.

Sometimes stuff like this is a far bigger job than actually writing the book. In fact, usually it is!

Jedi Mind-Tricking Myself

So for now I’m test-driving a new productivity hack. It’s a way to trick myself into actually finishing the book. Here’s how it works:

I sat down and formatted the book first – before actually writing anything. Set up the cover and the copyright page and the table of contents (which updates itself automatically as the book grows). Included the author bio and bibliography and page numbering and margins and the works.

With this grunt-work out of the way, I write blog posts. But I do not write a post, then incorporate it into the book. No, I write a book chapter, then upload that chapter to my blog,

The result being that I can just write and write, blogging as I go – and one day there will be a finished book.

The finish line is close already (for the current book-in-progress). That’s ambiguous, partly because I write ahead. I have a bunch of chapters written that aren’t yet on the blog. Stay tuned.

Book Writing the Easy Way

Here’s the “accident” part.

Working ahead, during a recent camping vacation, I cranked out several posts about several words that spoke to me. They were related words, and the more closely I looked, the more related they appeared.

The individual essays I wrote about them also were growing longer than expected. That’s because, as I wrote, I discovered I had much more to say about them than I had realized.

This prompted some in-depth research. Some of what I learned made my jaw drop. “People need to know this stuff!” I said.

As these articles grew longer, more numerous, and more closely intertwined, I realized one day that they constituted a book in themselves.

They had started as short essays in a much longer book. But as they took on a life of their own, I found I had a tiger by the tail, dragging me along.

What’s the book about? I’m not ready to say too specifically. It’s about words – their power to change lives, and the world. I’ll say this much:

✦ I have no idea whether the book will sell, or how many people will want to read it. But

✦ There will be people to whom it’s critically important.

✦  It will ruffle feathers – at least among those who care deeply about its topic. Those folks will either love it or hate it! (I expect some of both.)

Topic aside, there’s a lesson here: Writing a book doesn’t have to be hard. Just do the grunt work first, so that you’re adding snippets to an already-formatted book.

Then just write. Write bits here and there, random jottings. Don’t think too much about it. One day you’ll wake up with a finished book.

Along the way, you may find an extra book or two lying around that you weren’t even planning to write. You’ll have written a book by accident!



How to Write a Book by Accident — 5 Comments

  1. I loved this. I love writing and anything to do with writing. I love books,the smell, the look, and yes the sight of a typed “word”. I love that words can be so powerful, so inept, so giving and yet so unforgiving. I love too, that they can be so unnecessary…….sometimes. Am enjoying your wonderful articles and look forward to your book.

    • @Lucy, I, too, love the smell and look and feel of a book — the heft of a volume in one’s hand, the feel of pages turning. You don’t get that with electronic books nowadays. And yes, I love my ebooks! There’s certainly value in being able to carry thousands of complete books in one’s pocket. But also something lost.

      Words “so giving and yet so unforgiving”. Thanks for this exquisite turn of phrase. It’s so very true and powerful.

  2. Write a book as a blog post…that’s a good idea. The way I write is, not thinking about it, like you’ve mentioned in the end. Everything can be arranged in order once its all done.

    • Not only arranged in order at the end — but also the editing and the polishing. The pitfall I always must avoid, in any writing project, is to drift into editorial mode while I’m still writing. Then everything bogs down. I actually do my best writing while dashing off email, or perhaps a comment on someone else’s blog post. Because then I’m not thinking about it as writing. The creative juices flow much more easily that way!

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