The Best Way To Start Writing A Book

start writing a book

I get asked this every day so here is my answer as to how I do it after 18+ books.


I have a problem. I asked my 15 year old daughter what she’s learning in school.

She told me that in math she’s learning about how to find the “volume of a cone”.

I’m thinking to myself: hmmm, if I’m ever an Ice Cream Man (I capitalized it because I sort of feel like “the Ice Cream Man” was a superhero to me when I was a little kid)…if I’m ever an Ice Cream Man and some little kid asks me, “Can I please have a 0.33 liter vanilla ice cream cone?” then how am I going to figure out how much to put in that cone?

How will I do it? Do I need a refresher course?

So I asked my kid what she’s learning in a course called “Global”. I’m not sure what a course called “Global” is about but I’m afraid to ask because I think I asked it 100 times before.

She told me she has a special project. She has to write about what she’s learned from all the homework they did this year.

“So…” I said, “you have homework now ABOUT your homework.”

“Yes”.

“Well, what about Science? What are you learning there?”

“We’re learning about acids and bases.”

“That’s good. Stay away from acids because you can burn yourself.”

She said, “Well actually you can burn yourself from bases also.”

I did not know that.

My problem is that I’ve learned a lot in life. I’ve learned about how to deal with people, how to have ideas, how to be creative, how to be healthy, how to sell, how to negotiate, how to know who is good for me to be around and what sort of people I should avoid.

And, even given that I know these things, it’s still hard for me to live a steadily improving life.

Life is difficult, it’s really hard to survive every day. It’s hard to make decisions. We constantly have harder problems as we age.

So the problem is: my 15 year old is learning NONE of that.

No kid will ever need to learn how to find the volume of a cone for the rest of their lives.

No kid will ever need to know what a base is unless the are the one kid out of 100,000 that becomes a nuclear chemist.

That’s my problem: how to educate kids better. [Yes, this will get to book].

I just told the beginnings of a story of why I think this is important. I can flesh out this story a bit more:

– Incomes for young people ages 18–35 have been going down for the past 25 years.
– Most jobs created are part-time jobs or jobs for companies of less than ten people.
Student loan debt is higher than ever at almost $2 TRILLION dollars that our kids have to pay back.
– Income inequality at the workplace is higher than ever.

And so on. Lots of problems combined with the fact that kids are learning the wrong things and successful people eventually learn the right things.

So I just told a story and I mixed in some hard truths about that story.

Now I can make a list.

Here are the things people need to learn at a young age in order to be successful:

– Health
– Creativity
– Emotional connection
– Communication skills
Negotiation

And on and on. Each skill more difficult to learn than the last.

As I was learning each of the things on my list, I experienced much pain and horror.

For instance, I used to eat horribly. So I would get heavier, I’d get more and more sick, and I wouldn’t have energy for the next day.

I had to solve these problems along the way towards health. Is it about food? About sleep or exercise? How much? And so on.

I had to learn all of these things through experience.

The same with negotiation. I sold a product and maybe I underpriced myself. Or maybe I made a bad deal and got screwed over later.

I had problems. Nobody comes down from the sky and knows the answer to these things.

For each thing I learned I had problems, I solved them, and then I can tell the many ways I solved them.

And finally it all clicked together and I made a little something of my life but I’m still constantly improving.

THE END

What does this have to do with writing a book?

I will tell you because this is the key to writing a book:

A) HAVE A PROBLEM

If it’s a non-fiction book, then either you have a problem or some historical figure has a problem.

Somebody WANTS something, and explains why they want it and why it’s important.

The “want” is high stakes. The higher the better.

If it’s fiction book then…SAME THING…the main character has a problem.

Luke Skywalker wanted to explore the universe.

His uncle wouldn’t let him. Then stormtroopers killed his uncle and Obi-Wan Kenobi told him he needed to learn the Force to save the Princess.

He had some big problems and he got the first steps on how to solve the,.

B) HAVE A LIST TO SOLVE THOSE PROBLEMS.

Make a list.

By the way, your list needs to be unique. The way you make your list unique is that it includes stories about yourself.

I just made you a little list about education above.

Luke Skywalker’s list might look like: find a pilot, avoid getting caught by stormtroopers, protect R2D2, learn more about the Force, shut down the force field on the Death Star, save the Princess, destroy the Death Star.

Note that his problems got more and more difficult.

As a person (character) goes from reluctant amateur to hero, his or her problems get more and more difficult.

Each item on the list is a chapter.

And in each chapter, there is a story that works the same way as the book: the character has a problem, has some ways to solve it, solves it, moves forward.

C) PROBLEMS GET SOLVED BY THE END. MAYBE.

Or…mostly. I was going to say “learn something” by the end. And that’s true. But learning is not a requirement. Solving lots of problems are.

Start with all of that.

Then:

Every day write down 1000 awful words about it.

Just the worst words you can think of. Write down nonsense if it helps. But every day write 1000 nonsense words.

Why nonsense?

Because every first draft is horrible. 100% of them. Sometimes people publish their first drafts. One out of 1000 of those are ok.

But it’s also ok to rewrite ten or twenty times. I’d say on average I’ve rewritten my books 10 or 20 times each.

But I write 1000 words a day. I write 1000 horrible, crappy words. And then I rewrite. And I write more. And I have more problems.

1000 words a day is 365,000 words a year. That’s like 6-8 books a year. With rewriting you can do 1-2 books a year easily.

Because it’s hard to sit there and write a book. Really really hard. Someone should write a book how hard it is.

I can make a list about that also.

And that’s how you write a book. Good luck, my friend.

  • Ted Scarborough

    I could see you teaching a chemistry class.

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  • Hello James. My name is Mike Sutton. I’m 80% through your book “Choose Yourself”.I like it. Thank you for writing it and releasing it.

    I agree with some of it, and not with other parts. For example, I agree with your conclusion that the world has changed so we can choose to not wait to be “chosen” by publishing house middlemen who are so often not actually good at their jobs. We can keep control of our own content and put our ideas into the World ourselves using self-publishing and print to order 100% free resources such as CreateSpace. Gone is the stigma of paying crooks to facilitate vanity publishing.

    I agree also with your concerns that our schools and universities are wedded to outmoded concepts of knowledge and its usefulness. I disagree with your conclusion that its not a good idea to buy a house. That’s because when I get old and my house is all paid for (actually that’s just two years away. Where did the time go?), I don’t want to worry about the rent.

    I see in this blog post you write that your child is at school. I’m wondering, why is she not home schooled if schools are so bad? I have an 8 year old daughter and she loves school for social reasons. But I despair at the nonsense and useless stuff they teach her. For example they taught her in a history that vikings had horns on their helmets, which is a patent fairy-tale. And more recently they taught her that “Christopher Columbus was a very nice man who went exploring to help other people”.

    What’s the solution I wonder? Any ideas? Perhaps we need a book entitled “Every school child’s guide to how to fact-check their teacher” Or “Teaching Facts for Dummies”?

  • Geoff

    James- I appreciate very much what you have written. All the books. I have applied elements of several of your books and they have helped greatly. I’m at a point where I have been mulling over, encouraged, recommended and requested that I write a book. (no I’m not a genus-nor God’s gift to anyone) I am in cybersecurity and there is a lot of misunderstanding about that topic….so my question–how did you determine your audience? I have listened and read up on Tucker Max and his suggestions, but if you have a minute, I would really appreciate your perspective.
    Thanks
    Geoff

  • Hey, James. I got where you wanted to go with this story from the beginning, and it worked well with me as a reminder and motivation for my own writing. Can’t remember if I mentioned it on your blog before, but I’m writing on my first, complete book, which is exactly about what you advocate and teach. I wonder what you would think of that book if you read it. I’m helping people ditching the norms and create their income outside of the common ways.

    A buddy if mine, a former student in my Taekwon-Do classes, invited me to visit the local university campus. He just dropped out. I observed all the students mingling and working their ass off. I stopped by a coffee machine to buy a cup when I guy I hadn’t met since we went to middle school together. He was rearranging his life and tried aducation all over again. He the first thing he told me was how hard it is and that he several times considered quitting.

    In the book I’m writing, I think questions like: How to make life work without school. Or how to make a career out of a profession you thought you had to go to school to do. And even a questions like: “What to tell your parents the day you drop out of school”. I have seen that one many times.

    I think that’s a few questions in our time, good for writing a book?

    Love your awesome podcast with Jon Morrow. Fucking heroic story of what’s possible. Namaste.

  • Philip Koitelel

    Hello James
    I always find your writing inspiration and squeeze in some time in the mornings to read most emails. I am currently building on a problem -solving oriented blog, the “Moran’s Well” that targets helping small and micro-enterprise owners resolve the myriads of problems and challenges they face on a daily basis and I am hopeful that from lessons learnt from this post, I will soon turn all the articles into books!
    In one of the articles, I introduce the “the power of many” concept employed by cooperative societies and startup investment companies. I follow up part one of the concept with part two because sharing all together from the begining to the end would have been too long and with too many important ideas and “Problems” to resolve!
    In another article, https://olesitauempowering.blogspot.co.ke/ highlights the leadership challenges and innovations. Thanks so much for this write up!

  • Just a quick note, James. You’ve really delivered above and beyond recently. The conversations with Max and Holiday, combined with the thoughts on advancing a book idea, as publishing becomes more accessible–and important–have been both inspiring and encouraging. Thank you.

  • VirtualJR

    Hi James,
    You are so right on with this article. There is just a limited time for the learning cycle for young people and too much of that time is taken up by, if not useless things, at least very low priority things. As a result we now have mental zombies walking among us trying to be real functional people! The next teen generation in the wings is a scary thing to await. I cover how this became so and some cures for younger ones in the book you inspired me to publish, “Clueless 101”. Thanks.
    A ‘Choose Yourself’ practitioner,

    James(also) Adair

  • Tolulope

    – Health
    – Creativity
    – Emotional connection
    – Communication skills
    – Negotiation

    Basic skills needed in life. Thanks, James!

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  • Nikki Sterling

    You hit upon a very valid point. There is so much crap students are forced to learn, they have no idea how to cope once they are let loose upon society. Learning how to solve problems is one thing, but at least instruct how to resolve problems that advance the student in life. I guarantee most students, if any, have no idea how to balance a checkbook, the facts of nutrition, what to do in a given emergency, or a host of other life capabilities that adults need to know in order to become and remain successful.