Writing a Book, Part 5: Writing Your Book

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DSC_0264(small)You might have already guessed, but I’ll come out and say it: I’m pretty organized. I like lists…for groceries, errands, life goals, and everything in between. Folded towels and sorted flatware drawers, closets neatly arranged. I can’t help it, that’s my happy place. That’s not to say that everything is always in its place, but when it is, I feel content. (Think Monica from Friends; and yes, I know this is enough to drive the Rachels and Phoebes out there up the wall, lol.) For better or worse, this really, really helped me when I was writing my first cookbook.

I know not everyone finds it as fun (yes, fun, lol) to organize as I do, which is why I wanted to share a few organizing tips I have that relate to writing a book.

1. Make a schedule and stick to it.

I know this sounds easy in theory, and it definitely doesn’t have to be hard. The key is to be realistic with your goals; for example, when developing recipes for a cookbook, try not to make more than you (and those in your house) can eat at once. Or if you’re photographing recipes you’re making, don’t schedule three time-consuming dishes in one day – you might not have the sunlight to photograph them all. Even if you have to work at a slower pace because of prior commitments, stress (and your editor) should be kept at bay if you’re following your schedule.

TIP: The most basic way to make a schedule is using paper and pen, just writing down the days of the week (or month, if you want to plan that long) and what you want to accomplish each day; archaic as it may be, I do this often. A small monthly planner is also handy. Or you can use Microsoft Word; they have pre-made calendars (New Word Doc –> Insert –> Table –> Quick Tables). Google also has a very handy calendar feature, which comes with the added bonus of being able to access your calendar no matter where you are as long as you have access to the internet.

2. Clear your mind of other projects and distractions until you’re done writing your book.

At least until you get the first draft of your manuscript completely written, anyway.

I realize that some obligations can’t be eliminated completely (like family), but you can do your best to make your writing schedule work around the time you have available. For example, if the kids are at school from 8 am until 4 pm every day, make those your work hours.

Other distractions can be eliminated or at least minimized; realize that it’s ok to put some things on hold for now – it won’t be forever. For example, if you’re a blogger, you have a few different options as to what to do with your blog while you’re working on your book: 1) try to get a few posts backlogged so all you have to do is schedule them; 2) ask fellow bloggers to do guest posts; 3) if you’re a food blogger you can do one “easy” post a week to at least keep your readers engaged…maybe make one easy recipe (like breakfast or a snack), or do a product review or “What I Ate Wednesday”-type of post.

3. Keep track of your progress.

Make a list of everything that needs to be done and mark items off as you finish them.

TIP: Here’s an example of how my love for lists/charts/tables/etc. came in handy. There are several tools available for helping with this. Asana is a free online tool that helps you keep track of projects and tasks, and you can even set it to send you automatic e-reminders; this tool is particularly useful if you’re working with someone else. But still, my favorite method of keeping track of my work is a simple chart in Microsoft Excel.

I like to keep an Excel Master List so I can access information about everything at a quick glance. To do so, I make a simple chart; along the left column I list the book sections/chapters (in the order in which they will appear in the book), and along the top row I list the following information for each section/chapter: word count (based on 250 words per page), pictures done (yes/no), recipe tested (yes/no/any notes), recipe intro done (yes/no), nutrition info done (yes/no), date everything finished, and date submitted to editor (this last column assumes you’re submitting your manuscript piecemeal, i.e., in sections or recipes as you go, instead of in one comprehensive document when everything is finished). This information is what I kept track of while writing a cookbook; if you’re writing a different kind of book, of course you’ll need to track different things.

Master List

(You can click on the image above to make it larger.)

I just want to mention this is what worked for me, but be sure to use whatever method you feel will work best for you. The point is to help yourself stay as organized as possible, utilizing the most efficient method as possible.

4. Use an easy, reliable method to back up your work.

I saved all my work (recipes, photos, etc.) on one drive and bought another external hard drive to have all the data synched to. Online storage is another option; shop around for the best deal with the best guarantee. I also kept a binder with hard copies of each recipe.

TIP: If file-sharing is needed between you and your editor, Dropbox is free and easy to navigate.

5. Edit your manuscript well.

Yes, I know that’s the editor’s job, but odds are, he/she is pretty busy. Help them out. Making their job easier will only make them eager to work with you again. Plus, remember that editors are human too, so don’t expect them to catch every mistake – if you edit your material well once before passing it onto your editor, there are likely to be fewer errors in the final product. (Note: There will always be errors though; that’s just life, and that’s what second editions are for. Try not to drive yourself crazy looking for errors in your printed work.)

6. If you’re writing a cookbook and you need a short intro for each recipe, write it when you make the recipe.

When a recipe is fresh in your head you can better describe what it looks like, along with how it tastes and smells. You might think of a story that goes along with the recipe. Even if you just jot down a few notes when you make the dish you’ll really thank yourself later when you flesh out the intro.

7. If you’re writing a cookbook, test and re-test your recipes.

Especially the complicated recipes. Also, if a recipe is weather-sensitive (e.g., French macarons), be sure to test it in different weather conditions. As you’re testing recipes, be sure to note the changes each time you test so you can see what you did differently, and ultimately, determine what works best.

TIP: If possible, it’s best to get a small group of people who you can have test a sampling of your recipes in their own homes, without you there. (Of course be sure to test them out yourself first, and get your editor’s permission before you share the recipes.)

8. If you’re photographing a cookbook, be mindful of your photos.

Try to keep the general theme of the book in mind with each photo, but still try to make each photo unique. My cookbook had a Middle Eastern theme, so I tried to generally adhere to that with my photos, but I invested in quite a few unique props to help give each photo its own look and feel.

TIP: You don’t need to spend a king’s ransom buying props (and that goes for props for food blogging too). You can purchase scrap fabric pretty inexpensively, and secondhand stores, flea markets, vintage stores, garage sales, etc. always have the most unique finds for plates/bowls/cups/flatware/etc. Not to mention the treasures (and bargains) you can find on eBay and Etsy.

9. Make sure there is a point every day when you stop working and relax for a bit.

This is crucial for your mental health. Even if you decide that you need to work from 7 am until 7 pm, stop at 7 on the dot and do what makes you happy. Take a bath. Drink some tea. Go for a run. Just chill. Whatever it is, just stop working.

10. Celebrate when you finish, and then give yourself some time off before you start your next project.

As eager as you might be to jump into your next project, give yourself a bit of time off. And congratulate yourself, you probably spent months pouring your heart and soul into your book. Hopefully you will soon see your labor pay off!

In case you missed the previous posts in my Writing a Book series, here they are:

Writing a Book, Part 1:  Finding Your Story

Writing a Book, Part 2:  Writing Your Book Proposal

Writing a Book, Part 3:  Finding a Publisher

Writing a Book, Part 4: Your Contract, In Plain English

Stay tuned for Writing a Book, Part 6: Promoting Your Book, where I share helpful tips on how to promote your book.

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  1. says

    I really should be more organized in my life. It’s funny that I am the queen of lists and orders in my work but a whirling dervish in my life. Best to balance a bit more!

  2. says

    Hey girly, this post could not have come at a better time…I’m in the very preliminary stages of working on a cookbook deal and haven’t even signed a contract yet but am already thinking of ways of keeping myself organized and sane. This post (and I’m sure your prior ones about writing a book) has already been very useful for me with all your tips and tricks. If it’s alright, I would love to email you further down the line to seek advice if I’m stuck…if that’s okay of course! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and I hope all is well!

    • says

      Julia, First of all, a HUGE congrats to you, girl!!! That is so exciting and I can’t wait for your book. Feel free to email me anytime – I’d be thrilled to help! xo

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