“Have you ever had a great book idea, tried to write it, and then failed?” I’ve asked this question to thousands of writers, and over eighty percent have said, yes, they have failed to finish their books.
Writing is hard, and you might be wondering how to write a book at all, let alone in 100 days.
But it is possible to write a book in just 100 days, and today, I’d love to share ten lessons about how to write a book from dozens of different writers who are finishing their book in 100 days right now.
For most writers, it takes years to learn how to write a book, and sadly for some, they never figure out how to do it at all.
That’s my story too. I had wanted to write a book for a decade before I finally finished one, and along the way I failed again and again. When I finally finished my first book, it took many of the same lessons the writers below are learning.
And that’s what most new writers miss: writing a book is a skill. It’s something you can get better at over time.
That means it’s not a talent that you’re born with. I truly believe anyone can write a book. But it’s difficult enough, as much of a challenge, that only a few people will write a book.
10 Steps to Write a Book in 100 Days
How do you do it then? Here are ten lessons from more than a dozen writers who are nearly finished with their books in our 100 Day Book program.
1. Plan Before You Start
“A writer must have a plan!” says Kim Williams, a pharmacist by day and writer by night who can be found at birdsofafeatherbooktogether.blog. “I once believed planning stifled my creativity but have since discovered it actually fosters more creative flow. Take the time to formulate a plan. This will save a huge amount of effort in the long run.”
Rebekah Olson (authorrebekaholson.com) agrees: “This was the most detailed outline I've ever done, and it's made a huge difference. Still, I can see where it lacks. More character depth. Better descriptions of setting and props. Those may have helped ease the grind. I'll try it next time.”
For Nirissa Reddy, a freelance writer with more than a decade of experience but who had never written a book, creating a book plan even saved her from writer’s block, “Creating a proper Book Plan was invaluable to the process. By breaking down the contents of each chapter you could easily determine exactly how many words to dedicate to each idea. I got the ideas out first and then made up the word count through expansion after. Thanks to your guidance, I never experienced writer’s block by doing it this way.”
Michelle Kumnik says she may never have finished her book if she hadn’t created a plan, even if she didn’t keep to it perfectly. “During my many years of procrastination,” she says, “I couldn’t work out how I should be planning both novels and short stories. But I’ve found that spending some time planning helped me to focus on the project. As time went on, I became more comfortable with changing it, and making it more detailed. Being reassured that it was okay to change my plan as I was writing my first draft was fantastic since any problems with what I’d already written can be fixed in the next draft.”
2. Set High Stakes (e.g. Consequences)
For me, what kept me most focused on my writing was creating a deadline and setting a consequence.
Mine was to write a check for $1,000 made out to the presidential I disliked the most.
For Karen Hall, an actress turned documentary filmmaker turned hotelier and now turned novelist, it was giving up chocolate.
“Just the thought of giving up chocolate for 9 months has really kept me going on this challenge when all else has failed,” she says.
For others, clear deadlines alone are enough.
“Having a deadline is the best way for me to do things,” says Eve, a French writer who splits her time between Australia and Europe.
Jan Perry, a retired physical therapy clinician and professor who can be found at JanPerry.me, agrees. “I respond well to specific goals/requirements that are rational and have some consequence to them. I do well with the requirement to post each week.”
The verdict: deadline + consequences = finished book.
3. Write Badly
Nearly every writer I asked emphasized this vital point: your first draft is meant to be messy. It’s difficult to overcome perfectionism and your inner critic and allow yourself to write badly. But if you want to write a book, you must.
Here’s what our writers have to say about it:
“I’ve learned that it’s better to write badly then not to write at all. Anything can be rewritten and enhanced, but you can’t rewrite a blank page,” says Karen Hall.
“The biggest thing I learned was that the first draft process really is all about just getting it down,” says Erin Tamberella, who is currently working on her second book and hopes to make the transition to full-time author by the end of 2020. “Before the program, I understood that on an intellectual basis but never lived it. I still edit more than I should but when you have to submit 4500-5000 words a week, I learned very quickly that your #1 priority is getting it down.”
“I'm a perfectionist, but 100 days taught me to let go of my inner critic and write, just write on. There's always the next version,” says Lucia Jakobsson, a Finnish writer with a Masters in History.
“There are so many things to think about when you are writing,” says Sandra Dethlefsen, a retired scientist living on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “You have to think about arcs, dialog , keeping the reader interested and POV. This is my first novel and when I first started writing, thinking about all the rules of writing slowed me down a bit. I quickly learned to just write and forget about the rules. Get it on paper and get the first draft done. There is the thing called revision where you can worry about all the rules.”
“It is okay to make mistakes, and not be so damned perfect all the time. It will work out in the second draft,” says science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer J C Trees.
“Prior to this course, producing words on a blank page intimidated me,” says Adrienne Crew, an author, attorney and walking tour docent who blogs about forgotten Los Angeles at loucheangeles.com. “This course taught me to silence my inner perfectionist and just let the words flow. I now know I can copy edit it later and rework the material. I am so relieved that I am producing new material.”
“The most important lesson I learned about the writing process is that I must continue to write when I don’t think the writing is good and remember, at least during this challenge, that I’m writing the first draft,” says Debra Lobel, a retired techie turned writer and caregiver who shares her writing at dalobel.com.
“I learnt how to overcome procrastination and stagnation, especially for the first four weeks, as I was able to let go my perfectionism and fear that I wouldn’t be able to make the story work, but having the weekly deadline soon fixed that,” says Michelle Kumnick, who aims to empower others through her fiction and nonfiction. “Having the reassurance that it’s normal that the first draft can be terrible, as it’s more important to get something written so you can edit and improve it later on.”
Overcoming perfectionism isn’t easy, and in fact, for many writers it’s been a constant challenge. But allowing yourself to write badly is the only way to finish the first draft of a book, whether you write it in 30 days, 100 days, or a year.
4. Habits Write Books, Not Willpower
You probably started writing a book because you want to write a book. A few chapters in, though, and that initial enthusiasm fades away.
Here’s how Nirissa sees it: “Your first draft involves consistent writing and nothing else. You can't wait for perfect words or reconstruct sentences while you write. The perfect way to demotivate yourself is if there is no end in sight. The 100 Day Challenge provided an end that I could look forward to and completely changed my perception about writing the first draft. Now I know that this is the only way to get it completed in no time. You've got to just keep writing!”
Jeff Wong (kachiwriting.wordpress.com) agrees. “It's also about dictating a schedule and living by that schedule until it becomes a positive habit. Setting realistic goals (1000 words a day Monday-Friday) is so much better than some far off impossible goal of an entire book in some indefinite amount of time.”
Writing when you feel inspired is fun and exciting. But as these writers discovered, you’ll have many moments when you aren’t inspired. The trick is to keep writing anyway.
“I've learned that the most important thing to do in regards to writing is to write, to take time to do it so that you'll improve. I really like how throughout the course we were encouraged to simply put words on the page despite being stuck, busy, apathetic, etc.,” says Canadian writer Veronica Ephgrave.
“I learned that no matter how frustrating the grind, it CAN be done,” says Rebekah Olson (authorrebekaholson.com). “When I'm bored, or annoyed, or tired, or just plain don't feel like thinking up the next sentence, none of those are an excuse. Setting the work aside, telling myself I'll come back to it later, doesn't work. The problem will still be the same when I come back to it. And if I give in to setting it aside once, it makes it that much easier to set it aside later. While keeping at the grind doesn't get any easier, at least the writing keeps moving instead of stalling out.”
5. It Takes a Village to Write a Book
One of the best parts of the 100 Day Book program is the community of writers all writing together. Writing can feel like an isolating activity. But when you surround yourself with others who understand what you’re going through, it’s easier to push through the tough parts of the process.
Again and again, writers found encouragement and support in community.
“I learned how great it is to be in a team with people who are all struggling like me. I learned from them and they learned from me, and it's a chance to bounce ideas off one another while improving each other's works. I don't know if I'd have gotten my first draft to where it was without the help of some of my group mates,” says Jeff Wong.
Terry Chase (drterrychase.com) was glad to know that “I am not the only person slogging through a writing project.”
Carole Wolfe, a women’s fiction, YA sci-fi, and thriller author who shares her journey at carolewolfe.com, agrees. “Writing with a group of people to cheer you on is the best! Group D has been incredibly supportive and helpful these past few weeks. I'm gonna miss checking in with them each week.”
Lucia Jakobsson also found uplifting encouragement in community. “Browsing the forum also revealed that my fellow writers struggled like I did. That was a comforting observation. No writer achieves success as a hermit. We need readers and who is a better reader that a writer?”
The best community doesn’t just share encouraging words. These writers found that the helpful feedback they received from sharing their writing was instrumental in shaping their books.
“I have found the contribution of my peer group essential to not only point me in the ‘write’ direction but also to bolster my confidence with their comments,” says Bronagh Donnelly, a writer from Belfast.
“Understanding the importance of having people read your work and provide feedback. Having a team to work with was crucial to receiving constructive criticism and affirmation of what I was writing,” says Nirissa.
Jan Perry agrees. “I enjoy hearing what people think of my writing and how it could be better. The critiques are encouraging.”
And it’s not just about the feedback these writers receive. Giving feedback to others is helpful, too, says memoirist Abe Tse. “Getting involved in evaluating and appraising others' writing with encouragement have been an important part of the writing process.”
Writer Scott Smith sums it up: “The Cartel has become invaluable. I hope to be a part of this community for a long time!”
6. Inspiration Is Manageable
Many writers are afraid of the blank page, worried they’ll run out of ideas or hit writer’s block halfway through. But when you’re writing your book in 100 days, you don’t have time to linger for days or weeks waiting for inspiration to strike.
The good news is, inspiration is manageable.
As romantic comedy author Sarah Purcell says, “If I sit down, they (the words) will come!”
Adrienne Crew’s experience is similar. “I learned that the process of writing produces more ideas and once you get going, it's not that difficult to come up with more words.”
Children’s author Jeralyn Lash-Sands agrees: the key is to just write, and inspiration will follow. “Good, bad or indifferent, I can do it! The more and longer I sit down and write, the more I find myself swept away, lost in the creativity. It’s an incredible moment to find I lost myself.”
Strategizing your writing helps too, as Scott Smith found. “Managing inspiration has been monumental for me,” he says. “Fairly early in the training, Joe sent an email about techniques to help with inspiration. One of those points was to stop writing before you reach the end of that part or the end of the day. Then, on the next day, it is easier to pick up the previous day's inspiration. It works! I have played with this concept with several other applications — love it! I purposefully don't end sentences now just to keep the juices flowing one day to another.”
7. Trust the Process, Not Your Feelings
Even with the support of a community, a daily writing habit, and permission to write badly, 100 days of writing can still be a gruelling challenge. But when the writing gets tough, these writers don’t quit.
Instead, they trust in the process: if they keep writing, they know they’ll make it to “The End.”
Jamie Bigley, a writer from Arizona, always wanted to write a book, but knew she needed a system to guide her through. “The tools Joe gives us each week, the encouraging words from him and our mentor made all the difference in the world. I used to think that if I had a process, or roadmap so to speak, I might be able to get through a draft. Joe's daily emails guided me through this process. I believe this is something anyone willing to commit the time and effort needed, can accomplish their goal of writing a book. I finally believe I can do this! In fact, I'm in the home stretch!”
Bart Mann is an experienced journalist, but he’d never written a book before. “Throughout this whole experience I have learned that as a writer I have to stay grounded and at peace with the process no matter how turbulent it might get,” he says. “And the best way to do that is to breathe. Staying calm and trusting the process is key. If you adopt either an offensive or defensive position towards the process then the progress stops. I’m not sure if this is the work of that nasty inner editor, but I suspect it might be.”
J C Trees has had ups and downs through the writing process, but he’s learned to ride them out and keep writing. He knows that ultimately, this will result in his finished book. “It is okay to feel, all those feelings, and think those thoughts (everyone goes through them, and they are a very big part of the process),” he says. “And speaking of that process, allow that process to happen, trust in that process; it goes from point A, to point B.”
8. Figure Out Who You’re Writing For
Sure, it would be amazing if your book sold millions of copies and were read around the world. But imagining that your audience is literally everyone isn’t very helpful when you’re trying to write a story readers will love.
Instead, focus on writing for just a few people, or even just one. What does that person like? What kinds of stories will they enjoy?
This kind of focus will help you sift through criticism, too. You’re not writing for everyone, so it’s okay if not everyone likes what you write.
That’s been J C Trees’s experience. “Don't take it all to heart,” he says. “Not everyone will like what I write, so write for those who do enjoy it, and for myself.”
9. Stop Stalling. You Learn How to Write a Book From Writing a Book.
Just about every writer I’ve worked with agrees: if you want to know how to write a book, you need to write a book. It won’t be perfect, and that’s okay (remember all those writers in step three?). But the process of writing your book will teach you far more than thinking about writing your book ever will.
For some writers, applying the 100 Day Book program’s writing lessons every day has helped them hone their line-by-line writing.
As she writes her book, Jan Perry has worked hard to grow in her sentence-level writing. “Having a snippet of a lesson each week has allowed me to improve my writing a bit at a time,” she says. “For instance, I started to type ‘I really LOVE my characters’ and the ‘really’ jumped out at me and I deleted it (just as I changed passive ‘it was deleted’ to ‘I deleted it’). Little things like that add together to become big things and my writing improves. Thank you!”
Lucia Jakobsson’s language skills have improved in leaps and bounds. “I'm Finnish. English isn't my first language. 100 days has been a crash course in English grammar. I felt like an idiot when I read the first critiques. How didn't I catch that past tense, that comma? But the challenge developed my English with giant leaps.”
Plus, she now knows what it means to build a career as an author. “100 days made me aware of the tools of the profession. I understand how much work it takes to be an aspiring author.”
Other writers have deepened their understanding of storytelling fundamentals.
That’s Karen Hall’s experience. “I've learned a lot about novel structure, plotting, style, plot points, dialogue, how writing is ‘like driving with your headlights on through fog. You can't see very far, but you can drive a long way that way,’” she says.
Hope Cotter has a degree in journalism, but actually writing a book taught her about story structure in a way that she’d never learned in class. “I learned in a neat and tidy way how to critically think about patterns in writing,” she says. “I love science and the concept that nature builds in a series of patterns. Humans naturally love to build and consume stories with patterns and arcs. I didn't fully appreciate these templates of great writing previously. I dissected them and researched their meaning, but not their story arcs.”
Can you write a perfect book in 100 days? Nope. But will you become a better writer if you accept the challenge? Absolutely.
To be fair, this isn’t something that our writers mentioned — they’ll keep writing their books for fifteen more days before they reach “The End.”
But when they get there, we’re throwing a party to celebrate the work they’ve put in and the hundreds of thousands of words they’ve written.
Why is this important? You accomplish what you celebrate. When you take time to recognize your accomplishments, you’re more excited about what you’ve done.
You might even be energized to do it again!
The Magic of 100 Days
Okay, “magic” is misleading. As these writers found, magic won’t write your book. Dreaming, hoping, planning, thinking, and studying won’t write your book, either.
But when you set yourself a challenging goal and surround yourself with the right tools — and perhaps more importantly, the right people — you can actually finish your book in just 100 days.
Want to celebrate finishing your book in 100 days? Our next semester of the 100 Day Book program just opened, and writers just like you are committing to writing their books in the next three and a half months.
If you’re ready to write your book, we’d love to support you through the process and celebrate with you when you finally finish.
Whatever you do, don’t get stuck wanting, waiting, studying, and thinking about writing a book. As these writers found, the only way to write your book is to sit down and write.
Do you have any tips for how to write a book? Let us know in the comments.
A great book starts with a great idea. Take fifteen minutes to brainstorm a book idea. What book would you like to write?
Share your idea in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers. And if you're ready to turn your idea into a finished book, we'd love to see you in the 100 Day Book program!