How to Write a Nutrition Book in Less Than a Year Without Losing Your Mind
Are you a nutrition writer? Maybe you’ve written well-researched articles for health professionals as well as evidence-based but simplified consumer articles (read: no footnotes or heady explanations of methodology). And now you’re flirting with the idea of writing a book, but aren’t sure if you can do it?
If you’re already a writer, the good news is that writing a book is like writing an article, only much much more work. However, the overall process is similar. The biggest difference is the enormous undertaking of time and energy that goes into writing a book. For my first book, I thought I was working at a reasonably steady pace, until I realized my deadline was three months away and I was more behind than I thought. I went into lockdown mode, wrote everyday, stopped working out (so depressing), and was basically glued to my desk day and night. There are better ways.
Don’t make my mistakes
Here’s what I’ve learned after a decade of writing nutrition articles, ghost-writing several nutrition books (I’ll never tell which ones!), and having two nutrition books under my own name.#ontheblog - my exact process I've used to write books in <year, workout, and see friends, too.
How to write a book without losing your mind
- Allow for start-up time.
- How to set a reasonable deadline.
- How to keep writing without losing your mind.
- Don't make my rookie mistake.
- Why word count matters.
- Track your progress.
- How to organize your content.
- Remember who you're writing for.
- Don't forget time to review and revise.
- Keep track of your evidence.
- Feedback is a gift. Embrace it.
By the time I got home from a workout, I was not in the right frame of mind to quietly write; and when I did get to that point, it was late, I was tired, and I’d skip it. The one exception was weekends. Since I don’t work on the weekends, I could make time for a workout and a writing session. It was hard to downshift from working out everyday, but it was the only sane way to do it. And I found I didn’t lose muscle, didn’t change weight, and was often stronger in the workouts I did do.
If you’re curious, my exact schedule was to work out with friends on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. I wrote on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Friday was my day off of everything, and “date night” with my husband.
Now, sometimes I’d get ahead (yay!), other times I’d fall behind (e.g. sick days, can’t get my brain moving days). Other times, I’d do a lot of re-writing and end up 400 words short of where I’d started. Some days, I tackled explaining complex concepts. Other days, I only had it it in me to do more straightforward, but still important work (e.g. explaining which awesome foods were in season when, how to pick them and enjoy them). Some times I wrote in a stream of consciousness to get the ideas out as quickly as possible (which always requires a lot of rewriting), other times, I had a strong enough handle on what and how I wanted to say something that I could work on writing and revising in the same session. All of it matters. All of it is OK. All of it works. You should schedule time to review and revise everything later anyway.
My word count tracker had five columns. The first column was the day and date. The second was how many words I wanted to write for each day. The third column was where I entered how many words I’d finished at the end of each writing session. The fourth was total cumulative words target. The fifth column was how many actual words to date I’d written. My software made getting these numbers easy (I used Scrivener for Mac; there’s also a Scrivener for PCs), because it has a pop-up window you can choose to keep visible with either daily or per session word count goals and a progress bar of total words done versus goal.
After every writing session, I’d check my word count and see how I was doing. but I didn’t obsess over it, since it can go up and down depending on revisions. You could also use an excel grid, word doc table, or paper and pen.
My review/revise tracker was in Excel, and had six columns: date, day, number of pages I hoped to review, last page completed, total pages, and percent done. It was satisfying to enter in how many pages I’d completed, and then I had formulas in place so the other items would automatically update, and the percent done steadily moved toward 100-percent done (the best feeling).
If you’re recipe testing, that calls for a whole separate tracker and way to organize your expenses for ingredients, supplies, and props if you’re doing your own photos. (You may want to do your own photos for marketing the book later, whether or not they will be in the book).
Simply put, know your audience. Remember who you’re writing for. Think of someone specific you know who would be in the audience for your book. For example, when writing The MIND Diet, I often thought of my parents and in-laws.
It’s always good to keep your readers in mind, but its most important when you’re doing your final review and re-write. Once your ideas for the whole book become a whole book, you will have the right perspective to re-read your content and make sure it will serve your reader.
By the time you’ve done your first write-through you should have maybe up to 70,000 words for a 60,000 word book. My first draft was around 68,000 words, but I submitted a manuscript closer to 62,000. The magic is always in the editing.
There you have it, this is my exact process I’ve used to finish books in well under a year while maintaining a full time job, a decent workout schedule, and regular if limited time for friends and family. Remember, these tips are only about the process of writing a book. Launching and nurturing a book is a topic for another day.
What do you think? Do any of these tips resonate with you? Which ones? Do you have a different approach that works for you? Let me know in the comments so we can all learn from each other.