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?

How to write a nutrition book without losing your mind.

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.
Give yourself time for research. You won’t be writing on day one, or even day two or three – other than taking notes. Don’t rush it, take your time, and get your thoughts together. Consider how many times you have mulled over a story idea and read research on your given topic for days and weeks before it became clear exactly how you wanted to approach writing about it. As you know, the actual writing, which can itself be a challenge, should nevertheless be the lesser effort of time and mental energies. 
If you want to GSD (get sh*t done), put yourself on a schedule. Actually, even if you don’t have a deadline, make one for yourself, and bake in buffer time. For example, once your start-up research is in a good place, 1,000 words a day isn’t crazy. If you write four days a week, that’s 4,000 words a week, which puts you on track to have your first draft done in 15 weeks, or about 4 months. Don’t get excited. The whole process  takes longer than 3-4 months. This is just for the initial draft.
What worked for me was to dedicate certain days to writing and other days for working out or doing something fun with my family and friends. Trying to fit it all in every day was too much. What really helped me was knowing Monday was a workout day so I could put any book thoughts aside. It was a needed break. But on Tuesday, it was just as helpful to know it was a writing day. Making this decision in advance made it easier to say sorry friends, can’t go out tonight, it’s a writing day.

My biggest rookie mistake was thinking I could do a little bit of everything on my to do list every single day. Turns out, I am just not wired that way. I get too distracted. Case in point, for my first book, I thought I could do my day job, get in an awesome workout, and write a little bit each day. Big fail.

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.

Creating and tracking against target word counts is a little bit of an artificial progress report since it’s about the quality more than the quantity of words you put down. Still, it’s something, and can help keep you moving forward to completing your book.

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.

Make and use trackers. They don’t have to be complicated. But they do have to be used. They will help you. Track your word count. Later, track how many sections you’ve reviewed and revised.

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).

I recommend structuring your content by science, how-to, and then tips and tools to get to success. A good developmental editor will help shape the final product, but this is an easy way to keep your content organized as you’re putting your book together. Another way to think about these three sections is: 1) Why the reader should believe you (science), 2) Now that they believe you, what should they do? (how-to), and 3) How can you make it as easy as possible with tip sheets, worksheets, checklists, shopping lists, etc.? (tips & tools).

It seems simple, and it is. But it’s easy to go down rabbit holes with research and “talking to yourself” (that is, spending words explaining science you think is cool without filtering it through the reader’s eyes and considering if it’s essential or interesting to them).

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. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat myself here because that’s how important it is. I don’t care how good your first draft is, your next draft is better, and the one after that is even more improved. Schedule review time into your timeline.

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.

As science writers, we have a responsibility to keep track of our references the way self-help or fiction writers don’t. In my manuscript software, I could highlight a word or sentence and link it to a footnote where I could list the citation, key finding, or any other notes I’d need to know to remember why I felt so confident in writing that sentence in the first place. In addition to being the ethical thing to do, it also helps when you have an interview, say, 11 months after you submit your manuscript. and you may want to refresh your memory.

Be open to editorial feedback. The way I organized my second book made sense to my orderly type-A brain, but a very talented editor I worked with had a different way of laying out the information. Same content, different order. And after I let myself feel protective for exactly 5 seconds, I let myself consider her feedback. And you know, I realized she was right, so I went to work re-ordering sections and making sure it all made sense together. Ultimately, the reader benefits, which is a good thing.

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.

 

9 Comments

  1. Ginger Hultin

    January 24, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Great post! I love the way it’s organized and presented, too. I totally agree that you need to write when the time is right – not post workout or at a time of day your brain doesn’t want to work.

    1. Maggie Moon, MS, RD

      January 24, 2017 at 6:25 pm

      Thanks Ginger!

  2. Kara @ Byte Sized Nutrition

    January 24, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Congrats on your book! I feel like a lot of these tips you shared can definitely be applied to blogging as well. Keeping them in mind to improve my time management!

    1. Maggie Moon, MS, RD

      January 27, 2017 at 5:31 pm

      Good point, Kara. So true. I bet there are unique challenges to keeping up with blogging for the longrun, too!

  3. Katie Cavuto

    January 24, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    Love the way you laid out the info in the post — great info too! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Maggie Moon, MS, RD

      January 27, 2017 at 5:31 pm

      Thanks Katie!

  4. Whitney @ To Live & Diet in L.A.

    January 25, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Loved both of your books! It’s clear how much work you put into them. Thank you for this comprehensive guide to the writing process – hopefully one day I’ll be able to use it 🙂

    1. Maggie Moon, MS, RD

      January 27, 2017 at 5:32 pm

      Thank you Whitney! You’ve been such a great supporter. I appreciate the kind words! When (yes – when, not if), you go down this path, let’s talk!

  5. Amy Gorin

    January 26, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    This is a fantastic post! I so want to write a book one day. 🙂 Congrats on your latest!!

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