Steps to Writing a Book

Each week I attend a Bible study with other men where the only other significant unifying trait is that we are Christians navigating our way through life. Actually, it’s enough.

Three of the guys have something else in common. They are accomplished athletes who run, hike, or bike long distances for enjoyment, which would not be my idea of fun.

  • One is a CPA, who ran a qualifying time in his age group for the Boston Marathon. Hopes to run it in 2021 as it was cancelled in 2020.
  • Another is a self-employed handyman/painter who climbs mountains and rides bicycles for distances that would make me tired driving them in a car.
  • The other is a businessman and coach who was a three-time USA Olympic-team distance runner.

The others in the group have additional wonderful and unique traits, making the meetings a highlight of my week. But if you consider only the three guys I described above, here’s what they have taught me as general principles:

  1. Age is just a number, not a defining trait.
  2. Never stop training at whatever you are doing.
  3. Never, ever give up.

When you get to a certain age (and I think I am way past it), the concept of “life is a journey,” which was a vague idea found in greeting cards, folk songs, and sappy movies, becomes very real. It is an incredibly accurate picture of life.

How do I draw on the journeys of my friends to encourage you today? Let’s start out with some athletic metaphors and see where this takes us.

None of the aforementioned guys started out running miles, running marathons, or climbing mountains without first training at short distances and smaller hills. Each of the guys worked their way over time to the point where they are now.

Good book writers should be able to write really good short-form materials. Many find it more difficult to write 300 good words than 3,000 that might wander here and there before getting to the finish line. Three hundred words is about one page in a book.

Each guy I mentioned above has an idea of his pace, which allows him to finish what he started. Establishing and remembering your work pace makes it far more sustainable than relying on emotion, which can be an unreliable career/work guide. This is why many years ago the best-selling authors were newspaper or magazine journalists who needed to produce regularly on a schedule. They had disciplined goals for their daily outputs.

(And, by the way, if you want sympathy for writer’s block, search online for comments about it from other writers. You will regret ever bringing it up again as an excuse for lack of output.)

Stay alert, and don’t lose focus. Books need to maintain reader interest page after page, step after step. Every paragraph must pull readers through to the next paragraph.

So, before jumping into the marathon of books, write great notes, poetry, devotions, articles, or short stories.

And don’t forget good shoes with arch support.

15 Responses to Steps to Writing a Book

  1. Anu Ahonen March 24, 2021 at 6:14 am #

    Thank you of this reminder and useful post!

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 24, 2021 at 7:01 am #

    Just how do you write a book?
    Reminds, me, that, of a funny line
    ’bout when it’s elephant you cook,
    eat it one bite at a time,
    but we should not speak of pachyderms
    in such a flippant way,
    for as one non-PC soon learns,
    it’s a different world today.
    So we need a new analogy
    to print and tape to fridge;
    I have it, yeah! Oh, golly gee,
    it’s like painting that pretty Frisco bridge
    stroke by stroke in orange cover;
    when you’re done, the edits start you over.

  3. Kristen Joy Wilks March 24, 2021 at 7:12 am #

    That is so interesting that three such unique friends all have completed amazing athletic goals. Thinking of the different writers I know, they are just as varied and unique. But yes, daily work and determination are a common denominator. Thank you for the reminder!

  4. Kay DiBianca March 24, 2021 at 7:29 am #

    Dan, thank you. You are singing to my tune! I’m a runner, and I’ve found great joy and wonderful benefits from it. Good health, a sense of well-being, and even enhanced creativity are pretty good returns from the investment in a pair of running shoes.

    And, of course, running serves as a great metaphor for the writing life. Excitement, persistence, joy, pain, success and failure all serve as part of the experience. I run many different distances and train in different environments, and I appreciate your wise advice. Even composing a blog comment (or poem ala Andrew) should be an exercise in writing.

    Thanks also for reminding me it’s time to get on the treadmill. Maybe I’ll get a new idea for a story.

  5. Loretta Eidson March 24, 2021 at 7:32 am #

    Love the comparison here. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Claudia C March 24, 2021 at 7:33 am #

    Thanks for this mornings boost. When “You’re of the age,” and had a personal huge set-back, a little life encouragement is always helpful.

  7. Tiffany March 24, 2021 at 8:05 am #

    Becoming a writer is my a new pair of shoes. I’m so eager to run the marathon of books with everyone else I forget the value of individual steps. I’m relieved to hear that all my unpublished forms of 300 words are actual progress. If I could slow my pace, forget about being, doing, and having enough, I might catch my breath and notice how far I’ve come. Sometimes it takes a seasoned runner to tap our shoulder and point out the view. Thanks for the encouragement, Dan. It was well written read.

  8. Mary Cates March 24, 2021 at 8:25 am #

    Good article. Great tips. As an author, my editor told me that I use far too many adjectives. Dramatic personalities tend to do this. I’m learning to curb my tendency. Love reading these posts. I never stop learning!

  9. Felicity March 24, 2021 at 10:46 am #

    How do we know when we’re reading to move on to writing book length?

    • Dan Balow March 24, 2021 at 11:48 am #

      Many successful writers view it as layers and not progressive steps. They find continual writing keeps their skills honed and their creative “brain” working. Sometimes a short walk in the park makes a more difficult challenge the next day a lot more doable!

  10. Marlene Anderson March 24, 2021 at 4:26 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more – especially the never give up and age is not a determiner or what you do. As a former therapist I blog about these things as well. We need to keep reminding people, each new day is an opportunity to do what God designed you to do.

  11. Peggy Booher March 24, 2021 at 7:37 pm #


    Thanks for the lessons you extracted from your athletic friends’ adventures. I appreciate the fact you pointed out each man knows his pace, and that each of them started doing the smaller feats first, and worked up.

    I agree it’s difficult to write “300 good words”. I submit devotionals to an international magazine. The word count limit is around 300 words. It can be hard to write to that limit–too much detail, and you go over the limit, or detract from the basic message; too little detail, and it doesn’t give the reader enough to visualize the story. It’s a challenge–but it’s helping me learn what to leave in, and what to take out.

  12. Barb Syvertson March 25, 2021 at 8:35 pm #

    Thanks for your encouraging post! Your last sentence reminds me that my love of writing is often most satisfied in the words I pen in a sympathy note, a letter to an inmate, a heart felt thank you to a friend or even a letter to a company owner expressing gratitude for their service. Sometimes “small” writing can have a big impact if we practice it well and often, regardless of whether we ever move on to bigger things.

  13. Martin Johnson April 2, 2021 at 4:01 am #

    If I’m having trouble just getting the words out for my book how am I actually supposed to write a book? Is there any way to keep writer’s block at bay?

  14. Dennis L Oberholtzer May 11, 2021 at 5:17 pm #

    Good Essay. I have no problem writing, because it is all research. Making it palatable for everyone else is my problem.

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