Book writing tips.

Alright, so I promised to give you a few more of the details behind the how of writing my recent book. It’s a great question, how to write a book, because on the one hand, you can simply open up a word processing document and start typing. On the other hand, there are a few things that’ll make the process a bit easier and more enjoyable.

Just like I already shared, I made my environment work in my favor as much as possible for working smart and not hard. I had our babysitter come as often as she could, Kyle rolled up his sleeves even more than usual and cooked most of the dinners, and I cleared my calendar to do almost nothing but write.

But I picked up on a few tricks of the trade that helped me, and I’d love to pass them on to you. Read on.

Evernote is my best book-writing friend.

Whenever I’d research quotes or statistics, I’d click on the Evernote Snipping Tool in my Chrome toolbar, and it’d immediately toss it into my Evernote file. I’d add tags to help me filter my stuff—I’d use things like “quote” or “stat,” and I’d also include the chapter number where I thought I’d need it.

Then, when it was time to work on that section, I’d simply open Evernote, and voila—there it was, waiting for me. Another helpful thing—Evernote timestamped my bookmarking, so when I needed to write the bibliography, I could easily reference when I accessed it.

A shout-out for Clearly.

Clearly is a little compendium to Evernote, and I love it. It’s another extension for Chrome, and when you click it, it slides away all the needless clutter and gives you a beautiful thing to read. If you get annoyed by ads, sidebar flashies, and general clutter on a site that otherwise has great content, you’d love Clearly. So helpful when I needed to concentrate.

Let me show you an example—here’s a screenshot of an article on the New York Times:

The New York Times

And here’s what it looks like in Clearly:

The New York Times using Clearly for Chrome

Lovely, no? Made for much easier researching and reading when I needed to focus on my book and not on the shiny thing in the sidebar. And even cooler—Clearly has a highlighting tool:

The New York Times using Clearly - highlight tool

When you highlight text, it automatically dumps it into Evernote. Beautiful!

Evernote after using Clearly

(I promise, I’m not affiliated with Evernote in any way—I just love their stuff.) All this brings me to…

Bookmark as you go, whatever tool you use.

Even if you’re not an Evernote fan, use something to bookmark your stuff as you go. Because in the end, you’ll need to cite your sources in a bibliography, and it’ll be a PAIN if you don’t catalog it along the way.

The Chicago Manual of Style Online was a helpful tool—I kept this open the entire time I was writing the bibliography.

Use Pages, if you can.

I prefer Apple Pages over Microsoft Word, a thousand times over. But not many people have it (including my editor), so I love that it seamlessly converts to Word without a hitch.

Use Pages - it's better than Word.

It’s an incredibly intuitive program, it’s easy to make inner links (meaning, the Table of Contents links to the start of each chapter in my document), and the Full Screen feature means everything around my doc is a lovely black. No distractions. (Can you tell there’s a theme? I don’t like distractions when I’m writing.)

Write digitally, edit analog-ly.

I obviously write my book on my laptop. But then? I harken back to the 90s when I had dial-up Internet and had that get-on-get-off mentally with the Internet, and I print my chapters. I file them away in a white binder, which I would collect and watch my book grow. (A good motivator.)

Print a copy of your book and edit the old-fashioned way: with a pen.

Then, when I finished, I took a pen (the four-color clicky type from junior high, if you were curious) and edited with the classic editing symbols. And then I passed it to Kyle, who did the same thing, though with more comments than carets. Which brings me to…

Let other people read it, and have thick skin.

For the first few chapters (mostly for my proposal), I had my friend Sarah read and edit my chapters. She’s a brilliant editor and gifted writer, so I trusted her judgment. But she’s busy with some of her own work, so for the bulk of the book, I had Kyle and my friend and assistant Katie read the rest. They gave lots of feedback, and I agreed with most of their edits, so I’m thankful. Katie would read straight on her own computer and add notes in the Pages doc. Which leads me to…

Save your stuff in Dropbox.

I saved every bit of my writing in Dropbox. For one thing, I was scared of my laptop doing something crazy and deleting all my hard work some unassuming weekend when I wasn’t paying attention. But secondly, saving it in Dropbox makes it a breeze to share.


I gave Sarah, Katie, and Kyle access to my book file, and they could open it up whenever they were ready to edit. No need to send more email attachments—my latest versions were immediately in this file, which they already had on their own computers.

Another option for this is Google Drive, which I use a LOT for blog work, but for the book, I preferred Dropbox so I could use Pages.

Capture your thoughts.

Your best ideas WILL come as you’re drifting off to sleep, when you’re stuck in traffic, as you’re taking a shower, or when you’re otherwise not sitting in front of your computer. My absolute favorite tool for collecting these thoughts? The Voice Memos app on my iPhone.

Use the Voice Memos app to capture thoughts during book writing.

I’d just hit the record button, start rambling, and it’d automatically save as a file in my iTunes, whenever I was back at my laptop. Remember that Seinfeld where he thought of a brilliant joke as he drifted off to sleep, so he quickly jotted it down, only to find an indecipherable note from himself the next morning? Yeah… ain’t nobody got time for that.

Also, I love Evernote for thought-capturing as well. If I was reading something on the Internet that I thought may come in handy down the road, I’d quickly clip it in Chrome—I wouldn’t even bother opening up Evernote. But the next time I did, I’d have all those clips waiting for me, and I’d organize and tag to my hearts’ content.

Leverage good ideas when you’re stuck.

There were definitely days that I just did not feel like writing, or if I did, nothing good came from my time in front of my computer. This is when I was incredibly thankful for the outline I already wrote for my book’s proposal. I’d just look at the chapter summaries like a to-do list, and start writing wherever I last left off. And the cool thing? Inspiration usually came.

Very rarely did I actually stick to that original outline, but it certainly helped me stay on track when I didn’t know what to say. After all, the publishers have already said they liked the idea based on those chapters.

Tsh's Writing Inspiration pinboard

I’d also read posts from my Writing Inspiration pinboard whenever I needed a pick-me-up. It was so encouraging to read words from friends (and crazy-smart mentors) in the writing trenches with me, to hear how they’ve all been there, too.

Okay, this is already a crazy-long post, but I know you all have more questions about how to secure a book deal with a publisher. That’s a whole other topic all together, but I’m willing to address it if enough of you are interested. Though I’m a bit reticent, because nothing I’d say would be gospel—this whole book thing is different for everybody. But I’m happy to, nonetheless.

Anything else you’re curious about?