(Transcript) – How to turn vague ideas for a book into a first draft

Morgan MacDonald : Hello. Welcome to the replay. Today we’re talking about how to turn your vague ideas for [a] book into a first draft. So welcome everyone. As you’re joining let me know your name, and where you’re tuning in from. It’s a holiday in the states, and that’s where I am. It’s Labor Day, and I’m hanging out at my in-laws’ lake house. We’re actually just about to pack up and leave,  which is always very sad. But that’s okay. We enjoy the moments when we have them, and then we pack when we need to…


Jeanwise ( https://twitter.com/Jeanwise ) : Good morning!


Morgan MacDonald : … Hey Jean. Good morning… Thanks for the hearts guys… Who else is in here? I think I saw Miguel pop in, and some other people. Melanie is in the room, Mark, Miguel. Cool. Welcome. Yes. So what are yáll writing?…


Miguel Rubio ( https://twitter.com/migg300 ) : Hey Morgan.


Morgan MacDonald : … Hey Miguel… Jenna’s in… What are yáll writing? Is anyone else writing a book? A lot of my advice is very general to any type of writing, ESPECIALLY non-fiction writing. But I do work a lot with authors who write books. But what do you guys write? Blogs? Novels? Non-fiction books? Let me know, and that way I can tailor my advice to you, because that’s really what this is all about.


So a quick intro…Thanks for the hearts guys. I feel like that’s a show of faith [laughter], that something valuable is coming out of this scope…


Jenn Vazquez (https://twitter.com/jennvazquezfit ) : Not yet. It’s a goal. Blog now. Book soon.


Morgan MacDonald : … Jenna is not writing yet. It’s a GOAL. Blog now, book soon… That’s a good way to do it…


Jeanwise ( https://twitter.com/Jeanwise ) : Right now working on my blog.


Morgan MacDonald : …Jean, right now working on my blog… That’s right. Good. Yes. Just starting to write is like half the battle. Starting to get your ideas and put them out in public is really nerve-wracking, but once you get the hang of it it really makes way for lots of writing progress.


So who am I [laughter]? I’m Morgan Gist MacDonald…


Mark Isaac ( https://twitter.com/7slightedges ) : I’m working on a customer service book.


Morgan MacDonald : …Oh, ”7 Slight Edges”, working on a customer service book…What is your name?… And Miguel is also blogging. Okay. Good guys…. This works for blogging too. So what we are talking about this week is really a lot of my core advice that I work with authors on for their BOOKS. But many of the principles are just as easy…


Mark Isaac ( https://twitter.com/7slightedges ) : Mark.


Morgan MacDonald : …Oh, Mark,. Right… Yeah. Periscope is so weird that when I look at who’s in the room I can see your NAMES, but then when you comment it’s just your handle. I don’t understand Periscope super well yet. We’re getting there. I guess no one understands Periscope very well yet [since] it’s so new. But it’s exciting.


So yes. I am Morgan Gist MacDonald. I’m a writing coach, an editor, and author, and I run my business and blog out of http://www.paperravenbooks.com . I work with people, like you, who want to write, but don’t always know where to start. So I’m a very step-by-step, logical kind of gal. I like to have tools and tricks and plans to get me from vague idea to actually starting to produce word count on a regular basis. That’s what I work with authors on; How do we create schedules, and timelines, and tools, and strategies that work for you.


So as we’re building up this Periscope community of writers I’d love to get to know you, and what you struggle with, and what’s most helpful for you. So that way when I DO my Scopes I’m like, “Oh yeah! I remember Jean asked this question in my last Scope. Let me answer it.” So if you HAVE questions feel free [to] throw them in the chat, and I will either answer them on the spot, or at the end. Or I’ll make a WHOLE Periscope just for your question! So let me know.


All right. So let’s dive in.Today we are talking about how to turn your vague idea for a book – [but] works for a blog too – into a first draft. So let me set up with a problem… Thanks for the hearts guys… If you’re new to Periscope, if something that I say resonates with you , and you like [it], you [can] tap the screen for hearts. And if you like to listen to people talk about writing, click the “Peri Buddy” down there [to] change that “plus” into a “check” mark, and then you’ll follow me, and it will let you know when I’m on and Scoping about writing.


So, you have great ideas. I KNOW you have great ideas [laughter] , because your message is not yet out in the world, the way that it SHOULD be. You have ideas for how to help people solve their problems [and] inspire their lives, but you just need to get those words out. If you’re like MOST people you probably oscillate between two, kind of, extremes. Some days you [may] feel like, “Ugh! I don’t have enough to write a book. I just don’t have enough material. I just don’t know that I could ever say enough to make it worthwhile to write a book.” I feel that some days! Then other days you’re just like on FIRE. You sit down and churn out like 1,500 words, and you’re like, “I could write DOZENS of books!” [laughter].


Melanie ( https://twitter.com/pplunicorn ) : Yes. That is me! ,  


Morgan MacDonald : … Yes, that’s me. Yup… So, in the span of a week you might go from feeling like super pessimistic, like, “I’ll never have enough to write a book.” to super optimistic, like, “Öh, I have DOZENS of books in me!”… Jenna’s feeling the same way… And we tend to have those quick oscillations between the feelings because we’re trying to write without a PLAN. So, [the] first draft starts with a plan.


What I recommend is that there are two phases to this. This is, sort of, like the pre-plan. Before you start writing your first draft you need, kind of, a pre-planning week to really super-charge the actual writing process. So there [are] two phases to this pre-plan. Phase number one is free writing. If you’ve caught any of my earlier Scopes you know that I love free writing. This is a method of getting words out of your brain really quickly, and really easily. And it’s, kind of, fun. You set a timer for five, ten, [or] fifteen minutes, and you type, or write, as fast as you physically can. It’s really uncomfortable at first, but once you get in the flow…


Jeanwise ( https://twitter.com/Jeanwise ) : Love free writing.


Morgan MacDonald : …Yes. Jean says, “Love free writing,”…That’s foundational for this pre-planning phase. If you go to http://www.paperravenbooks.com/periscope you’ll see some of my previous Scopes where I talk more in-depth about this. But free writing is really essential  to this phase.


Miguel Rubio ( https://twitter.com/migg300 ) :  I have ghost story ideas, but since I’m focused on [a] crime thriller I figure it can wait.


Morgan MacDonald : … Miguel [says], “I have ghost story ideas, but since I’m focused on a crime thriller I figure it can wait”… Okay. We ARE going to talk about that too. How do you choose between ideas? So we’re getting there Miguel. You’re in line with where I’m going.


Okay. So in this “Phase One”, with the free writing, I recommend planning for five days – in a row if you can – where, kind of, the same time of day you get up. Like I get up early in the morning. Maybe you’re a late night person. It doesn’t really matter. But just try to find a flow so that you’re setting aside, I recommend, 25 minutes. Twenty-five minutes to just free write. Let it flow. Sit down [and], kind of, put your book possibilities in your mind, and just write it out. Let it come out. You’re not organizing this. This is not going to be SEEN anywhere. You’re just trying to get clarity around your ideas.


What if you have more than one book topic? Everyone has this problem. What I recommend you do is pick the top three book ideas that you have, and you take them one topic at a time. You have, basically, a free-flowing conversation with yourself that you type out. So you ask yourself questions, and then you answer them. Then you ask yourself [more] questions,and you answer them. So I’m going to give you some specific questions that you ask yourself, and these will be available, because I always take Scope Notes for you. I write out all of my notes in advance, and I put them on http://www.paperravenbooks.com/periscope . So these are all written out for you.


What I recommend is [that] you have those three topics – the ones that you are most frequently considering writing about. You pick one, and for this first topic you [ask] yourself, “Why is this topic important to me?” Like from a very deep, personal level. Like, “Why do I care about this?”.Second, “Why do I feel like the world needs to hear this now?” What need is there in people you’ve met, or talked to, that you feel like some people just need to hear this message? Why? Tell yourself WHY in really explicit ways, why the [world needs] this message.The third, “How do I feel?” Like deeply, [energetically], and emotionally, about this topic? Am I DRAWN toward it, or do I feel like something is like PUSHING me toward it, like I HAVE to write about this. [Then], sort of, just write your way through the emotions you feel about that topic.


So those are the questions. Then after you write your answers, and have this little conversation with yourself, just, kind of, pause and check in, and [ask yourself], “Okay. How do I FEEL about this? Do I feel open and expansive, and like I have an adrenaline rush, and I’m super excited?” If that’s how you FEEL that is a really good sign that you should take that book topic and just run with it. If, on the other hand, you feel really constricted, and anxious, and like, “I don’t really know how I’m going to pull this off. I’m not sure I can write a book about this?” That’s like a major warning sign. Maybe you can write that book LATER, but maybe you don’t need to worry about it right now.


So take your top book ideas – it works for blogs too – your top writing ideas, and ask yourself, “Why is this topic important to me? Why do I feel like the world needs to hear about this now?” and, “How do I feel energetically when I THINK about it?” Honestly, there are some times when authors will come to me and they’re like…


Jeanwise ( https://twitter.com/Jeanwise ) : Great questions!


Morgan MacDonald : …Oh, thanks Jean… “I’m torn between these two book ideas. One is really practical, and I think there is a need in the market, I can make money off of it, I think I can sell it to a publisher, or whatever… But I also have this OTHER book idea that I really LOVE, and is more my passion, [but] I’m just not sure who would buy it.” And you know what I always recommend? You’ve got to go with the passion, because your career is NOT MADE on one book. Your career BEGINS with one book, and that is your platform. That’s how you begin to build who you are, and who you serve. So your book should always attract the people that you want to serve.


Jenn Vazquez (https://twitter.com/jennvazquezfit ) :  What if the market is saturated, but you’re excited about it?


Morgan MacDonald : … “What if the market is saturated, but you’re excited about it?”… Oh, good question, Jenna…. Okay. I think that having a lot of books for sale in your topic is actually a GOOD thing. It’s a good indication that there are a LOT of readers of that topic. Because when you think about it, if you’re a reader – let’s say you’re a reader and you’re SUPER into “Paleo recipes”. There’s a TON of Paleo books. You’re brand new, and you’re like, “I love paleo!” You don’t buy ONE paleo book. You buy TWELVE paleo books, right? And that’s just one reader. When you’re really into a topic, and if you’re into – and excited about – a topic for five, six, or seven years, one reader can consume dozens and dozens of books on one topic. [So] it’s a benefit to the market if there are always NEW books coming out. And now that we have things like Amazon, with the search engine, the NEWEST ones get a bit of a priority, because they get released as like “hot” and “new” and “trending”. Right? So there are some ways in which actually having a lot of books in one topic can be a good indication that there is a huge demand for that topic.


Jenn Vazquez (https://twitter.com/jennvazquezfit ) : Great point. Thanks!


Morgan MacDonald : …Yup. You’re welcome Jenna… So it’s really intimidating, as the author, to look around and say, “Ugh! But everyone has already written about this.” But I would bet [that] once you actually start writing, and you begin to flesh out those first drafts, you’ll see how different your book is from what’s already on the market.


And I felt the SAME way.  I mean, the most recent book that I wrote was, “How To Write A Book”. I went on Amazon [to do] searches, and I kept finding books about how to write a book, and I would get so nervous. But then I would download that book and read it, and I was like, “They’re not talking AT ALL the same way that I’M talking. I’m creating this step-by-step guide, and they’re talking about the muse, and inspiration. We’re talking like totally different languages.” So if you feel like the market is saturated, maybe you should do just a little bit more in-depth research, actually go and BUY those books, and see what they read. They probably are NOT saying what you think they’re saying. So that’s just an option. So don’t let a saturated market intimidate you. There’s LOTS of room. LOTS and LOTS of room.


Okay. So you have these five days of free writing, and that REALLY helps to clarify your thoughts around the topic. You won’t necessarily USE the free writing. It’s just TRULY an exercise in getting the words out of your brain and onto paper so that you can create more clarity.


Then it’s time for “Phase Two”. Phase Two is creating a “rough organization”. So this is NOT an outline. This is NOT a mind-map. It’s not even just a list. It’s, kind of, something similar to a list, but it’s much more flexible. I really like to remain as FLEXIBLE as possible in this stage. The reason I don’t like an outline is because it is very rigid. We all have flashbacks, to like “freshman English” where you had to write the Roman numerals, and the letter “A”, and it all had to be formatted correctly. And the tension around outlines is just too much for most of us, especially, who have been through like a western, Americanized [educational] system. Like [when] you write Roman numeral one, you start to get panic attacks from freshman English,


A lot of people do mind-maps, and I don’t think they’re BAD, but I think they get really out of control really fast, because a mind-map is like [where] you start with one bubble in the middle… [irrelevant comment] … and then you branch out [by drawing] lines to another concept, and then more lines to other concepts. So you get this huge, sprawling visual. For me that’s crazy intimidating. Maybe it’s because I’m mildly OCD, but I’m like, “Oh no! The lines aren’t straight. And this one has way more little bubbles than this side, and it’s all lopsided”, and I can’t deal with it. So what I do instead – and I’ve had a lot of authors who have preferred this method as well – is the rough organization. So I’m going to describe it, and then I’m actually going to SHOW you an example – the rough organization of my most recent book, so you can see, kind of, what it looks like.


But BASICALLY, you sit down and try to give yourself like 30 or 40 minutes – a longer chunk, so that you can sit and process and think. But you try to write out a sentence or a phrase for every POINT that you want to make in the book. So this works really well for NON-FICTION books, because we’re usually like TEACHING some expertise… Thank you guys for the hearts. You are just like tapping. You’ve got a good flow going. I really appreciate it . It’s helping me stay motivated. So thank you. I just want to say that’s awesome, [and] I really appreciate it…. But for every point that you want to make in the book you just write out either a fragmented sentence, or a long phrase or something, to describe that point, and you just list them, one by one by one. Don’t worry about the order. Just get it out there.


Then take a break. You can come back the next day, or whatever. Come back, start to rearrange them, and put them under chapter headings. So you’ll start to copy-paste THIS line, put it under THIS chapter, here’s another chapter, copy-paste, put it here. Then you start to just rearrange the list so that it begins to flow and makes sense, like that. So let me flip you around and show you the rough organization that I created for MY most recent book.


[change of camera view to computer screen]


Okay. So when this started… “Rough Organization For How To Write A Book – Working Title”… Okay. So all of these that were lowercased here were just points that I was writing out. So I wanted to write about : Myths that writers buy into; the idea that you have to be someone special to be a successful writer; you have to have a lot of free time, you have write every day. So I had all of these points… Why you would want to write a book; there are a lot of good reasons to write a book; you feel a mysterious call, or curiosity; you have some knowledge, advice or experience; you have a story,..


And so when I FIRST wrote this rough organization – I’m going to show you how long this gets. Every single one of these. You can see I got, kind of, crazy here. Like this was one point;  small chunks:  “I do NOT recommend devoting an entire day, or weekend, or week, just to writing”. So these were like long points, but I didn’t stop myself. I wanted to explain the point that I was going to make. And it just, kind of, goes and goes and goes [laughter]. All of this was one list, and then I went back to the beginning, and I was like, “Okay. How do these make sense together?” And in the big caps here is what ended up being chapters. So “Myths and Truths of Becoming A Successful Author” was one chapter. “Why Write A Book?” MAY have ended up being put into another chapter, but it STARTED in this rough organization as its own chapter. “How To Prevent Self-Sabotage When Writing” was its own chapter. “Good Writing Habits” was its own chapter. Okay. So you, sort of, see how I was [just able] to take some of these – some of these are very short, and some of these are multiple lines long. But it doesn’t matter, as long as they are somewhat GROUPED. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow, but what we’re going to do in our first draft is take this rough organization, start from the beginning, and just write. You write through every point, one after another after another. That way, if you feel like you have to SKIP part of the rough organization you know where it is, and you can remember pretty easily what you wanted to say. Then you can skip it, and come back to it later. But this makes it really easy. You don’t have to sit and think about what you want to write, because you’ve already planned that out.


[change of camera to face view]


Okay. So I’ll also give a link to that, in case you want to look more in-depth at it. It’s just a really long, unstructured list of the points that you want to make. That’s it. [It’s] super simple, but it’s flexible enough that you can change it later, and it’s structured enough that it’s like a map, so that you can start writing and you won’t lose track of where you are.


So that’s it guys. That’s really, truly ENOUGH to keep you on target…


Jeanwise ( https://twitter.com/Jeanwise ) : Linear brain dump.


Morgan MacDonald : … “Linear brain dump”. I LOVE that, Jean! That is a PERFECT description. Yes. Linear brain dump. That’s perfect….


Tracy Borgmeyer ( https://twitter.com/tracyborgmeyer ) : Hi!


Morgan MacDonald : … Oh, Tracy just joined the room! Hi Tracy…And that’s really all you really need to keep organized. What I MOST want for you is that when you sit down to write a first draft, if your brain is just full of vague ideas, I don’t want you to freeze. This is true whether you’re writing a blog post, or whether you’re writing a full-length book. If you sit down to a blank document, and you’re like, “Okay. And NOW I’m writing a first draft.” It’s like too much pressure [laughter]. It’s too much pressure. You’re going to freeze. We ALL do it. It’s a normal reaction to a blank page with too many expectations. So back off a little bit and say, “All right. We’re just going to plan. We’re going to do five days of free writing, figure out our topic, gain some clarity around the topic, and then do a “linear brain dump”” – Jean, I’m TOTALLY going to take that. I’ll attribute it to YOU, but that was a PERFECT description [laughter] – and create this rough organization, that’s just the list. Then tomorrow we’ll talk about how to write through the rough organization, creating a first draft, and we’re going to talk about five best practices for writing your first draft. So hopefully we can get you guys into writing.


Jeanwise ( https://twitter.com/Jeanwise ) : Have fun with it!


Morgan MacDonald : …Oh, thanks Jean [laughter]… Alrighty, that’s it. I’m on kiddo duty now. My husband and I are swapping out, and then we’re packing up and leaving the lake house, which is very sad. I’m going to be on the road a little bit this week, but I will take you with me. I’ll be back in my office tomorrow, and then off to California for a few days. So we’re going to have some fun.




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