In mid-fall 2019, Chandler Bolt (the founder of Self-Publishing School) did a TEDx talk called “How To Write A Book In A Weekend: Serve Humanity By Writing A Book.” On top of its inspiring message around the impact a book has on the world, two things about this talk stood out to me.
First, that there’s a common misconception that writing a book has to take years. This misconception is, as Chandler correctly points out, a holdover from the traditional publishing world. In that world, writing and publishing a book nearly always DID take several years — because the book publishers needed that much time to handle all the moving parts of editing, designing, and publishing dozens of books every year.
An author who got a book deal would usually be given 1–3 years just to write their first draft. Then another year or more would be dedicated to editing. Proofreading, design, and publication would take a year or so themselves. So it’s no big surprise that, after two centuries where traditional publishing was the only game in town, most people still believe that writing and publishing a book takes years.
But with self-publishing rising to prominence in the last decade, authors don’t have to take multiple years to write and publish books anymore. Not only can they write at their own pace now, they also can go through editing, design and publishing much more quickly. And Chandler was spot-on to point this change out as a reason that many, many more people can become authors now (and do so faster) than they could prior to 2009 or so.
Up till this point, I was pretty on board with his message. But then the other shoe dropped.
The second thing that stood out to me in Chandler’s talk was the solution he proposed to this misconception. Instead of writing a book over several years, he said, authors should use his system to write it in a weekend. The last third of the talk was an illustration of this system, which condensed the process of writing a book to three very short steps:
- Mind map for 10 minutes (that is, brain dump everything you can think of on your topic)
- Outline for 10 minutes (that is, organize those ideas into a logical order of sections and chapter topics)
- Write for 45–90 minutes, or speak for 10 minutes (that is, turn the outline into content)
According to Chandler, if you go through that system once at the macro level (for the whole book) and then 15 times at the micro level (for each chapter), you can write your book’s rough draft in a couple of days’ worth of time, which fits conveniently into getting the book draft done over the weekend.
Now if you look at that system by itself, it seems pretty logical. And if you look at Self-Publishing School’s track record of teaching that system to people who have then used it to write and publish books, it looks pretty great. After all, over 4500 published authors in 65 countries can’t be wrong, can they?
And Chandler’s not alone here. There are a LOT of people in the self-publishing industry who teach “over the weekend” (or at least “as fast as humanly possible”) as the best and only way to write a book. I Googled “write a book in a weekend” this morning and got 212 MILLION hits. Within the first five pages, more than half a dozen coaches, experts, and gurus pitched “Book In A Weekend” or “Bestseller In A Weekend” retreats. And that’s not counting companies like Scribe Media and The Author Incubator, both of which have programs involving a weekend-long training or writing session.
Clearly these systems and retreats and programs work, or people wouldn’t be using them. If they didn’t, Chandler and people like him would have gone bankrupt or found different methodologies long ago. And I’m definitely not saying that we should go back to the old system where writing and publishing a book took 3–5 years. That would be a huge step backward!
So what’s the problem here, James? Why does it sound like you’re leading up to a big BUT here?
Well, clearly because I like big BUTs and I cannot lie.
Chandler’s system has a lot of points in its favor — it’s straightforward, it’s easy to understand, it doesn’t take a ton of time, and anyone can use it.
…it just isn’t as simple, as universally workable, as efficient, or as effective for writing a GOOD book as Chandler wants you to think it is.
There are three big problems with this hyper-fast approach to writing a book.
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
It is technically possible to write a book very quickly. But how good is that book going to be?
If your goal in writing the book is just to have written one, to be an author or to tell a story or to create a personal legacy, that question may not matter to you. Just getting the book done is enough for you, so getting it done as fast as possible is probably your ideal scenario.
But if your goal for the book is to grow your business, trying to write that book in a weekend will mess. you. up. Why? Because quality takes time. Period. And quality is the only thing that will make your book a reliable asset to leverage for business growth.
If making the book that kind of asset is your goal, the need for speed will kill you. Unless you’re a genius on the level of Bach or Shakespeare or Einstein, quality creation just doesn’t happen under pressure. Most things created as fast as possible frankly suck — ESPECIALLY when those things require deep thought or focus, which writing a book nearly always does.
You don’t change your clients’ lives by treading water on the surface of their needs. You do it by diving deep. So writing about what you do can’t stay in the shallow end, either — and it’s impossible to think deeply at top speed. Case in point: Deep Thought itself, the most powerful computer ever constructed, took 7.5 million years to figure out the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (Yes, that’s a fictional example, but it still proves the point, my frood.)
Plus, anyone who’s ever tried to rush through their piano practice as a kid (I KNOW I’m not alone in that group) will tell you that the faster you try to go, the more mistakes you make and the more important things you miss. And mistakes take extra time to correct, which means that trying to save time on the front end often leads to spending moretime on the back end.
So maybe you CAN write a business book in a weekend, but that doesn’t mean it will be a GOOD book.
One of the very first authors I worked with tried to write their book over a weekend and ended up with unusable material — tens of thousands of words that didn’t express their message, didn’t connect with their audience, and didn’t make any sense even to her! Not only did she have to start the writing process over almost from scratch, but her editing process got longer, too. What she initially hoped would take days ended up taking months. (Fortunately, taking the extra time helped make the book a lot better!)
Just Because Anyone Can Do It, Doesn’t Mean Everyone Should
Writing a business book isn’t right for everyone. For those it is a good move for, writing it right now might not be the best strategy. And even for those who are ready to write a book starting tomorrow, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to do it.
Workable systems often overlap, but universal solutions don’t exist. Assuming that one system is going to be the best, right, or only system for everyone is like saying there’s only one shoe size, one ideal weight, or one way to get to Mordor…not only is it wrong, but its premise causes a lot of trouble.
Let’s look at each step in Chandler’s system to see how universal they actually are.
Step 1: Mind Map/Brain Dump
For some people, simply writing down everything they can think of is a good starting point. But for others, doing that feels like trying to pour 10% of the Pacific ocean through a kitchen funnel — the more you pour in, the more you realize is left, and the more confused you’ll get about what should be in the book and what shouldn’t.
Not to mention that a good book on your topic doesn’t need everything you can think of, it needs the right things in the right proportions to connect with your audience. Trying to include everything you know about your industry is a recipe for a 400-page textbook no one will read. Ask Derek Doepker [backlink to derekdoepker.com] if you don’t believe me — that’s exactly what he did and exactly the result he got with his first book.
A brain dump doesn’t differentiate between what will be great for your book and what will be lousy. And you may be too close to the material to know the difference yourself. So while this method may be a good start for some books, it won’t be for all of them.
Step 2: Outline
If there’s one piece of Chandler’s system that is universal, it’s this one. Pretty much everyone in self-publishing agrees: without a good outline, you will have a crappy book.
But there are many different kinds of outlines, and Chandler’s is arguably the most simplistic. “Take your stuff and arrange it in order” sounds easy. But Chandler also uses a cookbook for his example of outlining, and cookbooks are stupid easy to outline — just pick your food categories, select a few recipes for each, and you’re set.
A quality business book won’t be that simple to outline. It may require writing out each step of your system in painstaking order, or organizing the answers to every question your clients ask you, or mining your personal story for its most important moments — or all of the above. These types of outlines are rarely as easy as they look.
Plus, the level of detail that actually goes into a good outline is way more than most people think. A quality outline isn’t a skeleton, it’s a body with everything filled in except the skin. (Maybe that’s not the best image…I blame Ramsay Bolton.)
Anyway, a quality outline is a lot closer to a first draft than to a mind map. And taking ten minutes to put your brain dump in order isn’t going to get you there. Even repeating the mind map/outline process for each chapter, as Chandler advises, is only a start. So again, while having an outline is vital, Chandler’s way to make one isn’t universal.
Step 3: Write/Speak
Chandler suggests taking 45–90 minutes to write a chapter. Again, that may be workable for some authors, but it’s pretty optimistic for others.
I’ll speak for myself here: I’ve been a writer for over 20 years, and it takes me about an hour to write 1,000 words. And that’s with no distractions and a very clear idea of what I want to say (usually via the highly detailed outline I mentioned above). So if a typical book chapter is between 2,000–2,500 words, that chapter would take me between 2 and 2.5 hours to write.
Are there writers who can go faster than that? Sure. I know I’m not a speed demon at the keyboard — I don’t type at Mach 2, and I like to take my time considering what I say. But 1,000 words an hour is still a pretty solid clip — and there are plenty of writers who write slower than that.
So estimating that it will only take 45–90 minutes to write each chapter won’t be reliable for every author or even most authors.
And that’s just one chapter — Chandler suggests repeating the process 15 times back to back to write the book over a weekend. That’s a LOT of writing — and a long time to maintain a writing pace with no distractions or fatigue. 45–90min times 15 chapters is [insert math here] between 11 and 23 hours of writing. Will that fit within the 48 hours of a weekend? Yes. Will you have the energy, the stamina, and the mental clarity to write for that long on your only days off? I wouldn’t — at least, not by myself.
(Incidentally, the only programs I know who successfully help authors do the writing I just described position the writing weekend as a capstone retreat in a luxury location with meals and lodging included, preceded by 6 weeks of coaching, outlining, and intensive preparation, where the author spends that weekend in something of a highly-supported writing trance. Most other “in a weekend” programs only include the outlining in the weekend itself, and task the author with doing the actual writing in the following weeks or months.)
So much for writing over the weekend being universally workable. Now what about the speaking option? “Speaking your book” is a popular method these days, which isn’t surprising — it does make writing easier for people who don’t like writing, and it takes a lot less time up front than writing does.
Problem is, authors don’t speak the way readers read. There’s a big difference between writing conversationally and just having a conversation!
Even with great outlines to speak from, speaking opens you up to tangents, distractions, side notes, meandering stories, and/or giving way too much information simply because (1) speaking goes by very quickly and (2) that’s just the way you talk.
The amount of editing needed (some self-publishing companies call it “translating”) to turn a transcribed piece of text into a workable book chapter is staggering. Remember the author who had the useless weekend writing retreat I mentioned? Most of that weekend was spent speaking their book — and that was a big reason the resulting material wasn’t usable.
So while speaking saves time up front, it adds time back with interest after the fact. That tradeoff may be worth it to you — or it may not.
Like I said, no solution is universal. Sure, Chandler’s system might work for you…but it also might not. And trying to write a book via a way that doesn’t feel good for you is a great way to make your book terrible. So accepting THIS system as THE way to write a book has some potential issues.
Just Because You Wrote A Draft In A Weekend, Doesn’t Mean The Book Is Done
The third problem with the book-in-a-weekend system is that what you write in that weekend isn’t a book. It’s a rough draft.
To his credit, Chandler does say several times that what you get from your weekend of work is a rough draft. And he’s correct that finishing the rough draft is like turning a corner — for the first time you feel like your book is going to become a real thing! It’s an empowering, triumphant feeling.
It’s also a really big false flag.
What Chandler doesn’t talk about in his TEDx talk is how much work your book needs to get from rough draft to actually being published. (Especially if that draft is just a transcript of you speaking!)
Good books don’t just get written, they get rewritten. And rewritten. And rewritten some more. Then they get edited several different ways. Then they go through design. THEN they get published…and being published is only the beginning of the author journey.
So even if you ARE able to write a rough draft in a weekend, that weekend doesn’t mean your book is done. Turning that draft into a high-quality book that will make your business a lot of money takes more time.
Chandler may not have had time to address this in his TEDx talk, which is fine…but the way he addresses it elsewhere isn’t all that reassuring. According to his most recent book, Published, revising a rough draft is largely a matter of reading it out loud to yourself, and three rounds of professional editing takes no more than a couple weeks.
Clearly that strategy seems to be workable for some people, but let’s ask an actual editor (me): how good is your book going to be with that little time spent on polishing and refining it?
Again, if your only goal is just to have a published book in your hands, then that slapdash revising and editing process might be enough for you. But if you want a high-quality asset that will add six figures to your business, it won’t be.
So How Long Should Writing And Publishing A Book Take?
Ask ten different self-publishing gurus how long it takes to write a book, and you’ll get at least six different answers. 90 days is a pretty common estimate. Some give a random number like 47 days or 56 days. Some stick to the idea of doing it over the weekend.
What do I say?
I say writing a good book is a part-time job, not a vacation. A lifestyle change, not a crash diet. A hero’s journey, not a race.
Working with me, it takes about a year to write and publish a high-quality book. My authors spend three months strategizing, outlining, and writing their first draft, a month getting peer feedback on that draft, three more months revising and rewriting it into a final draft, a month getting professional editing done, and three final months going through design, publishing, and marketing.
That’s longer than pretty much anyone else in the self-publishing industry. It’s certainly longer than a weekend. And we like it that way.
Is it for everyone? No way. The authors I mentioned who care more about just getting the book done as fast as possible don’t resonate with it at all.
But authors who care about making their book the best it can be resonate with it a lot. Because the best way to make sure your book is high-quality is to put in the time to make it that way. And that’s way more than just a weekend.
I’m James Ranson, the Master Wordsmith, and If that sounds like how you want to write your business book, then we should talk! Click here to book a free call with me.