Join

Enter Details

Comment on stories, receive email newsletters & alerts.

@
This is your permanent identity for Business Insider Australia
Your email must be valid for account activation
Minimum of 8 standard keyboard characters

Subscribe

Email newsletters but will contain a brief summary of our top stories and news alerts.

Forgotten Password

Enter Details


Back to log in

The Productivity Hacks I Used To Write A 93,000-Word Book In Six Weeks

Nicholas Carlon's writing deskNicholas CarlsonMy writing desk. Note all the gum and the Red Bulls.

Last week, I published my first book, “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!”

One question people ask me a lot is how long did the book take to write.

There are a few answers to that.

I took book leave in May 2014 and I turned in my first draft in the middle of August 2014.

So you could say four months.

But I signed my book contract in September 2013, so maybe the answer is a year.

I started working on a big, 20,000-word biography of Mayer in 2012.

So two years?

But if the question is: how long was the amount of time between when I wrote my first sentence and when I wrote my last, the answer is about 6 weeks.

I started on July 4 and sent the epilogue to my editor on August 22.

The book is 93,000 words long, so I wrote, on average, 2,447 words per day.

This speed floors people, so I thought it might be useful to share some productivity hacks I discovered while I was writing.

I went to bed and got up at the same time every single day for the whole six weeks. I went to bed at 10:30 P.M. and got up at 6:30 A.M.

I had long, lazy mornings. After I woke up at 6:30, I would brew a cup of coffee, make breakfast (a fruit and vegetable smoothie), and read Business Insider, the New York Times, and Twitter. I would lounge for as long as an hour. Then I would walk to a nearby park and meditate on a bench for 10 minutes. Then I’d walk home and start working.

I worked in hour-long, concentrated bursts and took frequent breaks. When I got back to my desk around 8:30 or so, I would set a timer for an hour. As soon as the timer started I would force myself to either write or stare at the screen until the hour was over. (I would pause the timer if I needed to make coffee or tea or go to the bathroom.) Then, when the hour was over, I would get up from my desk, go outside and walk around a city block — leaving my iPhone behind. Then I’d come back to my desk and do another hour of writing/staring. Then another walk. Then one more hour. Then I would take an hour and a half lunch, where I would walk to a restaurant, eat, and then walk to a park. After lunch I did three more cycles. I’m just guessing, but I think this pattern worked for me because an hour isn’t a very long amount of time to work, and it always felt like a real break was just around the corner — and after that, lunch or the end of the day.

I caffeinated — for a while. At the beginning of the six weeks, it would take me three cups of coffee to get through the morning and a Red Bull to get through the afternoon. But after about two or three weeks I didn’t need the caffeine anymore. I went back to one cup in the morning with my news reading.

I told myself: “Don’t strip the screw.” When a screw is screwed in too tight, you can get it stuck forever if you strip it by turning too hard too suddenly. Sometimes, when I was working, I would hit a tricky passage, get very anxious and want to force myself to START WRITING NOW. This never helped. So I imagined my brain was a screw that I didn’t want to strip. I gave myself a break and allowed myself to just stare at the screen if that’s all I was able to do at that moment. I did not allow myself to look at my phone, check email, or otherwise distract myself.

I chewed so much gum. During each hour-long writing/staring session, I would pretty much constantly have a piece of gum in my mouth. I really liked Trident Layers. There is a store on my block that sold four different varieties. I would buy one of each just about every other day. My home office started to smell a little like Trident Layers. Whatever, they say chewing gum helps you take a test. I found it helped get my brain moving when writing.

I would start every hour by revising the last section I wrote. I don’t get writer’s block, but I do start the day with a sluggish mind. It helped me to go back to the last section I wrote and revise it. By the time I got to the end of what I had written again, I was in the flow again.

I worked out at least three times a week — outside. I was usually done working by 5:30, and it was summer, so I spent a lot of time on my bike, zipping up and down hills in Central Park. After, I felt entirely refreshed and totally jacked up with endorphins.

I quit drinking. I love a good martini and will drink a bad one if you hand it to me. But during my book leave, I found that even having one drink in the evening would greatly slow me down the next morning. I couldn’t afford that, so I quit drinking. My sleep was better. My concentration sharper. Words flowed easier.

It’s too complicated to get into here, but the other reason I was able to write so fast was that I had a 30,000+ word outline. I built it directly from my reporting news (transcripts and documents) using Evernote. You can learn all about that process in a post I wrote a couple months ago.

Also, you can buy my book if you want. (You want.)

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at research.businessinsider.com.au.