Extreme Content Writing: How to write a 100-page ebook in 3 months (outside your 9 to 5)
That’s the number of cells we have in our bodies which is more than all the stars in the universe.
When you look into the history of how just one cell came to be, you'll realise just how improbable our human existence is on this planet.
So how did this extraordinary evolution happen?
The answer is Extreme Environments.
It is believed that the first cell was created around 3 billion years ago, right at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean near to volcanic, hydrothermal vents. This was where conditions were right for things to form. The right mix of heat, water and minerals were all in the same place. Then very slowly, over millions of years, a single itsy bitsy cell formed that could sustain itself. This cell was the bedrock for life that would multiply trillions of times.
And billions of years later, here you are: a 21st-century human, sitting down reading this article on your smart device, thinking about what to watch on Netflix tonight.
Believe it or not, an extreme environment is what you need when you are trying to write a book.
It’s quite an extreme thing to write an ebook while working 9 to 5 when you’ve got lots of other things to do like feed the cat, go for a run or watch Love Island. Okay, it’s not quite as extreme as a cell being formed at the bottom of a hydrothermal vent, but for our small, brief lives, it’s quite a big deal.
Four months ago, I did just that: I wrote a 100-page eBook outside of my 9 to 5 consulting hours, in three months. And it didn’t involve having to pull all-nighters and drink loads of coffee. The process to get there however, was extreme.
Many small business owners like me and you often need to create eBooks to get noticed, be trusted and attract more customers.
So, I want to share with you how you can write a decent piece of work in a short amount of time, even with a busy life.
It can be done. As the saying goes, if you want something done, give it to a busy person.
In this 3-part post, we’ll look at how you can do this in three ways:
The importance of extreme preparation, that starts months, even years in advance to make your writing process quicker and easier
The importance of feeling extremely p*ssed off, so you find your fuel to keep yourself writing during those early mornings and late evenings
Why having an extremely good proofreader by your side will elevate your writing and save you much embarrassment.
So let’s get going.
Part 1: Extreme Preparation
One million words
In a Masterclass series that I am watching, best-selling crime writer James Patterson reveals his secrets for effective writing. He says that he writes up to one million words before he even starts writing a new book.
Ideas, outlines, notes, research papers, character development and plot lines are all captured in these one million words over pages of scribbles.
This creative process enables Patterson to write crime novels that are well-structured, considered and page-turners.
What's more is that this approach enables him to write at extreme speed, because of his ‘extreme preparation’ beforehand.
When it came to writing my own book, The Science Of Getting Chosen, it was extreme preparation that also enabled me to write at speed: over 100 pages in 3 months, spending just one to two hours a day writing outside my 9-5 job.
I had hardly realised that the extreme preparation had started for the book 9 months earlier...
A friend of mine, Catherine, is a mother who runs her own travel business and a network of entrepreneurs in Tunbridge Wells.
Over coffee last year, I explained to her my five-stage process that I take clients through. It’s a simple process that I’ve seen repeated when working in ad agencies.
Catherine liked it and wanted me to write more about it.
So I did.
I went away and created a short presentation about it and a small, low-budget video of my mug chatting to the camera and presenting some slides.
I then published it in The Wheely Good newsletter and I happened to get a glowing email back from one of my subscribers:
"I recently downloaded your ‘5-stage’ audio mp3 and found it incredibly helpful – so a big thank you for that. I'm still starting up and what you have in your 5 stages glued together a lot of things for me. One thing that strikes me about the 5 stages is how adaptable they could be for start-ups.”
So I thought to myself, ‘this thing’s got legs, let’s turn it into something more that could be useful to people’.
So I made a few notes, spoke to more people and almost without knowing it, new versions of my idea started to evolve.
But something else put the brakes on: another book!
I had to park things while I published my Instagram book (which really needed finishing!). A trip to Brussels for a Sales Copywriting course and a rebrand of my website later, I was suddenly 9 months down the line and not one word of The Science of Getting Chosen had been written.
Yet this thinking, note-taking and space was what was needed in terms of preparation.
Once June started, I was able to set off at extreme speed finishing the book’s outline, writing it, writing the pre-sell emails for people who might want to buy it, and creating a sales page for my website. And that's a lot to do, trust me.
Initially,The Science of Getting Chosen was going to be a 35-page booklet, but as the concept developed and grew in my mind, it expanded into a 104-page book.
And it was stronger for all the thinking time I had given it.
There's nothing like setting a deadline to get something finished, and so by 17th August and 16 drafts later, it was ready to sell.
"Why did it take you so long?" you might be thinking.
Because like a good wine, ideas and concepts need time to mature and settle.
They need a lot of conversation, a lot of notes, picking angles apart and re-writing before one word is written.
Let’s say that you’re not a weirdo like me and would rather write something shorter.
You might not need nine months to write a free 3000-word eBook; maybe a month will do. But beforehand, you might need several weeks to think of an idea, a few days researching the topic, time to decide the main points, a few emails back and forth to road-test your idea on a few people behind the scenes, then perhaps a few hours to write an outline. All before actually sitting on your bum and writing the thing.
Yes, you might feel the pressure to create something as quickly as possible.
We live in a world where apparently it looks good if you produce a high volume of content in a short amount of time. But I can promise that it’s not good practice, in spite of what you may read.
Humans are error machines and it takes time to make a piece of work presentable to the wider world. Unless you have a big team behind you to get great content out quickly, you'll need to start your thinking early.
If you produce content at high volume and high speed without letting it mature, you are likely to produce rubbish, which is a waste of your time.
And if you produce sub-standard stuff, you won’t build people’s trust, and without trust, sales won’t happen very easily. Often, there are no shortcuts.
I worked for a few months on a large software brand, producing webinars and ebooks as part of their content marketing programme.
Even though the webinars were only an hour long, and the ebooks 3,000 words, they took months to prepare. Months of writing, planning, getting input, sign-offs and working with designers to choose the right images, all amid other work.
Don’t be lulled into thinking that good quality content can be turned around in a week, because generally whatever you produce quickly is unlikely to be as good as if you’d given it time.
Be extreme in your preparation.
Give yourself months, not days, for writing something, and you’ll be far more likely to produce great content. This mindset matters because once your ebook or whatever is out in public, no one cares if it took you a day or a year. All that matters is customers like it and benefit from it – and extreme preparation is your best tool to make that happen.
As Abraham Lincoln said: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe".
Let’s move on to Part 2…
Part 2: Why Getting Extremely P*ssed Off Gets You Writing Extremely Fast
In this second part of ‘Extreme Writing’, we’re going to look at how you can speed up your writing by tapping into a sense of anger lurking within you!
Have you ever wondered why many of us wrote avidly in diaries when we were teenagers, but now, later in life, it’s something that gets overlooked?
As a teenager, I kept a thick blue diary in which I’d scribble pages and pages of soppy ideas and thoughts, probably about some girl or other.
It meant a lot to me at the time, but today, I’d be hard-pushed to remember a word.
So, why was I able to write so much?
Because I was full of emotion before I wrote anything.
Before writing, if you don’t feel any emotion or pain, you won’t feel compelled to write. But when you’re really angry or frustrated about something, you can’t but help write it all down.
You have to get it off your chest. In Tim Ferriss’s words, you have 'an itch to scratch’ and scratch it you must.
Whether you’re writing a small eBook or the world’s next best-selling crime novel, you need to find a sense of anger or frustration about something in your area of business that has to change.
Without tapping into this rage, you won’t find your source of energy and enthusiasm to pass on to your customers. Without it, nobody’s going to believe in what you say.
‘The Science Of Getting Chosen’ book was born from me being extremely p*ssed off with the 'Wild West' of untrustworthy marketing advice out there, with all its nonsensical, clickbait ‘7-Ways-To-Triple-Your-Website-Traffic-In-A-Week’ headlines.
Jane Austin wrote because she was p*ssed off with how women were treated by society
Brewdog brews epic craft beers because they were p*ssed off with mass-market beers
Mike Dolce of The Dolce Diet took on the sham of unhealthy diet regimes.
Green Day wrote a defamatory song about George Bush because of his stance on Iraq
Delayed Gratification is a 'slow journalism' magazine that values being right over being first, and is an antidote to rapid, 'bite-size' news.
So, if you have a ‘magnum opus’ in the pipeline or simply want to write a quick ebook, start by tapping into what moves you.
Give yourself some emotional acupuncture. You know your industry better than anyone, so find a something within it that you feel you can really improve.
Look at what your competitors are doing wrong and how you can do it better.
You want to bring your anger and enthusiasm to life on the page, so readers can soak it up.
Once you do that, you start to change things in customers’ minds. And when you build their trust, good things start to happen.
There comes a point, however, when you write something that you think is finished and is wonderful...but it’s not!
We’ve all been here. We write an article, blog post or newsletter, then read it a few days later and it’s full of errors or sounds weak. Ideas are half-baked and the story rambles.
Often, however, we don’t have the luxury of days or weeks to let our words air (even though this is the ideal).
It's usually only a day or two before we need to publish our ‘content' and send it out to the world.
That’s when we need a partner in crime to critique and finesse our work, to give it a degree of elegance. And that special someone is an Extremely Good Proofreader.
Read on for the final instalment, Part 3, on why you need an extremely good proofreader to raise the standard of your writing.
Part 3: Extremely Good Proofreaders
In this third and final part of ‘Extreme Content Writing’, we’ll learn why the superpowers of an extremely good proofreader will save you time and blushes when writing a lot of marketing content in an extremely short amount of time.
Why you need an extremely good proofreader to check your marketing content
(and why your brain on its own isn’t enough)
There’s not a week when I don’t send my wife Sarah a draft article or sales page, and she emails me back saying things like: “Simon, rewrite this paragraph” or, "typo on lines 4, 5 and 6" or, “have you been drinking too much coffee again?"
Sarah is my extra brain, you see.
I can look at a set of words I’ve written and not see errors, yet Sarah can spot the gibberish, typos and babble in those same words as quickly as she can spot a stain on one of my work shirts.
To write a long piece of marketing content in an extremely short amount of time that’s worth reading, you need an extra brain, like Sarah.
Someone who’s not as close to what you have written, who will spot the errors that you simply can’t.
I am lucky because Sarah has a background in editing and proofreading, so I don’t need to pay another expert to read my work. #Cashback.
You may need to pay someone, however, or else call in a favour from a friend to check your work.
It is always worth this extra effort for anything that’s going out in public.
Remember that if you skip this step of having somebody else check your work, there’ll be a price to pay, because it will go out with errors in it. #EggOnFace.
If your work contains errors, confusing paragraphs and poor grammar, it’ll be hard to understand, which shows that you don’t care.
And this puts both your reputation and your customers’ desire to buy from you again on the line.
The odd error will always creep in, but if it happens consistently, you have a problem.
It’s a bit like turning up to every dinner party in a creased shirt with ketchup on it.
Yes, there’s a lot of crud out there where people have rushed out books without a care in the world...and you should distance yourself from this crowd.
A few months back, I bought a popular book on growing a successful YouTube channel. It was so badly written however that I had to put it down, even though the points that the author made were strong. Sadly, they became lost behind a curtain of typos.
Proofreaders are error-hunters and reputation-savers in one.
When writingThe Science Of Getting Chosen, we went through 16 drafts (yes 16!) before we were finally happy with it.
Yet at the start, I naively thought that the book would be done in four proofs!
The truth is that the first version is not the worst, the second is not the best, (and the third version isn’t even one with a hairy chest). In fact, it's the 16th version. That, for us, was the best.
In an ideal world, it's best to share an early version of your work with several people (including someone from your target audience) for critical feedback.
I would recommend this, but sometimes deadlines are deadlines and it’s not always possible.
That’s why, above all, you need a decent proofreader when time is short. They’ll save your bacon.
As we come to the end of this three-part post, let’s recap on the 3 ‘Extreme’ ingredients needed to help you write a lot of content in a short amount of time outside your 9 to 5:
1. Extreme Preparation
2. Feeling Extremely P*ssed off with something in your area of business
3. An Extremely Good Proofreader
If you’re going to be writing your own eBook, white paper, newsletter or magnum opus to attract clients or customers, remember these 3 Extremes.
James Patterson compiles around one million words of notes before he even writes a word of one of his novels.
Anger and frustration help me write quickly and push me through many a tiring morning.
And an extremely good proofreader stops you looking like a numpty in front of your customers.
If you follow this advice, you might even get time to watch that episode of Bake Off.
Hope you’ve found this 3-part post useful. :)