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How to Make Progress on Your Book in 10 Minutes or Less

We hear regularly from you how easily your book becomes one of those goals that sits at the back of your mind, gathering dust. There’s nothing more overwhelming than staring at a blank Word document, not knowing where to begin. Or maybe you’ve written a hundred pages—great!—but now you feel lost and just want to hide the whole thing away, deep in your filing cabinet or Google Drive.  

Since writing a book can feel like an enormous, daunting undertaking, it becomes easy to believe we have to carve out hours on end for it. We create a whole process: get your coffee, set up your computer, play your carefully-curated playlist, shut the door for no distractions… but then your dog needs to go out. Or you get an urgent work email.

That’s why it’s crucial to recognize that you don’t need a whole day to write. You don’t even need an hour. Our agents have seen authors make significant progress in just a few minutes!

If you have 10 minutes, do this:

  • Reverse outline your material. Think about the book’s narrative arc or plot points and bullet these into an outline. You can go chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, or part by part, though no matter how you break it up, each point should distill the main idea. From here, evaluate how well each section flows and connects to the next, building your argument or story. You can read our article here for even more outlining tips.
  • Write a paragraph. This may seem like a meager contribution to your book, but it’s not. That paragraph could direct a chapter, which could appear in your proposal and catch an agent’s eye. Or, it could simply be additive to your book, which is progress enough—every small step counts. Now read the paragraph out loud and edit what your ear catches.

If you have 5 minutes, do this:

  • Bullet out the main action points (for fiction) or takeaways (for nonfiction) that the chapter you’re working on will capture. This needn’t be well-written at first go!
  • Find a “comp.” This is a book that’s similar to yours that you can use to convince agents and editors of your book’s viability. Go on Amazon and look up recent titles in your genre. See what you can find in five minutes—it might significantly improve your book proposal. It may actually alter your big idea, in ways you never imagined. 

If you have 3 minutes, do this:

  • Send an email to a trusted reader. This could be to a friend, asking them to read your book and give you their (honest!) thoughts, or to a contact in the industry who might be able to provide some guiding wisdom. 
  • Pitch your book to yourself while you’re walking the dog, cleaning the house, or doing a plank exercise. What’s it about? Why should readers care? Why will it sell? Imagine you’re pitching it to a reader who’s new to the genre, or a reader who’s deeply versed in the genre; an avid book reader, or someone who hasn’t read since high school. Simply talking out your pitch—even to yourself—can lead to small breakthroughs in understanding your consumer’s needs, and make your work more accessible. 
  • If you’re writing fiction, imagine your characters living alongside you. You’re in a coffee shop—what is Tim ordering? Your boss gives you yet another difficult task—how does Sally react? These little characterizations can crystallize your characters in your mind, making their renderings on the page smoother and more fully realized. 

All progress is progress, but many writers create obstacles for themselves in thinking they must be at their desk to work or that they have to have at least an hour of uninterrupted writing time. This isn’t true. (One of our authors takes annual “think weeks,” no laptop allowed!) Riding in an elevator, standing in line, doing laundry—all of these moments can be times to efficiently work on your book. This simple mindset shift that encourages you to always carry your book with you can truly, in our opinion, change everything.  

Contributed by Claire Callahan