How to Know the Time is Right to Write a Book

Here’s what you’ll discover: The seven signs that will tell you whether you’re ready to get started on that book you’ve been wanting to write.

When people tell me, “I’d love to write a book, but I just don’t have the time,” I get it.  I don’t believe it, but I get it. I immediately think of my co-author, Libby Sartain, with whom I wrote the book, HR From the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business. She called me the week before 9/11 to set up a lunch date for the second week of September. We kept the date, even though I was still crying at the drop of a hat. She kindly said, “Let’s not have any crying today; let’s talk about something good.”  And then she laid out her plan for a book telling her story of her years at Southwest Airlines.

If there was ever someone who didn’t have time to write a book back in 2001, it was Libby.  Libby had just concluded an epic tenure at Southwest. She had just moved to Silicon Valley from her lifelong home state of Texas. And she had just taken a new job as chief people officer at Yahoo! during a critical point in the company’s own story. Major life changes and challenges. And now she wanted to write a book on top of everything else?

As much as I completely appreciated the opportunity to work with Libby about a topic we both were (and continue to be) passionate about – employee engagement and HR career management – I didn’t fully realize the value of our process and what she brought to the table every time we got together.  Our process: To meet our insanely tight deadline (the book had to be published in time for the next Society for Human Resource Management convention), we had weekly interviews over the phone every Saturday morning.  What Libby brought to the table: A clear idea of what she wanted to talk about that week, and great stories to back up her points.

We hit our deadline, and we were in Orlando the next summer, signing books for a long line of HR professionals who were over the moon to have the chance to meet Libby in person. Over the years, HR From the Heart has been a beloved book, inspiring HR professionals all over the world. And, even though Libby was the main name on the label (I was the publishing professional, writer and strategist on the team), I’ve made a couple of lifelong friends with people who started out by saying to me, “Your book changed my life.”  It changed my life, too.  And I will always be grateful to Libby for the partnership she initiated way back when.

(Would you like to read a sample chapter of HR From the Heart? Here you go!)

So. Yes, you do have time. But you have to really, really want to.  And the time has to be right.  But it’s never about not having the time. It’s about the convergence of will, vision, value, and patience for the creative process. It’s about wanting to so badly, you’ll make the time.

How do you know if the time to write is right for you? Here are some clues:

  1. You’ve just closed out a period of your career or life where you have accumulated a lot of unique wisdom and perspective to share.
  2. You have a strong belief or point of view that will help others shift their understanding of a common problem.
  3. The insights and information you have to share can be duplicable by the reader in some way. Your offering is either process or inspiration or both – backed up by stories from your personal files.
  4. You recognize that the book writing process will challenge you in some areas that you most need strengthening (faith, trust, patience, self-esteem, confidence, stick-to-itiveness, sense of humor, collaboration, message clarity, hearing the sound of your own voice), you name it. It’s a personal improvement program wrapped up in the biggest homework assignment you’ve ever had in your life. And you’re up for the challenge.
  5. You long ago got over that lie: “If you have a speech, you have a book.”
  6. You have a realistic idea of the outcome you want. Do you want to be a millionaire with a New York Times bestseller?  Or do you want to build your platform of influence so that you will grow a speaking and/or consulting practice where you can bring solutions to your clientele, who will gladly pay you handsomely for it?
  7. You know that this book isn’t about you, it’s about the reader.

These are the road signs that the time is right to write that book. You’ll never actually have the time. You just have to want to do it more than anything else – at least for a few hours every day or every week until it’s done.

If you want to do it badly enough, if your drive to help other people is un-ignorable enough, you’ll find the way and process to make it happen.

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