Chipping away at your book

Are you chipping away at your book or is it sitting there staring at you, a lump of guilt and a gargantuan job that you keep avoiding? You have probably heard the metaphor about not eating the whole elephant but approaching it one mouthful at a time (though why you would want to eat an elephant I have no idea!). You probably have also heard the phrase ‘chipping away’ and ‘one step at a time’. They all convey the same message: take small steps to complete a big job.

But how easy is it to work this way? If you like to get big jobs done fast or you prefer to slice away at tasks with a machete rather than a paring knife, getting it done in a piecemeal way may not sound terribly appealing. As someone who is always impatient to have everything done yesterday, I can wholeheartedly understand your point of view.

The little-but-often approach gets things done with far greater ease than when you try to do them all at once. Click To Tweet

That said, when I chip away at a job, I know it is possible to reduce a big or unpleasant piece of work into bite-sized pieces and get the job done with a great deal more ease. I find the process of a-little-but-often gets things done with greater ease than trying to do it all at once. Of course, this approach requires good time management skills and far more self-control than the ‘do it all now’ method.

Fast and furious sounds good until you realize that you never get started (because the job is too big to finish today) or your fast and furious moments get put off because you’re not feeling either fast or furious at the appointed time. As a result, the time you spend on your big job never actually happens so you never achieve what you want to achieve.

That’s when a rethink is in order.

Part of the reason why we often don’t break our work into pieces is because it is difficult to find the right way to do it. Exactly how do you break down a job you have never done before – like writing a book – into the right or meaningful or quantifiable pieces of work? Below is a quick guide to how to break down the work needed to produce a book into bite-sized pieces no matter where you are in the process of getting it done.

Work chunks come in different sizes so you will need to adapt your chipping approach to suit. Some work is best done in weekly bite-sized chunks than a daily ones. What you need to do to get a one-off project or is a single piece of work done will be different to a task that needs to be done over a longer period of time. For example, writing your book is a one-off task that you need to complete within a particular time period while marketing your book will require you to work over a far longer term. Different approaches will be needed for each.


Planning a book involves doing a lot of small tasks and lends itself perfectly to being divided into manageable pieces of work such as deciding on a title (including market research and testing), deciding on a budget, setting a publication date, creating a marketing plan and working out your contents. The trick is to work out the steps you need to take for each task and plan it into your schedule in a way that suits your workload.

The trick is to avoid expressing each piece of work as whole so instead of describing the task as: “Decide on book title”, you need to put in a series of steps:

  1. Brainstorm title ideas for your book (either alone or with someone else)
  2. Select the best 5 ideas and do market research on each
  3. Refine book title ideas following market research
  4. Test top three ideas with your existing clients/list/contacts
  5. Assess feedback and choose one to be the working title

As you can see, each of these tasks can be done relatively quickly but by spreading them over a number of days you can benefit from the perspective you get from having some distance between one step in the process and the next.

If you think it would take too long to get through all the work needed to plan your book by doing one task each day, you could easily spend 20 minutes brainstorming book title ideas, 20 minutes working out a budget and 20 minutes roughing out a schedule for your book and choosing a publication date. If you allow yourself to spend an hour a day on your book for two weeks, you will easily finish your fortnight up with a well worked-out and actionable book plan.

When you keep nibbling away, you get things done.
When you keep nibbling away, you get things done.


Breaking the writing of a book down is relatively easy but it is easy to fall into the ‘write every day’ trap and end up pushing too hard. The key to breaking down the work needed to get your book written and revised ready for editing is to ensure that the work you set yourself is achievable for you, not for someone else.

It could be that it would work better for you to spend two hours writing every other day than to commit to writing every single day. Even if you decided on two hours in a day, you could still break these into four 30-minute sessions or two one-hour sessions, depending on how long you like to write and what works best for you.

You can then decide whether your target is to write a certain number of words each day (the measure that is usually used) or to complete a certain number of chapters each week. How you set your target is up to you but it must be realistic and achievable.

If you find that you start to flag at any point, you can always give yourself a boost by setting a timer and committing to getting a particular number of words written. This is a useful strategy if you get stuck at any point or get behind because of other commitments.


Marketing your book definitely lends itself to chipping away at your book and doing work little-and-often. A regular post on Facebook or LinkedIn, relevant tweets and frequent blog posts all serve to keep your book fresh in the mind of your future buyers.

This is one instance when your bite-sized chunks might work better when planned weekly rather than daily. If you plan out the bulk of the work and schedule it a week at a time the job becomes easier to do because you can focus on it rather than having it as a daily distraction. If you want to, you can add to your scheduled posts by posting daily with random tweets, comments on articles and other ‘as they happen’ posts.

For bigger tasks, like coming up with a launch plan, there will be elements that can easily be broken down into smaller tasks. Just as with the book plan, you can break down jobs like creating free material, writing web page copy, creating a launch email series and setting up your Author Central pages into do-able pieces.


When it comes to chipping away at your book, you need to consider the production process, too. That’s the editing, formatting, design, proofreading, etc. But this is one part of the book publishing process that is difficult to break down into manageable segments. This is because the production process generally has a life of its own that also tends to be hectic and demanding. A lot goes on during this time and there are people as well as processes to manage so it is difficult to maintain full control.

If you want to offload some of this work you can get it done for you but even then, you will need to be available to answer questions from the editor, check details only you will know and be available to pass material for publication. The best way to manage this work is to be aware that it will be demanding and use your time-management skills on other parts of your business rather than your book.


We all have work habits and preferences that are right for us but it is worth challenging ourselves to work differently when we have a big piece of work that we want to get done. When it comes to producing a book, you need to know how you are going to fit in the work so you can get it done. It may not always be ideal or easy, but it is achievable with a little planning and creativity.

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