Actually Writing the Proposal

So far in this series we’ve done some extensive prep work to put together a strong book proposal. We’ve covered proposals as persuasive tools, confirming the project is actually book-length, finding the right publisher to target, and understanding the different sections of a proposal. Now it’s time to write.

Everyone has their own writing process, something that works for you. For most of my career I was what writing studies scholar and textbook author calls a “heavy planner.” Before I sat down to actually write, i spent most of my time reading and thinking while my subconscious wrote the piece in the background. Eventually, usually near a deadline when I was starting to panic that I’d forgotten how to write, my subconscious would finally step up to the plate and plop out the draft completely whole. It might sound like procrastination but I was always thinking, jotting down notes, outlining possible structures. I was writing, just not on paper most of the time.

After submerging myself in design thinking strategies for several years, I found myself becoming more of a “heavy reviser,” someone who spits up every thought she can think of and then starts weeding and developing from there. Heavy revising is less stressful because i see the work more visually, but I’ll probably always be a heavy planner at heart (when my mom went back for her degree we realized she writes exactly the same way, so it’s genetic!)

So when writing your proposal, do what works for you. There is a lot of solid but sometimes overwhelming advice out there about writing everyday, writing in spurts, creating accountabilities measures. But if you feel strongly about the project, write however makes the most sense to you and think about the advice you would give your students on writing. Here are a few of my tips:

  • Think about what questions you should answer in each section and focus on those.
  • Don’t feel like you have to start at the beginning – it’s OK to jump around between sections. It will all come together in the end one way or the other.
  • Know that you will need to provide literature and information on competitors to support your proposal so make sure you have that ready to go before starting.
  • Get feedback from trusted sources regularly, whether it’s a peer writing group, a colleague, someone you respect who you know will be very honest with you.
  • Use a Scrum board to visualize your writing progress so you can celebrate the little wins along the way.

But maybe the most important piece of advice is just get started. Only you can write this book, so get to it!

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I am a faculty teaching and learning specialist in the Center for Teaching and Learning at Georgia Tech and have 17 years of experience teaching professional writing and rhetoric to undergraduates. From a faculty development lens, I care about helping faculty create vital careers through meaningful productivity, powerful teaching, and life-long curiosity. My book, Agile Faculty: Practical Strategies for Managing Research, Service, and Teaching (2017), is available from the University of Chicago Press, and my co-edited collection, Redesigning Liberal Education, will be available from Johns Hopkins University Press July 2020. @RPR_Agile on Twitter

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