The Six Sigma approach to writing your book

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Six sigma logoThose who work in operations departments or logistics will be familiar with “Six Sigma”, a methodology of process improvement and overall efficiency. Developed in the 1980s by Motorola and Toyota, Six Sigma aims to reduce waste and variations within the processes of an organization. Its application has enabled companies to accomplish their goals in a smooth and efficient manner.


And isn’t this what you’d like to do with your book – get it written smoothly and efficiently? So let’s see how we can apply principles of Six Sigma to the writing and completion of your manuscript.


To begin, let’s start with the goal of writing 500 words per day. This is a very “doable” amount. Writing six days a week, you would reach 3,000 words per week, amounting to nearly 100,000 words after eight months. With editing, proofreading, and the publishing process, it would mean that you could write and publish a book within one year, start to finish.

So how to actually make this happen? Here are tips derived from the Six Sigma approach:

  • First, make sure that you have a designated work space. In Six Sigma vocabulary, we use the Japanese term gemba, meaning “the place where value is created”. (In manufacturing, this would correspond to the factory floor.) Your gemba is a sacred place, to which you will go each day to write, with no variation. For some, it will be a desk in their house; for others, their armchair or bed; and for some, a quiet corner of a coffee shop. It should be clean, quiet, and relatively bare – no random items clogging up your area (and your mind).
  • Secondly, we must make sure to eliminate distractions. Distraction is a form of muda, or waste. Don’t kid yourself that distractions help you write. They interfere with your writing and waste your time and energy. Distractions can be people in physical form, though these days, distractions are more likely to be email, the Internet, and social media. As painful as it may seem, turn off the internet on your phone, and make sure to be logged out of social media and your email on your computer. “Oh, but I need the Internet for research!” Sorry, you must do your research at a different time. Writing and researching are two different things: writing requires concentration to produce each word, whereas research does not require the same level of focus.The important thing is to KEEP WRITING – don’t go off on tangents looking for the perfect word online or in a dictionary. It will slow you down and cause you to miss your target. That “perfect word” can be researched later. We want to preserve the momentum.
  • Time is also an important element. It is essential to write at the same time every day. Start by examining what times of the day allow you the most privacy to write. For most people, this is the early morning. Start by blocking out 30 to 60 minutes to get your 500 words done. After a few weeks, you can establish a takt time, i.e. the maximum amount of time it takes for you to get those 500 words written, so you can gauge how much time you need for every writing session.
  • Do you recall when we talked about writing “six days a week”, and not seven? This is because you will use that seventh day for hansei, which means reflecting on what you have done. For a writer (that is, an author-to-be), this means reading and re-reading what you have already wrote and making necessary changes and edits.
  • The concept of hansei flows into the concept of kaizen, which means “continuous improvement”. For writers, this means waking up the next day and trying to write even better than the day before. Note that this does not mean perfectionism. There is no such thing as the perfect book, and perfectionism will result in you disliking everything you write and never publishing anything. Similarly, kaizen also means avoiding complacency: you should never say “I’ve written 300 words today, and that’s enough.” No – it is your responsibility to reach 500 words a day, six days a week, even if you are not in the mood. Part of becoming a published author involves keeping the momentum!


Make sure to check out the iUniverse site for more advice and blogs, as well as iUniverse Facebook and iUniverse Twitter. For a FREE Publishing Guide, click here!

–By Tom McKinley


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