You can divide the book writing process into five distinct phases, even though they’re typically all performed at the same time in a confused mess called book authorship. The five phases of writing a book include planning, research, outlining, writing and editing.

Phase 1: Planning

This phase typically occurs early in the book writing process. This is when you develop your book idea, looking at every angle of your proposed topic. You might jot down notes and thoughts on the topic, or even create an outline. But be careful: if you write chapters too soon, you’ll get lost in the weeds, and before long, your book will be just a series of articles strung together. Don’t start writing chapters until after you’ve performed the research phase.

Phase 2: Research

During this phase, you need to dig up facts and wisdom that support your book’s arguments. You’ll learn about your subject and perform interviews with other experts. The Internet has made this phase much easier than it’s ever been before. You can learn more about your subject in a few hours on Google than people used to learn in a lifetime. The Internet also allows you to access thousands of books, journal articles and scholarly papers for free.

Phase 3: Outlining

This is the phase when you take your research and begin turning it into book chapters. This can be a scary phase, especially if you’re like me and hate outlines (I just want to write!), but an effective outline will help ensure that your book flows well. You can use a formal, complex outline but I’d recommend that you try the simple three-act structure approach before crafting your own outline. The three-act structure is a tried-and-true method that ensures your book has a beginning, middle and end, while the simple approach to outlining lets you create an effective outline by just thinking about how the book will flow.

Phase 4: Writing

This is the phase that most people think of when talking about book writing. This is the phase where you sit down and write your book, one chapter at a time. It’s also the phase that can be the most difficult and frustrating, with lots of writer’s block along the way. But don’t worry: this phase won’t last forever. You can write a book in as little as six weeks if you’re really pushing yourself, but for most people, it takes at least four months to wrap up this phase.

Phase 5: Editing

We typically consider this to be a subset of writing (this article breaks them up because they require different mind-sets). This is the phase where you edit your book, line by line. Your goal in this phase is to make your book as perfect as possible. After all, no one will care about your book unless it’s the best it can be!

The phases of book writing come together into a cycle that allows you to begin again at the beginning. When planning your next book, look back at previous books and to improve them. I recommend you create a specific goal for each phase in your book: if you finish that book within the expected timeframe, then you’ve done well!