How I Wrote a Children’s Book in 15 Minutes a Day
While also practicing law, raising four kids, teaching, and producing movies, in a pandemic
One year ago I was writing a book on reinventing yourself. The only time I could carve out to research and write was 15 minutes early in the morning.
Fifteen minutes a day. That’s it.
The rest of my workday was filled with drafting legal documents, reviewing the tax code, analyzing intellectual property issues, and answering clients. Plus, I had a wife and four kids, taught at a law school, produced movies, and wrote articles online.
You might be thinking the same thing that a good friend told me: “That book will take you 10 years to write — if you’re lucky.”
My friend was right. My book on reinvention would take years to finish at that pace. I believed in the book, but I needed to pivot. I decided to create a story that I could publish in less than 12 months using only those 15 minutes that I carved out in the morning.
A new book took center stage. An unexpected book. It’s a story that I told my kids one night, and they kept asking to hear it. My nonfiction book on reinvention that would share how myself and others have reinvented their lives took a back seat to my silly adaptation of the Cinderella story.
But I still only had 15 minutes a day to work on it. Here’s how I did it.
The Idea: What If Cinderella Picked Up Her Slipper, But Left Something Else?
The story is simple. It’s the story of Cinderella, with my own unique twist. When the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella runs out of the ball. While she’s running down the steps, she loses her slipper. But instead of leaving her slipper, she picks it up and toots — accidentally. Hurriedly, she runs away. All the prince has to identify his true love is the lingering smell of Cinderella’s toot… and so the prince embarks on a quest to find the mystery girl, by asking each maiden in the land to pass gas so he can find the smell of his true love. CinderToot was born. I told this story to my kids over 100 times because they loved it so much.
As my friend Richie Norton says, there is power in not being afraid to start something stupid. Now that I had a new idea, I needed to develop a strategy to create the book in just 15 minutes a day.
The Simple Strategy That Worked
I had limited time and a fun idea. I pulled from my experience as an attorney, entrepreneur, and investor, and considered what had worked previously. I needed a simple strategy that I could execute in short bursts but would also be effective. My strategy had three major parts, each of which I will describe below.
1. Build the Right Team
In the businesses that I’ve started and in my own investments, I’ve learned that the best, first step is to first figure out the team of people that you need to be successful. Here’s a list of the team that I needed to build.
- Layout artist
- Support Group
- Launch team
Since I only had 15 minutes a day, I didn’t have time to exhaustively investigate how to do every step. I needed people who had expertise and who would be willing to share it with me. I needed people who already knew what to do.
The first piece of my strategy was finding the right team.
2. The Power of the First Draft
Nothing happens until there is a first draft. Ideas don’t get you anywhere — even good ones. You need more.
Having an idea captured in a draft was my starting point. I realized that talking about my story was fun and made people laugh. But talking about the story without doing more would never lead to a published book.
The first draft is what allowed me to engage the team that I created. Once I had the first draft, I could read it to my kids to test it. I could hire an editor for feedback. I could start looking for an illustrator. I could start getting advice on marketing.
The first draft was the most pivotal step of the process. After I had the first draft, the rest of the team could start working and my 15 minutes each day would multiply.
The second piece of my strategy was to get a first draft of the story as soon as possible.
3. The Power of the One Thing
What is the one thing that if you do it, everything else becomes easier or not important? That is the question that Gary Keller and Jay Papasan ask in their book The One Thing.
A few years ago, I decided that my “one thing” was writing. But I could only carve out 15 minutes a day. I took those precious 15 minutes and dedicated them to creating CinderToot.
I had to protect those 15 minutes. If those 15 minutes were not early in the morning, then they disappeared. I had a small note that I read daily: anything that comes between me and my one thing is a threat. Anything that came between me and my 15 minutes of writing was a threat to my goal of publishing CinderToot.
Even though I had limited time, I made creating CinderToot my one thing each day.
You Can Do a Lot in 15 Minutes — Here’s What I Did
The filmmaker Werner Herzog once faced the task of eating a shoe. He was trying to inspire other filmmakers. How did he do it? He chopped it up into little pieces and then ate the shoe one bite at a time.
That’s how I wrote CinderToot. One 15-minute chunk at a time. Here’s how I used my 15-minute blocks of time.
4 days, 60 minutes
I was writing a book about a tooting Cinderella. I really didn’t want Disney to sue me for ruining their Cinderella story. I had to make sure that I had the proper rights to create my story. Fortunately, I am an intellectual property lawyer. I researched this myself, but if I weren’t a lawyer, I would have hired one. I found a version of Cinderella from the early-1800s. I only used elements of the story that I found in this early version (bye-bye glass slippers). And yes, I kept a copy of the story.
2 days, 30 minutes
Once I was sure I wasn’t going to be sued, or at least that I had a valid defense against any legal claims, I started to put the story together. I made a bullet point outline of the story that combined the best parts that I developed over a hundred or so retellings.
Write the first draft
3 days, 45 minutes
My strategy was to get to this point as fast as possible. I couldn’t use any of my team members until I had a first draft. I sat in my basement over a period of three mornings, stuck to my outline, and created the first version of the story. It wasn’t perfect, and it’s almost hilarious to see how different this initial draft is from the final version. But I got it done in just a few days and moved on.
Hire (and meet with) advisor
I had never written a children’s book before. I needed someone who could not just point me in the right direction, but guide me along the way as well. I hired an advisor who had written multiple children’s books and had also written a book about how to self-publish a children’s book. She gave incredible advice about the book by marking up my first draft. She also told me each step that I needed to take in order to get to the finish line of a published book. I spent about an hour with her on the phone and it was money well spent. (Thanks Eevi Jones!)
3 passes of editing
Some of the most important time spent on the book was working with the editor, Brooke. She initially scared me with how many changes she proposed. On the first pass, I had to cut my favorite scene. It seemed like it was a different story after the second pass. But after the third round of revisions, I heard my voice again and I realized that the story was much better. The humor hit more often and it was laugh out loud funny. There is no doubt that Brooke made the story better. I’m not sure how long this step took, as I had to review her notes in chunks over a period of a few months. But it was time well spent.
Read to kids and revise
15 times, 225 minutes
I created a total of thirteen drafts of the story. It changed considerably from draft one to draft thirteen. The book improved after each editing pass from Brooke’s edits. But I also read each draft to my kids and got feedback from them. My kids gave great feedback, but their feedback was different from Brooke’s. Brooke made the book better. My kids made sure the book remained fun and still brought joy to the readers. Those kids know something about children’s books. They are the target audience, after all.
Work with illustrator
Initial discussion, sketches, color, revisions
I found the perfect illustrator for CinderToot. Kate Cosgrove did such an incredible job of making the story funnier and beautiful but without making it crude. I had an initial discussion with her, after which I knew she was the only person who could illustrate CinderToot. After our discussion, the project was largely out of my hands as Kate worked on initial sketches. After a few months, Kate’s sketches showed up in my inbox. I really couldn’t work on the book while Kate worked. But while I took a break from writing, Kate was dreaming up hilarious artwork. We loved the first sketches that Kate showed us. It was the first time that I realized the story I told my kids was going to be real. When Kate added the color, I couldn’t stop laughing. The first image she sent over is still my favorite illustration. I can’t nail down exactly how much time this took, but the time was mainly spent in three batches providing feedback on the artwork.
Finalize the layout
Surprisingly, this was the part of the process that felt the most like work. I’ve approved artwork previously, and a large part of my current job as a lawyer involves proofreading. I had to make sure there were no typos and that everything in the book was perfect. This took a little longer than I thought.
I had to push through the tediousness, but I did create some fun from it. I remember sitting at my kitchen counter one night. I was supposed to be proofing the layout, but I couldn’t focus. Instead of proofing, I started re-writing the copyright page at the beginning of the book. I added jokes right until the end. My procrastination led to extra humor being added to a page that most people believe is boring.
Around a week for 15 minutes a day, 120 minutes
I discovered that self-publishing is much simpler than I thought. So simple, in fact, that I didn’t even realize the book was available. Someone messaged me to say that she purchased the book and I didn’t even know it was out! I had to add elements to the listing over the first week, such as my bio and picture. I probably could have launched the book better, but I had limited time.
15 minutes a day
At the beginning of the process, I started a Facebook group for people who wanted an inside look at what it takes to write a children’s book. I shared brief updates during the entire process.
Now that CinderToot is out, I take a few minutes every day and do the ongoing marketing to increase awareness about the book. I’m writing articles about how I wrote a book in my spare time. If there’s one place I would like to carve out more time for the book, it’s here. My belief is that CinderToot is one of the funniest books you will ever read. It brings joy everywhere it goes — even for adults. I am confident the book will improve the life of anyone who reads it. It’s that good.
I had a dream of writing a book with my kids. But I had limited time. For years I accepted my own excuses about being too busy or occupied. Eventually, though, excuses become tiresome.
Some days I spent more than 15 minutes on CinderToot. Other days I didn’t spend any time at all. I am certain that my limited time led to many mistakes, but that’s what I had and that’s how I did it. I guarantee my efforts weren’t perfect. And when I compare myself to others, I feel like I can improve so much.
But I did it. The book is out. And I still laugh when I read CinderToot.
I already had a busy life, but I had an idea I couldn’t stop thinking about. I had about 15 minutes a day I could dedicate to writing and publishing a children’s book. I had to develop a simple strategy to turn 15 minutes a day into a published book.
- Build the right team.
- Get the first draft done, ASAP.
- Focus on my one thing.
You might be wondering what you could do in just 15 minutes a day. You could check your email. You could read the news. You could do a thousand other things. Or you could take that crazy idea that you’re not quite sure about but you can’t stop thinking about… and just do it.
If you don’t think you can do it, you’re wrong.
I just did it.
And I’m about to do it again.
Children of CinderToot, coming soon…