The 7 Writing Wastes™ + The 8th Cardinal Writing Waste™

In 1993, I flew up to our factory in Glenrothes, Scotland. It was only the second time I’d been on an aeroplane, and to say I was excited was an understatement, I was hopping from bum cheek to bum cheek with happiness. The flight took less than an hour, and I enjoyed every minute. I was on a factory visit to see the amazing way Apricot Computers could lose more money with every personal computer it sold. I had been given the tomb, Juran’s Quality Control Handbook – 4th Edition, the week before and told to read up in advance as engineering (my arrogant department) were sure the factory was crap and we needed to show them what to do and how to get them working more efficiently.

There were about 1,774 pages of closely typed unfathomable script in this handy, 3 kilo handbook. This was before the Intercloud was really useful for normal people (and five years before Google!), so I couldn’t swot up by skimming someone else’s overview. So I did the next best thing, I remembered the chapter headings, and slotted in a, “Do you think we should do a root cause analysis?” at the first opportunity.

Whilst I bluffed my way through that first encounter with quality control, lean manufacturing, Kaizen[1] and guys with accents I couldn’t understand (Scottish!), some of what I skimmed stuck. Being an engineer by discipline I’ve always been interested in the methods and structured ways of deconstructing problems. I apply that engineering methodology to the process of writing, the mechanics of constructing books, ways to write more, faster and better. Of course there’s an art involved, but let’s just focus on some mechanics for this article…

In the first book I wrote (The Gorillas Want Bananas, with my brother Joe, in 2003) we had a section about the 7 marketing wastes – this idea was unceremoniously ripped off from (oops, I mean modelled on) the original seven wastes (Muda) developed by Taiichi Ohno, the Chief Engineer at Toyota, as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS) [2]. The original TPS seven wastes were: Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Overprocessing and Defects.

Now, I’ve ripped them off again, (oops, re-modelled them) for the writing process. I’ve changed them around a bit, made some stuff up, and included the 8th cardinal writing waste (this one’s a doozy!).

The 7 Writing Wastes™

Waste is anything you do that doesn’t serve a good purpose. Wastes are the unproductive practices that trick you into thinking you’re making progress, when really you’re making motion. As an expert, entrepreneur, business owner or writer, you may be making these avoidable writing wastes.

For this article I’m focusing on writing a non-fiction business book. You can apply the wastes to all writing (and lots of stuff you do in business).

1. Not enough focus

This one catches me out. You have too many interests, too many different clients you could serve, too many connecting ideas. You’re always thinking of new stuff. You’ve done your IKIGAI[3] and you have at least seventeen “reasons for being.” So you write for all of them. A bit here, a bit there. Then you flit to a different niche, a different target market. You write a bit over there too. You lovely, flittery butterfly, popping from thought to thought, market to market, never actually fully serving anyone. Your thoughts are in control of your activity. In fact you’re probably over-thinking everything!

Read more about not having enough focus…

Solution: Pick one niche, dominate it, automate it, move on. Stop (for now).

2. Too many ideas (writing in progress)

This waste is very closely aligned with waste #1. You are so prolific with ideas that you create a new book document every day. You have scraps of paper, open notebooks, post its, voice notes – hundreds of them. You probably end up writing a lot. It all sits on your computer. You never finish an idea, an article nor book. You write in isolation and never get feedback, because you never ship. No one gets to read what you’ve written.

Read more about having too much writing in progress…

Solution: Focus on one book (or article) for now. You can write more books later. Stop starting, start stopping.

3. Messing about with apps, tools, systems

You know you’ve done it – tried out all the writing apps, downloaded the trials of Scrivener and Evernote and BlahdeBlah. And you’ve convinced yourself that you’re in motion to write your book. You just need to find the right system, tool and app. So you download a few more, try them out, waste your time… give up for a few weeks and get on with some “real work”. Then you start the search for the perfect app (that will do the writing for you) all over again.

Read more about messing about!

Solution: The tools you have available to you right now are good enough. Pick up the pen and paper, and write. Open the Word document and type. Switch on the voice recorder on your phone and talk. Stop consuming, start creating.

4. Waiting for the right time, permission or inspiration

You will never have enough time to write a book. I promise you. Waiting until you have the time to write means you won’t write. Waiting for permission from your peers, colleagues, mom, other half is a waste. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You will never be ‘struck by inspiration and suddenly get in the flow.’ That’s not how it works.

Read more about waiting to write…

Solution: Make a decision that writing your book is the right solution for your business goals. Start now!

5. Complexifying simplicity

It all seems just too much. You’re feeling overwhelmed by the things you need to learn, understand, write, do. Every day someone comes out with a new book writing method, a better way of gaining followers, a different method of creating podcasts. What should you do? Everything? Nothing? Just when you think you’re starting to understand it all gets really complex again.

Read more about complexifying simplicity

Solution: There are a few things, that when done well, will have the most impact. Simplify complexity.

6. Perfecting procrastination

Re-reading your first paragraph, first chapter, working it over again and again? Spending too long on perfecting the chapter titles, the font used for the headings, the colour of the final bullets on the back cover? You know you’re overdoing it, and at the same time driving yourself and everyone else mad. This is probably a sign of fear, imposter syndrome, or OCD – what do I know, I’m a writer not a psychiatrist.  I do know perfecting procrastination leads to madness, watch this video to see my favourite ‘psychiatrist’, then take his advice:

After you’ve watched that video, read more about procrastinating, so you can work out how to just stop it!

Solution: Just. Stop. It!

7. Under-utilizing expert skills

Believing that you can do this alone without calling upon the wealth of advice, learning and skills available to you, which leads to you struggling, fretting, and basically screwing it up. You hope you can save money in the long run. You may, but you won’t save time. You may never even finish!

Find out why under-utilizing expert skills is killing your plans.

Solution: You don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Find people who have done this before. Buy their courses, get mentorship, use their coaching services. Stop saving, start investing.

The 8th Cardinal Writing Waste™

This final waste is the worst of all, and is most likely a cause of the previous wastes. If you fix this one, you get to the root cause of your writing waste!

8. Writing the wrong book

If you don’t know your reader, their pains, their desire for movement from where they are now to where they need to be, then you can’t write the right book. When you write the wrong book you waste your time and theirs. Your book will disappear into the sea of unread, (or perhaps unfinished), ego trips that litter the virtual shelves of Amazon. When you are writing the wrong book you lose confidence in your ability, you perfect procrastination, wait for permission and inspiration, whilst consuming other people’s work and your life.

My cardinal writer’s rule: first know the reader, then write the book. This rule applies for whatever you are writing – a blog post, an article, a speech, a book, a thesis. You are writing for a reader, not you!

Solution: Stop writing right now. Take the time to understand your reader: capture their thoughts and yours. Work out how you can help them fulfill their reason for being: organise your ideas. Test your brilliant book idea: ask them. Write easily without waste, edit, produce and ship a book that will make a difference to their life and yours. Stop: Think. Check. Write. Ship.

There you go, easy. Lots of stopping. A bit of thinking. And great writing, for the right reader.

In the next articles I’ll be going deeper into each of the wastes and showing you how you can spot them, reduce their impact and use your natural wastey-ness to your advantage.

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PS: I was only at the factory in Scotland for a day, we flew back that same evening (two flights in one day, I was a very happy girl). It’s clear that we (the arrogant engineers) took quality control very seriously. My day wasn’t quite over, that evening I enjoyed a trip in a police car around all of Birmingham airport car parking spaces. I had been so excited at 7am that morning I had completely forgotten where I’d parked my car.


[1] Kaizen – Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”, refers to activities that continuously improve all functions and activities –

[2] TPS – Toyota Production System –

[3] Ikigai – Find your reason for being –