How I Wrote My First Book: The Art of Reverse Engineering

Make Anything Figure Out-able by Working Backwards

Karla Starr
3 min readApr 27, 2022


I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was eight.


In other words: I’ve spent countless hours in high school writing bad poetry. Essays, articles, and short stories in college. I wrote two novels in my 20’s. I’ve consumed more writing advice in my lifetime than a human should.

While that advice helped for crafting pretty sentences, it was missing something when it came to writing a nonfiction book. A few blog posts, especially Steve Silberman’s “Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors,” were hugely helpful.

When we give advice about our own work process, it’s easy to overemphasize how we got better at something and the things that we spent a lot of time doing. Because of differences in life experiences, skills, strategies, interests, and resources, we may not realize that the thing that takes us five minutes could be impossible to someone else.

But no matter what kind of advice you get or read about, you probably won’t hear what you’re really curious about from your favorite writer. Here’s how I got that information to write my first book, Can You Learn to Be Lucky?.

Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

I got that information by reverse-engineering my favorite books. I went through several of my favorite pop psychology/business books published over the past several years and dissected each chapter into parts.

Here’s the list of basic elements that regularly appeared in each:

  1. Intro Anecdote
  2. Science Behind This
  3. Seminal Study/Mechanisms Behind a Phenomenon
  4. Q&A with Researcher
  5. Personal Anecdote/Media Stories
  6. Real World examples/business examples
  7. Profile of a Prominent Person
  8. Something Gone Wrong
  9. Classic Study
  10. Advice/Common Misperception
  11. Historical Story
  12. Call-back to previous point/story
  13. Cultural Tie-in



Karla Starr

Speaker & author x2, inc. Making Numbers Count (w/ Chip Heath). Behavioral science, cultural history, numbers.