Book Writing 101

Book Writing 101

You might be asking yourself why in the world an author coach and ghostwriter would be giving away the roadmap for writing a book on your own. The answer could be a blog of its own, but for our purposes here we will take the straightforward rationale. Everyone has a story to tell, the world becomes a better place when we learn from each other’s experiences, and there are only so many people we can help write a book at one time. Some might argue this point, but unlike other art forms such as painting, drawing, or sculpting – writing is easy. Most of us learn how to put words on paper from a young age, yet we will turn around and say we cannot write.

While writing a book is much more complex than just putting words on paper, that is where it all begins. Throughout the journey, the best writers among us will still need the help of editors, beta readers, and our professional circles. The more you can bring to the table with your own efforts, the easier it will be to reach the finish line.

Schedule Time

Nothing in life happens if we don’t make the time for it. Whether it is going to the gym, taking a vacation, or sitting down for a family dinner, it does not happen by accident. Sometimes it might, but those are more coincidences or sheer luck than a result of planning and dedication. Wanting to write a book and putting that desire into action are completely different things. Most people go through their entire lives with a lofty goal or bucket list yet rarely accomplish any, let alone all of it. They did not plan to fail, they simply failed to plan.

Put time on your calendar several days a week for no less than 30 minutes each. Don’t take the easy way out and schedule for 5 AM if you don’t normally wake up until 9 AM or cram it in on your lunch break when you usually use that time for other chores. Picking times when you are unlikely to comply will only set you up for failure. Yes, things happen, and you may not be able to keep every appointment you make with yourself, but the odds are much more in your favor if the only sacrifice you are making is on Netflix time.

Don’t Count Words

Word count is one of the biggest traps writers, both new and established, fall victim to. You see it constantly on social media and writing communities – a braggadocious approach to telling the world how many words were written for the day, week, or month. Heck, the entire month of November hosts Nanowrimo, where the metric for success falls on how many words an author could write. But the point of writing is not to fill blank spaces with words; it is to effectively and succinctly deliver a message to your audience (with many works of fiction being an exception). The only thing you should count is how many writing sessions you show up to.

Creativity is not linked to the quantity of output. In fact, some of the most pivotal breakthroughs in the creative process can come without writing a single word. Moments of clarity happen while staring at the computer, tossing around ideas for outlines, and doing research. One writing session may generate 100 words, whereas you strike gold and write 10,000 words in another. As long as you are consistent, everything will balance out in the end. 

Don’t Censor Yourself

When you are constantly questioning what should go down onto paper, it should come as no surprise that you are staring at a blank sheet. Writing is a deeply personal and vulnerable activity, and censorship stifles creativity. The more authentic we can be with ourselves, the better the opportunity for generating content your audience can embrace. Anyone can research topics online and repackage them for the masses, but what sets successful authors apart from those who merely write is their ability to connect on an intimate level. The more your reader knows, likes, and trusts you, the greater your odds of achieving your desired outcome.

Before having a panic attack over the prospect of someone reading something more deeply personal than you were comfortable sharing, remind yourself that no one is reading anything at the draft stage of the project except you. It may be that much of what was written is too personal to share, but by putting it on paper, the floodgates opened for all the great content that followed. The beauty of editing is that anything can be eliminated. The same does not hold true for generating ideas with a censorship mindset.

Don’t Preplan 

Planning is great, hence why we schedule the time to write. But there is also such a thing as overplanning, which can negatively impact productivity and hurt morale in the long run. Our brains are funny that way, especially when dealing with creativity. You may be staunchly convinced of what needs to get written on any given day, but when you sit down to write, your brain isn’t having any of it. That’s perfectly normal. Fighting against ourselves and the creative process will not get your book written any quicker, if at all.

It is always a best practice to have a list of potential writing tasks to work on, and they don’t all have to be the act of writing. Maybe the list includes a chapter or two you really want to write, but it could also include: outlining, conducting research, reading, editing, or anything else writing-related. Everything is writing! Sometimes simply switching gears can shift the creative tides and produce results you were not expecting, or planning for. The more flexible your approach to writing and the more grace you give yourself in tracking results will ultimately culminate in more words on paper and more books on the shelf.

Don’t Edit As You Go

Editing as you go is just another form of self-censorship. In the early stages of writing, there is no need to focus on perfection. The main goal is taking the words out of your head and getting them onto paper. That’s not to say you should leave a page full of garbled words even you cannot understand on a read-through, but minor spelling or grammatical errors, punctuation, and even the overall flow can and should wait until all the content is out. If the next chapter builds upon the last or is inextricably linked in a way the reader will not be able to follow then it is ok to edit chapter by chapter, but anything more than that is crazy.

Some people struggle with OCD, perfectionism, and other progress-killing mindsets that will sabotage the process before it has even begun. Seeing the red squiggly line under words in your word processing program of choice might cripple the creative side of your brain, and if that sounds like you, there are hacks to trick your brain. One option would be to turn off the spell check option so the errors don’t stand out as prominently. Another option, and a personal favorite, is to write by hand. There is no right or wrong way so long as you are pushing forward and not constantly going backward.

Ask for Feedback (But Don’t Take it to Heart)

At some point in every writing journey, we must prepare to send our baby out into the world. After all, most writers are not writing books for themselves; that’s what diaries and journals are for. The first time another set of eyes touches your book should not be after publication; it is before an editor gets involved. Friends and family members can be great choices and are usually amongst the first people new writers engage for feedback, but tread carefully here. People in our inner circles can tend to be afraid of giving any negative feedback even if warranted, and chances are they are not experts in your area of expertise to offer constructive feedback.

When in doubt, reach out to trusted acquaintances in your professional circle. Be open to hearing what they say and view suggestions and critique as the most valuable form of feedback. But be careful not to jump on every little change or suggestion. Unless you wholeheartedly agree with something, take note of whether the comment is a one-off or if multiple readers have voiced the same concern. When only one person mentions something, the feedback is subjective. If two or more people have the same opinions, it might be worth investigating.

Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations

Goals are great. They help us set clear expectations, and when done right, provide the roadmap for how we will arrive at that destination. But for a goal to be helpful, it must first be realistic. If you are severely overweight and want to drop a few pounds, setting a goal of losing 100 pounds in 60 days is probably unattainable. The number is too high and the timeframe too short. The same is true for writing. If you are not accustomed to writing thousands of words every day, it would be unrealistic to hold yourself to a word count of 20k per week or finishing your book in two months.

The same need for realism applies to your goals for the finished product. Everyone dreams of their work getting picked up by a major publisher or hitting the New York Times bestseller list, but very few ever attain these feats. That’s not to say you should go into the project expecting the worst, but being aware of the landscape and having multiple options, some of which are realistic, allows you to recognize success in some form instead of feeling like a failure because your only option did not pan out.

And that’s really all there is to it. There is no magic formula, secret phrase, or easy button you can use to write a book. But the steps are simple and in your control. It may sound easier said than done coming from someone who writes for a living, but that wasn’t always the case. After years of struggling to finish anything, it became clear that the process was not overly complicated; I was overcomplicating the process. Sometimes all we need is a helping hand or an attentive ear, so if you could use a little more support, please reach out to us today!

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