7 lessons learned while writing my book…and what they can teach you

Ever wanted to write a book?

When I was six, I wrote an elaborate children’s story about a family of mice who vacation at Disneyworld. I detailed their quaint village, their quirky personalities and every road trip adventure they encountered along the way. I never quite finished the tale, but relished the creative writing process. Explains all the poems, unpublished essays, and Chapter One’s sitting on my laptop, gathering dust.

Do you have an unfinished opus about your expertise sitting on your laptop? How about the next Harry Potter or crime thriller?

Fast forward 34 years: I have now authored two books and published several print and online articles.  And these seven valuable lessons I’ve learned may help you with your future screenplay, non-fiction best-seller or literary novel.

  1. Discipline your muse: Sorry, folks. Inspiration doesn’t always just “strike” especially when you’re on deadline. I used to write only when I literally couldn’t stop the ideas from tumbling out of my head.  That doesn’t work well when you have a launch date or an expectant publisher. I thought the muse would simply strike at her own whim and I could just lazily wait for her arrival– when, really, she often comes when you discipline yourself and consistently sit down to write. Make your writing schedule realistic like I did and break it up into doable chunks (i.e., this week, I’ll complete the outline. Next week, I’ll focus on chapter one.) If you sit down and just start writing, just like showing up to a job, some days you’ll produce brilliance and others you’ll produce crap. And if you need to take a break one day, take it. Ditch the guilt and then get back to the work tomorrow. The more you produce, the more you’ll finesse, tweak, explore, hammer out, invent, – and the more likely those “A Ha!” moments will come. It’s a probability game. The more you do, the more chances you’ll find gems in the work.
  2. Commit out loud: If you’re working on a book, you’re working on a book.  That means people need to understand your schedule may be different, you might not be at your spouse’s beck and call and you may have to pass up on certain activities. How do you make this happen? Not by hiding your writing in the dark of night, but by sharing your goal with the people in your life. State your intentions out loud so you not only force yourself to commit but you set others’ expectations of your time and attention. If you treat your writing as a hobby, to be done only “when you have time” or “feel like it” (see #1) it will never get done. Added bonus? You can find support, cheerleading and maybe even a few proofreaders along the way.
  3. Get comfortable with feedback: If you wither and die when someone gives you constructive criticism, get over it or go home. No one is perfect and every writer will tell you that good writing is re-writing. You need objective outsiders to review your work, especially professional editors and proofreaders. What may make sense in your own head could leave readers scratching theirs. My editors (rightly) questioned my chapter order, whether a story really made sense or not, where I was repeating myself. Just like your brand needs an objective audit, same is true for your book. But make sure you are seeking out feedback from trusted experts (professional developmental editors, etc.) or readers in your target audience and not merely changing course according to the whim on any old critic who comes your way…which brings me to #4…
  4. Picture your reader: Just like with a brand strategy, it helps to identify your actual reader. Not only will this help you effectively market the book, it prevents the writing from becoming a tangled mess. You absolutely need to be clear about for whom you are writing and what they will get. Branding Basics was written with small business owners, non-profit leaders and entrepreneurs in mind. I had a very clear picture of these people and this guided the wording, explanations and analogies that I used. I wrote Rebooting My Brain for both women struggling to overcome a life crisis, as well as brain injury caregivers and survivors. I pictured them in my mind as I typed.  What questions might they have? What information would they want to know? What would move, delight or inspire them? This ensured my memoir became something universal, useful and valuable for others.
  5. Prepare for diverse reactions: This one was a shocker. Turns out, the people I thought would be most excited by my book writing expressed passing interest (if that) and others who I thought wouldn’t give a damn became my best cheerleaders. At first, it really irritated me and, honestly, made me very sad and unsure. Here I was, doing something that absolutely petrified me, and it was like certain people close to me were not even acknowledging it. Recognize that writing a book is an art form and not everyone “gets” artists. Some don’t know how to respond, some may think you’re nuts, others will drool with envy and still others will admire you beyond belief and support you full throttle.  And by support, I mean even just simply remember that you’re holed up writing and ask you how it’s going from time to time.  But I finally learned that my big dream was big to me and people are usually just doing the best they know how. They have their own lives to live and dreams to pursue and may not even realize how deeply their reactions (or non-reactions) are hurting you. If certain people in your life don’t engage for whatever reason, that’s kind of not any of your business – you have work to do. Throw expectations of other people’s reactions out the door, write the book because your soul has to, needs to, and be humble and grateful to those who openly support your dream.
  6. Prepare for self-doubt….often: At every point in my book writing process, for both books, I doubted myself. My expertise, my knowledge, my ability to tell a good story, whether people would care, whether they would judge me. You name it, I thought it. This is natural when you follow a dream. Someone once said that if you’re scared, then you know you’re doing the right thing. Every writer has at one point during the writing process thought, “What the hell am I doing?” But if you believe in yourself, your knowledge, your story – and never lose sight of the value it will provide – that will help you stay the course. Post up inspirational notes, talk to other writers, find an online writing community and surround yourself with people who will prop you up (or take you out for vodka tonics) when the doubt attacks.
  7. It’s your story…TELL IT! One day while writing Rebooting My Brain, my heart sank as I scrolled through title after title of “aneurysm survivor” books on Amazon and I thought, “What can I possibly add to this conversation? Some of these people are overcoming way worse long-term disabilities than I am. Plus, I’m not famous or anything so who will care about my story?” One of my dearest friends emailed me, “Maria, Eat, Pray, Love was just about a regular woman who got divorced and took a trip. How many books have been written about that? It’s all in how you TELL it, in your voice, which makes it a story people will want – and need to – read.” Bless her wise perspective. And the countless emails I’ve received thanking me for all my books have done for them is all the proof I need that she was right. No one can tell a story or share wisdom the way you can and you just may touch someone in a way no other book or story can. Don’t think your story isn’t valuable because the plotline has been done. If that were true, people would never write another new book again. Put your unique spin on it and just believe.

Which piece of advice resonates (or scares you) the most? If you’ve written a book, what additional advice would you share from your own lessons learned? Please share in the Comments!

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