Most of us have aspiring goals we want to achieve during the pandemic lockdown. Some of us may already have achieved their goal, but for many of it it’s a work in progress. Personally, I have a project which is to complete writing my novel which I started in the middle of March, the beginning of the lockdown.
Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.— Mark Twain
For new aspiring writers like myself, it is not an easy feat to start writing a book from scratch. I can tell you without hesitation that the hardest part of a writer’s job is sitting down to do the work. Books don’t just write themselves, after all. You have to invest everything you are into creating an important piece of work. I believe that every one of us has important ideas or creative work they wanted to share with the world.
Throughout my 6 months journey of writing, as I look back on what it really takes to become an author, I realize how different the process was from reality. To begin with, you don’t just sit down to write a book. That’s not how writing works. You write a sentence, then a paragraph, then maybe if you’re lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in fits and starts, in bits and pieces. It’s a process.
The way you get the work done is not too complicated. You take one step at a time, then another and another. As I look back on my manuscript/work, I can see how the way they were made was not as glamorous as I once thought.
Journey in Book-Writing
In this post, these are the experiences and difficulties I face in writing my book, so when anyone of you faces this kind of problem you would be well-informed of the problem. I’ve worked hard to make this easy to digest and super practical, so you can start making progress.
But first, let’s look at the big picture. What does it take to write a book? It happens in three phases:
- Beginning: You have to start writing. This sounds obvious, but it may be the most overlooked step in the process. You write a book by deciding first what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it.
- Staying motivated: Once you start writing, you will face self-doubt and overwhelm, and a hundred other adversaries. Planning for those obstacles ensures you won’t quit when they come.
- Finishing: Nobody cares about the book that you almost wrote. We want to read the one you actually finished, which means no matter what, the thing that makes you a writer is your ability not to start a project, but to complete it.
Chapter 1: Getting Started
We all have to start somewhere. With writing a book, the first phase is made up of four major parts.
1. Decide what the book is about
Good writing is always about something. Write the argument of your book in a sentence, then stretch that out to a paragraph, and then to a one-page outline. After that, write a table of contents to help guide you as you write, then break each chapter into a few sections. Think of your book in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Anything more complicated will get you lost.
2. Set a daily word count goal
John Grisham began his writing career as a lawyer and new dad. In other words, he was really busy. Nonetheless, he got up an hour or two early every morning and wrote a page a day. After a couple of years, he had a novel. A page a day is only about 300 words. You don’t need to write a lot. You just need to write often. Setting a daily goal will give you something to aim for. Make it small and attainable so that you can hit your goal each day and start building momentum.
3. Set a time to work on your book every day
Consistency makes creativity easier. You need a daily deadline to do your work — that’s how you’ll finish writing a book. Feel free to take a day off, if you want, but schedule that ahead of time. Never let a deadline pass; don’t let yourself off the hook so easily. Setting a daily deadline and regular writing time will ensure that you don’t have to think about when you will write. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.
4. Write in the same place every time
It doesn’t matter if it’s a desk or a restaurant or a kitchen table. It just needs to be different from where you do other activities. Make your writing location a special space, so that when you enter it, you’re ready to work. It should remind you of your commitment to finish this book. Again, the goal here is to not think and just start writing.
Chapter 2: Laying down the foundation
Now, it’s time to get down to business, pun intended. Here, we are going to focus on the next three key tips to help you get the book done:
Set a total word count
Begin with the end in mind. Once you’ve started writing, you need a total word count for your book. Think in terms of 10-thousand work increments and break each chapter into roughly equal lengths. Here are some general guiding principles:
- 10,000 words = a pamphlet or business white paper. Read time = 30–60 minutes.
- 20,000 words = short eBook or manifesto. The Communist Manifesto is an example of this, at about 18,000 words. Read time = 1–2 hours.
- 40,000–60,000 words = standard nonfiction book / novella. The Great Gatsby is an example of this. Read time = three to four hours.
- 60,000–80,000 words = long nonfiction book / standard-length novel. Most Malcolm Gladwell books fit in this range. Read time = four to six hours.
- 80,000 words–100,000 words = very long nonfiction book / long novel. The Four-Hour Work Week falls in this range.
- 100,000+ words = epic-length novel / academic book / biography. Read time = six to eight hours. The Lord of the Rings novel by J.R.R Tolkien/ Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin would fit in this category.
Give yourself weekly deadlines
You need to have a weekly goal to make sure you are consistent in writing. Make it a word count to keep things objective. Celebrate the progress you’ve made while still being honest about how much work is left to do. You need to have something to aim for and a way to measure yourself. This is the only way I ever get any work done: with a deadline.
7. Get early feedback
Nothing stings worse than writing a book and then having to rewrite it, because you didn’t let anyone look at it. Have a few trusted advisers/critics to help you discern what’s worth writing. These can be friends, editors, family. Just try to find someone who will give you honest feedback early on to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
Chapter 3: Finishing
How do you know when you’re done? Short answer: you don’t. Not really. So here’s what you do to end this book-writing process well:
Commit to shipping
No matter what, finish the book. Set a deadline or have one set for you. Then release it to the world. Send it to the publisher, release it on Amazon, do whatever you need to do to get it in front of people or if you wish you can opt for self-publishing. Just don’t put it in your drawer. The worst thing would be for you to quit once this thing is written. That won’t make you do your best work and it won’t allow you to share your ideas with the world.
As you approach the end of this project, know that this will be hard and you will most certainly mess up. Just be okay with failing, and give yourself grace. That’s what will sustain you — the determination to continue, not your elusive standards of perfection.
Every writer started somewhere, and most of them started by squeezing their writing into the cracks of their daily lives. That’s how I began, and it may be where you begin, as well. The ones who make it are the ones who show up day after day. You can do the same.
Bonus Chapter: Keeping yourself motivated
Getting feedback early and often helps break up the overwhelm. Start a website on WordPress or Tumblr and use it to write your book a chapter or scene at a time. Then eventually publish all the posts in a hardcopy book. This is a little different than traditional blogging, but the same concepts apply. We created a free tool to help you know when your blog posts are ready to publish.
Keep an inspiration list
You need it to keep fresh ideas flowing. Read constantly, and use a system to capture, organize, and find the content you’ve curated.
Take frequent breaks
Niel Fiore, the author of The Now Habit, says, “There is one main reason why we procrastinate: It rewards us with temporary relief from stress.” If you’re constantly stressed about your unfinished book, you’ll end up breaking your schedule. Instead, plan for breaks ahead of time so you stay fresh: minute breaks, hour breaks, or even multiple day breaks.
Write where others are writing (or working)
If you’re having trouble writing consistently by yourself, write where other people are also working. A coffee shop or library where people are actually working and not just socializing can help. If you’re in a place where other people are getting things done, then you’ll have no choice but to join them.
Don’t edit as you go
Instead, write without judgment first, then go back and edit later. You’ll keep a better flow and won’t be interrupted by constant criticism of your own work. And you’ll have a lot more writing to edit when it’s time to do so.
You Can Do This
Don’t allow the magnitude of the novel-writing process to overwhelm you. Attack it the way you would eat an elephant — one bite at a time. Don’t let fear stop you. Use it as motivation to do your best work. Avoid wondering What if…? Leap of faith, stay focused on why you started this journey in the first place.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous.. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. — Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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