Want to write your first book, but not sure what it will take?
It’s a very personal experience, but writers do want to cheer each other on, sometimes by sharing the quirks of their process.
Here are a few things i discovered while writing mine, that might just ease your own way.
• • •
1. The original idea comes in a flash.
I’m at a business conference with 800 people all doing a noisy networking exercise in little pods when it hits me. I’d had some notes stuffed into a folder in a brimming file cabinet from years earlier. I’d even approached two professionals about it, one a pricey agent-finder, and the other a successful speaker/author. Neither was excited by my as-then unformed idea. I had long ago fooled around with some titles and colors for cover designs and stuck them in a file. Every time I thought of tossing these snippets when I did a big clutter-clearing, I couldn’t. But it was so dormant, It seemed comatose.
Suddenly, at this conference, inside a zillion conversations of under 5 minutes each, the idea transforms itself and pops full force into my head. Yikes!
When I get home, I can’t shake it. The other ideas I’d been pursuing more recently, for a magazine, and an online course of some sort, slink into the back seat as my book idea instantly commandeers the driver’s seat. But where are we driving?
2. Make the concept tangible, asap.
Sketching the concept in visual form makes it real for me. For some, it’s jotting bullet points fast, on the proverbial napkin or a handy scrap of paper.
Fancy is the enemy here. Inspiration and intuition don’t care about dotting I’s or crossing T’s. That comes way later, in the writing.
I sketch the idea (using my design software, of course, since I like to see things first), and the games that are central to my book, then show it to two people I trust. The friend who’d been at the conference with me was into it when he saw it. My secret weapon, a friend who’s always supportive of my business adventures, is wowed. Showing them what the game suite looks like makes the book real for me, and easy for them to grok.
3. I need a map.
I need something to keep all the ideas from crashing into each other.
This is a business book, not a novel. So I don’t need a list of characters, or even a Table of Contents at this early stage.
The ideas are coming fast and furious, and they feed off each other. Ideas are like fireflies. Just as elusive, and often short-lived. After all, your unconscious knows there are plenty of other ideas in the cosmic sky, so these needn’t be hoarded. Who cares if you forget? Plenty more coming later! But it you don’t pay attention, you can’t fly with any one of these ideas.
So I open up an Apple Numbers spreadsheet and just put one idea in each cell, to capture it. The patterns of what goes with what start to choreograph themselves. All I have to do is move cells around and stay present for the show. You can just as easily do this with post it notes on a white board; but hey, then you’ve gotta write it down somewhere permanent. No thanks.
4. Having a cheering squad is essential.
Yes, there are people who love you a lot. They are often the worst candidates for your cheering squad. Their concern is to keep you safe and sound, and that can mean sticking to familiar territory. They will want to take you off the playing field when you complain that you can’t do it. Or you don’t have what it takes, your writing stinks, life is too hard, you’re a fraud, you feel sick, you don’t have enough time or money, etc., etc., etc. As a writer, you can make a pretty persuasive case that these fears are the truth.
Writing a book has nothing to do with this.
You want cheerleaders who will cheer the adventure. Get at least 2 or 3; that way you will not wear out your welcome, and they can gang up on you when necessary. Their role is NOT to be your editor, or dissipate your creative energy by letting you tell them all the gory details and pith of what you wrote today plan to write tomorrow.
They DO make it easier for you to sidestep caving before your own demons.
These are the people you’ll owe a gold medal to, when the book is finished.
5. Waiting for inspiration doesn’t work—
This is really simple: Stop waiting, see #6.
6. —Sitting down to put words on a page does.
Some people suggest diving into stream of consciousness writing exercises, or even a bullet point brain dump to get yourself going. Or setting a timer so you know when you’ve written your daily quota.
For me, it’s much simpler, A, B, C.
A. Sit in the chair.
I use a a mouse and software, you might choose a pen and paper.
B. Open my timelog software and start it up for a new task. Works like a charm on me.
Disclaimer: For you right brainers saying yech, let me tell you: I am sooooo not wired to love such methodical-ness. But over the years, I notice that logging is way only to keep my consulting work on track, and myself from fantasizing that other tasks take more or less time than they do. So I decide to treat myself like a client project. Again, I discover that this works like a charm.
C. Once I’m logged in, I just start writing. (Like the Captain on Star Trek?? Star Date = Page 35, etc.)
All the inspiration and words I could ever need are now neatly tricked into spilling their guts onto the page.
7. Editing can go on forever.
For me, editing is something I like to use like a kick-start tool as I go. Some say there’s plenty of time for editing later. Well, at least plenty of need, maybe not extra time 😉
In fact, when I start writing each day, I often go back to reread yesterday’s writing, and naturally see edits that will make a difference.
Not a problem, since it gives my opinionating brain something to occupy it right away.
Gradually, I find myself wading into the creative flow as I reach today’s blank page. When I swim, I like to wade in, not dive in. Each of us has our own rhythms, and this one works for me.
8. Blind Spots will getcha.
No matter what you do, they’re lurking, waiting to pull the rug out. So here’s what I did and what I suggest: get yourself some Beta Readers.
This turns out to be wildly useful, even the folks who don’t read as much as they’d committed to, or in the timeframe we agreed. It’s real life, and the book will be out there soon enough, so I need to see what’s really so before I get blinded by anemic sales, or worse, crickets. (Please crickets, be the good luck kind when launch day comes!)
Some Beta Readers hate what I love most. Some love what I hate most. Others focus on spelling and grammar and not the big picture. They do what they do, and it is ALL immensely valuable. I find it strengthens me for the next level of editing.
Plus, a major blind spot gets revealed in their comments that might have tanked the entire book! Yay!
BTW, I will mention proofreading here, too:
My publisher graciously pairs me with an editor who is a proofing powerhouse, and I am so grateful. Despite my own best efforts on numerous passes, with spellchecks aplenty, professional outside proofing eyes are essential. Readers really dislike any proofing errors they personally notice. There will always be something that escapes us, but multiple pairs of eyes diminish that mightily.
9. Don’t trust memory to recall a sudden inspiration later.
Writing a book is a full immersion experience. Even when I’m are not writing, I am, and you are/will be. Not like multi-tasking. Like turning on the creative faucet. FYI, once on, by default this faucet won’t turn off until the book is done. You can sabotage it, but that takes considerable effort.
While doing any number of more mundane tasks, like paying bills, or laundry, or binge-watching a guilty-pleasure TV fave, or doing jumping jacks (?) plenty of brilliant new idea-snippets hijack the moment in a flash.
Write. It. Down. Now. No kidding. And put these snippets in an “Important Edits & Book Ideas Folder.” No worries about forgetting, and this can now fuel the next writing session!
When the last page of the book is written, keep doing this. When the book at the publisher, keep doing this. See #10 next for why.
10. Writing the book is only the beginning.
One of my favorite things to tell people these days when they ask me how it’s going is, “Writing the book is like have a baby. But now I have to raise the kid!”
Authors I know all laugh uproariously, because no one tells you this when you start, and it’s too late to hide when you finish, LOL.
In the Olden Days this was easy. Your publisher, if you were lucky enough to even get one, gave you a list of book signings and interviews and you just showed up to perform your role as charming or curmudgeonly Author! Author!
In the 21st Century, you’ve got a mountain of tasks before you. Branding and platform creation, website, list building, blog posts, social media, networking, online sales channels. videos, self-generated PR, sales campaigns, etc., etc., etc.
Whether you are traditionally published or self-published, famous or invisible, or any hybrid in-between, all this comes next.
Tally ho, the unknown awaits.
— Diane A. Curran
P.S. So what’s my favorite discovery so far? That I wouldn’t trade this for the world!
My first book debuts September 22, 2016. Join the Celebration early.
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