I’ve heard many different methods for writing a book. The best advice is, of course…
Just write it.
But often there are things standing in our way—beliefs or practices which keep us distracted either from writing at all, or from finishing our manuscript.
Let me preface this by saying, I’ve written four books. One has been traditionally published. One is sitting on my computer, trying to create a market audience for itself. One is self-published and requires a disclaimer. And then there’s the novel. I wrote it in my twenties. I don’t want to talk about it.
I’m a pro, right? I’ve figured it out. FOUR BOOKS. But I don’t know that we ever figure it out. There are still times I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.
So I’ve put together a list of the 5 things that could be standing in the way of people writing that book they just won’t let up about.
Ready? Here we go!
1. BLOGGING & INSTANT GRATIFICATION
We love the instant gratification of blogging. However, blogging can be a real time waster. I’ve had 20 hours into a blog article—that’s 20 hours I could’ve devoted to my book. Consider cutting back. No one is going to forget about you.
In fact, when you cut back—posting once every 3 weeks or so—people are genuinely interested in what you have to say. We all like an Atta boy! or Atta girl! that comes with a new blog post. But why not, instead, send excerpts of your book to a friend? Let them tell you how amazing you are. Knowing your writing has been seen by someone you care about, is often enough. The need to be affirmed beyond that will likely pass in a couple of days. So grow up man. Stop being so needy! (You’re welcome.)
Every book agent in the world would probably give this next statement the biggest eye roll. But…
Let it go.
This comes from a guy with a smallish platform, so you might want to reconsider. Either way, hear me out.
You will spend countless hours hustling for likes, followers, pinners, linked-inners, while a social media river-drag lands you exactly 16 new Twitter followers.
It’s very easy to spend an enormous amount of time and energy on this, and often, it’s simply not worth it. But those selling you this batch of snake oil always seem to have their defense cocked and ready: It worked for me!
The following is a prayer. Feel free to pray it along with me:
May we never forget the pyramid scams of the 80’s and 90’s. May we always fondly remember Get-Rich-Quick business schemes like, “Scamway, Candles That Smell Amazeballs,” and “This Jewelry Will Most Definitely Turn Your Neck Green.” Oh most gracious Higher Power, let us not forget the large stash of leftover washing powders in our parent’s basements—the ones that clean their clothes to this day. Amen.
So how should you approach building a platform?
From personal experience, I can tell you this; building my platform has been slow and steady. I’ve used what works. For me, that has been Facebook and Twitter. But…
The MAIN THING I’ve done to build my platform is care for those who care about what I’m writing.
They are my team. They love me and I love them back. They share me with their friends, and when they do, I start loving on their friends too. This is how I’m able to build my platform and sleep at night.
Confession. I too have been guilty of trolling for a celebrity shout out. I’ve emailed so many famous writers; twirling in my dress for them, hoping they’d see me, love me, LAUNCH me. I’ve tweeted funny things at Oprah, Beyoncé, Dax Shepard. And when that little heart next to my post lit up red—when it was THEIR account that hit the “like” button—it felt like a marriage proposal, when we all know it was just Eddie the Intern. Not Oprah. Not B. Not Dax.
The point is; a fast track might exist, but most likely not for you. Or for me. You’re not at the top of the pyramid, and neither am I. So resist the urge to buy into the scheme unless you’ve got enough storage space for all those extra washing powders.
*Read more about the dangers of “branding yourself” HERE.
I’m going to be honest about this one. Writers often say, “Writing a book is 10% talent and 90% hard work.” We all get the point here, but I disagree with this rationale. It would be like saying a singer needs only 10% of a good voice. And while you could certainly make a case for this, (Ke$ha—12.5%, Britney—17.3%, the Bacon Brothers 23%) are they truly good at their craft? And does the final product reflect artists making high-quality music, or are they selling something else altogether—sex, or their personal celebrity?
In reality, talent (or gifting) must be a part of the equation. You need talent AND hard work. The book won’t write itself, (enters Hard Work) but you must also be good at the craft of writing (enters Talent).
You wouldn’t want me working in the accounting department for your business, because I’m terrible at Math. You also wouldn’t want me keynoting a conference on stock market analysis. Oh, there are times I’d LOVE to sit around a conference table with a group of Gold-Toe-Sock-Wearing gents and wave a gold pen around like a boss. But I’m not a business guy.
We can all learn “how to” with some things, but we must know our limits. You can learn to sing BETTER, but you’ll be no Whitney Houston by taking a few vocal lessons. And that’s okay.
*Side note: This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write your personal memoir. Maybe you should. But maybe it should be written for your family—passing your story along to future generations. This could be an amazing gift.
4. SCHEDULE & ACCOUNTABILITY
When I found my agent, I’ll never forget her saying, “This is a GREAT idea for a book, Matt!”
I WANTED TO PAINT HER NAILS![tweetthis display_mode=”button_link”]I WANTED TO PAINT HER NAILS![/tweetthis]
But then at the end of our meeting, she seemed ambivalent. Upon my asking if she still felt good about the book, she replied, “Well, it’s just there are so many good ideas out there—I’ve heard them all—but so few writers end up actually writing the book.
I considered it a challenge. And then reflecting on that gut-wrenching scene from The Color Purple, I thought to myself…
I had a good idea AND an agent. I did NOT want to miss out on this amazing opportunity.
I needed a schedule.
I set a goal to arrive at Starbucks at 6am, Monday through Thursday, even though I was working full-time. I wrote until 8:50am, and then headed in to work.
And here’s what happened.
After amassing 20,000 words, I got excited. So I began showing up at Starbucks at 5:30am, because I wanted more writing time. I know. Weird. I started writing during my lunch hour and doing some editing at night, no longer worshipping at the throne of Netflix each evening.
And before I knew it, I was…
in the zone!
For a writer. There’s no better place.
Now, I must tell you, I have ADHD, so schedules are not my thing, but I stuck to my guns! And I just have to believe that if I can do it…
(Cue the John Williams track)
YOU CAN TOO![tweetthis display_mode=”button_link”]YOU CAN TOO![/tweetthis]
(Dax is gonna love my tweetables. We’re gonna start longboarding together.)
Another thing I’ve done is join a writing group, which is a great tool for accountability. Plus, while you are there, you can tell them ALL ABOUT the wonderful book you’re writing. You’ll make promises to have something for them to read at the next meeting.
And when that day comes, they’ll sit before you, while you recite passages to them. It’ll be as if they’ve dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick; they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come. –Field of Dreams, the incomparable James Earl Jones
At any rate, scheduling and accountability have the ability to stoke the fire in a powerful way. I swear.
5. DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU
We are all unique. Some write in the morning, some in the wee hours, some rent a cabin or go to a writing conference. Some write a book in two months. Some take a year, two years, or longer. The question is: What works for you?
Whatever it is, do that thing. And do it often.
And just for good measure…
For me, when nothing else seems to be working, I phone a friend. I talk it through with them. I troubleshoot and then FORCE myself to sit down and write, even if it’s all crap. Because at least I’m writing something, which is nearly always how I catch my stride. And before I know it, I am…
in the zone!
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Begin it now.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
*Want to know more about my first, traditionally published book?
Check out the book trailer: