I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the writing process, and what I know now that I wish I’d known back in 2010 when I first began to write my book. There were things that I knew to expect, to be sure. But there were also areas where I was blithely ignorant.
And so, in the interest of sharing, here is a short list of things that I would tell my 3-year-younger-self to expect from the writing process:
1. It will not be quick. Forget about all the things you’ve read about writing books in a matter of months. Don’t even dream that you can bang something out in a matter of weeks. You will spend eight frantic weeks just putting words on paper. And when you are done writing the first draft and you are tempted to think “the worst is behind me,” don’t even bother. You’d just be deluding yourself. The truth is that once the first draft is done, you’ve really only just begun. Now comes the actual hard part –the cutting, the writing, the re-structuring, the changes that you weren’t expecting, and the struggle to make 50,000 words on paper into a BOOK. It will take forever. Buckle in – you’re in this for the long haul.
2. It will not be easy. Yes I know … you already know what you want to say, and so you think that saying it should be pretty simple. But the truth is, knowing what to say – that’s the easy part. Pretty much everyone who writes a book starts off with at least a general idea of what they want to say. The hard part will be taking that message and breaking it down into pieces that are small, digestible, clear, and concise – while still fitting into a larger cohesive structure. Writing a book is vastly different than any other writing you’ve ever done (yes, even that 150 page thesis you wrote in grad school) – not because you can’t do it, not because your style or your choice will change, but because in order for it to flow you will need it to conform to a specific structure. So you will have to build that structure first and then fit the writing into it. Otherwise, you’ll spend months of your life tearing your hair out and wondering why nothing seems to fit together the way you want.
3. You will start and stop … over and over again. And that’s ok. People talk about book writing as a marathon. But in my experience it’s not a marathon at all. It’s the tour de France (and for the record, I’m pretty sure I spelled that wrong). It is a series of discreet stages. Those stages are long and grueling, to be sure. But in between them you will need to stop. You will need rest. You will set the book aside and think about other things. Don’t feel guilty about that. It’s an important part of your process. It will give you a fresh perspective. It will rejuvenate you. That way you will be able to return with a clear head when it’s time to start the next round.
4. You will learn a lot. A L-O-T. In the process of writing you will learn about yourself, your voice, your topic, editing, proofreading, structure, format, and flow. These are things you thought you already knew. You were wrong. And so you will learn. You will also discover and revel in the joy of the bright and shiny new world of publishing. You will learn about page layouts, cover design, typography, front-matter, ISBNs, book structure and physical construction, editing, ebooks, POD printing, Offset printing, copyrights, marketing, and distribution. You will learn more than you imagined there was to know on what (besides the content) actually makes a book good, pleasant, easy to read, and professional. You will soak it all up like a sponge – and you will love every second of it.
5. It will be lonely. Other people will be excited when they first hear that you’re writing. They will want to talk to you about it. They will even ask to read a draft. But their interest will not last forever. After a while they will have a hard time understanding why you aren’t finished. They will not be able to comprehend what you are doing, at least – not enough to offer you anything more than marginal help. Yes, there will be people who will offer their insight. There will be dear and wonderful friends who will encourage you and help you in every way possible. But they can’t write the book for you. They can’t tell you how to say what you want to say. So at the end of the day you will discover that you really are on this journey by yourself. It is a solitary experience. So get ready to walk the majority of this path alone.
6. You will love it. You will also hate it. All of that is normal too. There will be times when the words on the page positively sing to you. You will have moments sitting on your couch mouthing the words as they seem to flow right off of your laptop’s screen and into your heart. I hate to tell you this about yourself – but when that happens you just might throw both fists up into the air in a silent celebration of triumph (you are a dork, don’t forget). But you will also have days (many many days) when you want to throw that same laptop across the room for storing such a stupid and lackluster collection of words. Let those days happen. Let them pass. Every edit, every read-through, every draft makes things a little bit better. Every time you revisit the material you will see something different. That is how books are made. It’s an ugly process that produces beautiful results. So revel in the joy of the days that you love, and leave the days you hate behind. Because you know that if you were given the choice you’d do the whole thing over again.