I have a friend (let’s call her Kelly) who recently began the long and arduous journey of writing a book. I found out a few weeks ago when she posted something on facebook about becoming an author. I reached out to offer her my congratulations, and discovered that by “becoming an author” she meant “beginning to write a book.”
“Oh!” I said in my least disappointed voice. “Well … that’s just wonderful!” She explained that she’d written the first few pages of the first chapter. We went on from there to talk about her ideas for this book, and for the next. It was easy, in that context, to be encouraging and genuinely excited. But as I walked away from the conversation, I couldn’t help but say a quick prayer that this book that she’d announced to the world would actually happen.
Because there’s a little secret about book-writing that I’ve learned over the past few years, one that I am very careful about sharing. The secret is this: Writing your first book is incredibly hard. As you can imagine, that’s not the kind of secret that I’m eager to share with the people in my life who are considering taking the plunge into the writing world. I’m not looking to discourage anyone. But it’s kind of hard to see someone who I know and love starting along on this journey without the first clue what they’re facing.
Sure enough – the next time I saw Kelly (a week or so later) and asked her how the writing was going, we had a completely different conversation. This time she seemed deflated, overwhelmed, and ready to give up on the project entirely. Suddenly she didn’t think her writing was any good. She was afraid of the mountain of work that was waiting in front of her. She felt stuck.
I remember that feeling so well – the feeling that everything you’re trying to do is pointless and the finished product of your hours and hours of work will barely produce enough words for a picture-book and will be universally hated by anyone who ever sees it. I spent plenty of time in that place – and I’m pretty sure every other person with a book under their belt has felt the same way too.
But here’s the other secret that I’ve learned along the way – and this one is worth sharing: It’s worth it. The whole process of taking an idea out of your head and cultivating it on (virtual) paper until it is shaped into the story or argument that you’d imagined – the whole long, difficult, frustrating process is totally worth it. It’s worth it even if that book never goes to print. It’s worth it even if it isn’t a huge commercial success. Even if it’s absolute garbage and sits in a drawer and never sees the light of day, that first book you write is totally worth the time and effort it takes to write it.
Why? Because there is no way to learn how to write a book except to go out there and write one. You can read and study and get advice and do all the research you want, but nothing can properly prepare you for the process of sitting down at a computer, starting, continuing, and ultimately finishing a book of your own. Because the truth is that writing is a uniquely personal process. Your approach and technique will not look like anyone else’s. You have a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. Your style, your voice – they belong only to you – and these are all things that you have to sort out for yourself.
So if you’re toying with the idea of writing a book – if that’s one of the dreams that’s in your heart, then go and do it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t wait for a “good” time. Don’t put it off. Just sit down and write the book. It’ll be hard. It might very well be one of the hardest things you do. But when you’re done you will emerge as a different (hopefully better) person – one with a set of skills, a unique voice, and incredible sense of accomplishment that you cannot develop in any other way.