How To Write A Book

I turned in my manuscript on Sunday night after a weekend holed up in the basement making final revisions. I am relived; it is nice to move past one more looming deadline, however, I do not feel I will be content until I complete edits and have the finished book in my hand.

As I have just turned in a manuscript I feel totally qualified to give you advice on how you too can write a book for publication (vs keeping it tucked away at your parents house in a locked drawer of your childhood desk). I can only relate what helped me personally reach this point; maybe you could get a book published by doing none of these things- la-ti-da for you Stephen King. Go read another blog post then. Here’s what I learned about the writing process. (And sorry to say this will be more thoughtful, serious advice. Ridiculous advice with GIFs will have to be in a future post.)

1.

Writing a book sucks as much as any other writing assignment. You don’t write a book because writing is fun. It’s grueling and awful and throughout the entire ordeal you will question your sanity for undertaking such a painful endeavor. You write a book because you have a story to tell; a story you need to get out of your head and onto paper because if you don’t, it will just live there, harassing you from the corners of your mind, forever. I had to write this book. I needed to see the words on the page and know they would be read by others. It became an insatiable urge I needed to satisfy. I hated practically every minute of writing it (hell, I literally ugly cried in Panera Bread while working on the first couple chapters) but I know, when I see the finished product, all of it, every agonizing minute of it, will have been worth it.

2.

I needed a deadline and external motivation. I started writing years ago with the idea I’d finish the book and then shop around the manuscript. But, because writing sucks, I wasn’t making enough time to write, and I really didn’t have a good idea of what I was writing except that I was recording details of my life that I thought needed sharing. It seemed like those around me created books with ease. Why couldn’t I form my stories into something large and coherent and meaningful on my own in a timely manner? It would have been easy to continue in this vein for many more years but, I wised up and last year approached an editor for help. Having someone I needed to answer to, and who knew how to give my words structure made all the difference.

3.

With the guidance of an editor, and feedback from trusted friends and mentors, I created a book proposal that made my book appealing to my publisher (Our Sunday Visitor) and also provided me with a framework for my story. With a contract, and deadline in hand, I could take all the pages I’d written and simply plug them into this framework, and add more details and information where needed. Even with Fulton’s surgery, our move, the demands of running a conference, I knew I would have to meet this deadline and because I HATE missing deadlines, I worked my tail off to get this book done on time.

4.

For everything else on my plate, this is the season of my life where I can write a book. Our life right now provides me with enough hours to do not only what I need to, but devote hours to writing. My youngest two are in school, and my oldest three do not need me to hover all day over their work. I have nursing care in the evenings and on weekends. I don’t have clingy babies or toddlers. If you want to write a book, but it seems impossible around your family’s needs, then maybe it’s not the right time. That story will always be there, and there will be seasons when it is easier to write. I am blessed that my husband and kids have always supported my writing (and speaking) and only bother me sometimes when I’m trying to get work done.

5.

You need a willingness to edit your story. I had sent a sample chapter to my editor for her opinion and she basically said, it wasn’t good. It was too much of me venting my feelings- it would turn off readers. I had to sit with her words for a bit. I knew I could continue to write the book the way I had up to that point, ignore her advice, and move on in my own direction without her help, or I could think about what my ultimate goal was: to write a book that not only shared my story, but, more importantly helped other parents. So I shifted my thinking from writing a straight memoir (which only my most devoted friends and readers would care to read) to a useful book that provides helpful advice along with personal stories. I edited that first chapter and ultimately kept her suggestion in the back of my mind as I wrote every chapter. As a result, the book is 100 times better than those early drafts where I simply vomited my feelings onto the page. I’m glad I didn’t follow my knee-jerk reaction to tell my editor she was wrong. And as I await edits from my new editor, I hope I can approach each suggestion with that same humility.

6.

I had to write everyday. It didn’t always happen due to clinic appointments, surprise teacher in-service days, and a variety of reasons, but my goal was to write everyday and only when I committed to that goal did I make real progress on my book, even after the deadline was in place. Up to that point, I tried to write for long stretches on Saturday, but I couldn’t stick to that every Saturday, and when I could, it was hard to focus for three hour stretches. And usually, if it’d been awhile, I’d need to spend the first half hour re-reading everything I’d written to remember where to pick up. Chapters were forming, but slowly. Finally, after our move in January I committed to writing every day, even if it was only for 15 minutes. Usually I could do more, but even the incremental progress helped keep the material fresh in my mind so I didn’t lose time figuring out where I was in the book. I also jumped around. If it was easier to write sections for chapter five one day, I did that, rather than continue where I’d left off in chapter three the day prior. As the date got closer, I committed to an hour, then two hours a day. I’d already learned where to carve out my writing time, so I just expanded upon it as much as I could. My concentration and ability to focus for longer stretches also grew, so within the last month, I was sitting down to write at 10 a.m. and before I knew it, I’d look up and it’d be noon. By blocking social media sites, I prevented myself from taking breaks to check Facebook every time I reached the end of a paragraph. I’ve been back on Facebook since Sunday and I can tell that blocking it during the week will become a regular habit for me.

7.

Take time to celebrate milestones. I’m still working on this because I always feel like I should be able to do more; write more books, more blog posts, homeschool better, clean the whole house, etc. It rarely ever feels like I’m doing enough. I’m rarely satisfied. I’m blessed to have a blog following, a book contract, speaking engagements, wonderful friendships I’ve made online, a family I love, and I still feel like I should be able to accomplish more. That feeling motivates me, and because of it I do get things done, but don’t make the same mistake as me; don’t overlook all the great things you’re currently doing in your life. Don’t write a book to be like someone you admire. Don’t write a book because you feel you NEED to do more for your brand/ blog/ business. You can find satisfaction in life right now even if it seems like you’re only changing diapers and reading Dr. Seuss. Don’t miss out on what’s happening right under your nose because of this drive for more. And if you do write a book, celebrate each chapter, each draft, and every milestone. It’s such an awful process that you should really stop and smell the roses when you get the chance rather than just dive right into the next thing. When my book is finally out, I’m going to force myself to not think about the next big milestone I need to hit, but to enjoy the accomplishment, even if only ten people buy my book.

That’s my advice/ thoughts on the matter if anyone cared. My mom is already asking if I’m going to write more books and 99% of me is like “NO WAY!” but every time I commit to not doing something, God usually has other plans. So- never say never, but I hope to finish this one up, get it into your hands soon, and maybe focus on something completely different for awhile.

Until then, write down your deep feels and link them up below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!

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1 comment

  • Grace has written:

    Thank you so much for this! This is the most helpful thing I have read in a long time! (I realize that sounds like spam-bot but I actually mean it! :-)) I have thought about writing a book–and this is in fact the one season of my life in which it might be possible. But, I also need external motivation (and very likely, a lot of editing help). All of your advice is invaluable, but I am particularly grateful that you shared that the process is not fun for you. I think I have questioned whether I could ever be a “real” writer because the truth be told I don’t love writing itself. I love the “finishing” but figured real writers were more in love with actual writing. 🙂 Have you posted [or might you in the future post] about how you went about with the proposal and seeking an editor?

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