As an author and mentor, people often ask me, “How do you get published?” Now to me, that’s the wrong question. The hard part for most writers, despite what we say, isn’t getting published. After all, there are many opportunities these days to become a published author. No, it’s not the publishing part we struggle with. It’s the writing.
Mark Twain once said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words,” and he was probably right. But first you have to write some words.
I find most writers will say that once their book is finished, they are surprised to discover it isn’t the difficulty of getting it published but the actual writing process itself which they have found the hardest.
Looking back at my own time while writing, I remember how I learnt some important things which I think are worth sharing with you.
So, what does it take to write a book? Well, here are some of my best tips.
Get started. You need to pick up the pen (or laptop) and start writing. But start small. 300 words per day is plentyful. John Grisham began his writing career as a lawyer. He would get up early each morning and write one page. You can do the same. You only need to spend 20 minutes a day writing to achieve your ambitions.
Have an outline. There has to be a story. Write up a table of contents to help guide you. Then, break up each chapter into a few sections. Think of your book in terms of a beginning, a middle and an end. Anything more complicated than that and you will get lost. If you need help, read ‘Do the Work’ by Steven Pressfield.
Have a set time to work on your book each day. Dedicating a specific time makes one concentrate on the work at hand. But, if you want to, then take a day or two off each week. You can schedule that in as time off. However, if you have set a deadline don’t let it pass. And don’t let yourself off the hook. Remember you must stay accountable to your own goals.
Choose a unique place to write. This should really be different from where you do your other activities. The idea is to make this a special space so that when you enter it, you’re ready to work on your project. It doesn’t have to be somewhere quite and isolated. Many authors find they can do their best writing even when surrounded by a busy atmosphere; such as in a café!
Have a set word count. Think in terms of ten thousand-word increments. Break each chapter into roughly equal lengths. Here are some examples for various writing media:
10,000 words: a pamphlet
20,000 words: short eBook or print book
40,000–50,000 words: good-sized non-fiction book
60,000–70,000 words: longer non-fiction book
80,000 words–100,000 words: typical novel length
Give yourself weekly deadlines. Set your goals; something to aim for. It can be a word count, a percentage of progress, a time limit; whichever suits you. And it helps if you can find someone who will hold you accountable, such as one of the Mentors at Mentoring Writers. You can register with them and they will monitor your progress.
Get early feedback. Nothing stings worse than writing a book, and then having to rewrite the whole thing because you didn’t let anyone look at it soon enough. Have at least one good trusted advisor to help you discern what’s worth writing. Again something Mentoring Writers can help you with.
Always try to stay motivated. And if you need help with your writing then look to joining a writer’s group or registering with a mentor on a one-to-one basis.
Ship. No matter what, finish the book. Send it to the publisher, release it on Amazon, do whatever you need to do to get it out there in front of people. Don’t just put it away in your drawer. You’ve written it so now it needs to be read.
Embrace failure. Know this first book will be hard. You may also probably mess up. Be okay with it. Give yourself grace. That’s what will sustain you, not the expectation of the high standards of perfection you think you should be achieving. These will come later.
Write another. Most authors are embarrassed of their first book. But, without that first one they would never have learned the lessons they did. So put your work out there, fail early, but make sure you try again. This is the only way you get good at writing. Practice and practice some more.
Remember, every writer started somewhere, and most of them started by squeezing their writing into the cracks of their daily lives. The ones who make it are the ones who show up day after day. You can do it, too.