Since 2013 I’ve written (and co-written) twenty books including four children’s storybooks, three workbooks, two guided journals and, most recently, one book of morning affirmations.
Two have been published, seventeen are self-published, and one will be published in July with Hodder & Stoughton. Here are the twenty lessons I learned writing twenty books:
1. When to write. The best time to write is first thing in the morning before anything has the chance to convince you otherwise. For me, if the writing doesn’t happen then, it doesn’t happen at all, as much as I try to tell myself that today will be different.
2. How long to write for. Especially when I’m working on a book, my goal every day is to write for between 60-90 minutes. I don’t set goals on quality or quantity apart from time. Sometimes I write good stuff and sometimes it’s bad but the only thing that matters is that I write.
3. How to stay full. Reading as prolifically as you write will make you a better writer. You can’t drink from an empty glass just as you can’t come up with ideas, stories and new ways of seeing old concepts without consistently being inspired. Reading is a perfect muse because it introduces new words, which podcasts and movies are less likely to do.
4. Planning. A well-planned book is halfway there. I spend the first few days planning a book before writing in prose. Jotting down ideas of stories, chapter titles and subheadings. Playing with concepts and laying the book out in messy diagrams on a blank piece of paper. It’s the most fun part.
5. Why to write. Write for fun, write because you can’t not write, write to prove a point or stake a claim or own a field. Write to meet new people or reinvent yourself or impress clients. Overall, write because the world will be a better place once your words are in it.
6. Writer’s block. When I’m stuck, a change of scenery, concentration music and a pomodoro timer are my best friends. The less pressure I put on myself to write anything good, the more the words flow.
7. Avoiding distractions. Stopping halfway through writing to “research” isn’t essential, it’s just my brain trying to trick me into going online. For things I need to check later I write JK in the manuscript and then search for JK and check them all in one go. (I use JK because very few words use that combination of letters.)
8. Default mode network. Ideas will pop into your head when you least expect them, so carrying a notebook at all times helps you remember. I’ve thought up book titles during walks in nature and mentally penned concluding paragraphs in the shower. Write. It. Down.
9. Who to write to. I struggled with this when I first started writing about entrepreneurship for Forbes. I had this vague entrepreneurial character in my head and I would write to them. Then I realised my audience was me, just a few years before. Now I write to a former version of myself who is naïve and confused and needs my help.
10. People will buy your books if they like your writing. Building a reader base isn’t done with books, it’s done with blogs, articles, tweets and regular emails. If people like your writing they will buy your books but others are unlikely to gamble unless they know you personally.
11. Being kind. Writing anything unkind, passive aggressive or directed towards someone who has annoyed you is never a good idea. Although you might soon change your mind or calm down, the words will be there spreading bad karma for you forever more.
12. Saying what has already been said. There are an infinite number of things to write about and an infinite number of ways to write about them. Your take on any concept will be different to someone else’s. Feeling like something has already been said is no reason to not write about it.
13. There is no competition. Readers read and recommend countless books. Authors recommend other authors. Someone who takes a genuine interest in a topic will often read multiple titles on a similar concept. There is no competition and you are not up against any other author.
14. Trust in your manuscript and flip the process. Getting a publisher (for business books, anyway) normally means writing a book proposal, approaching publishers and being commissioned to write your book, then writing your book to a deadline. A better way round (for your sanity and confidence) is to write the book first, then the proposal, then secure the publisher and hand the manuscript in when you sign the contract.
15. A book is a time capsule. You might not always believe the words in your book to be true. The most important thing is that they were true at the time of writing. Authors change their minds all the time and theories are subsequently disproven. Be prepared that everything you have written may at some point be wrong, but that’s no reason not to write. If you’re not embarrassed of your old work you haven’t grown that much.
16. Let it go. One-star Amazon reviews, the odd typo, people who disagree. None of it matters. If you keep writing what is true to you and useful for others, the right people will stay to listen.
17. Simplifying. The most useful question to ask when writing is, What am I really trying to say here? Without a clear understanding of that, the words will meander into waffly paragraphs that say a whole lot of nothing.
18. Shift the power. A better alternative to banging down doors is to build your own hallway and have people banging down your door to work with you. When you have a strong message, an engaged audience and a consistent way of speaking to them, opportunities arise that you might not have known were possible.
19. There are no rules. If you want to finish a sentence with a preposition or split an infinitive, be my guest. If you want to write in fragmented sentences, make up words, use or not use an Oxford comma, no one cares. Sometimes a sentence just doesn’t end the way you thought it octopus.
20. Intention. Some people talk about writing a book, some people tweet about writing a book, some people just get on and write their book. It’s not sexy, it’s a long hard slog, but I promise you that it’s worth it.