Over the past few years, I’ve published a 70,000-word book about creativity, a 50,000-word book about productivity, and a novella.
I’ve also published on my site or other people’s sites once a week.
That’s not what I’m embarrassed about.
Before I learnt how to write a book (or blog consistently), I made a lot of awful mistakes.
Through writing these books over the years, I discovered some painful writing truths that I wish I knew when I decided I wanted to become an author.
If I’d known these 7 painful writing truths, I could have written my book faster and saved myself a lot of stress and disappointment.
Let me explain:
1. It’s Easier to Talk About Writing a Book Than It is To Write One
When I was a teenager, I was playing football (badly) in a field near my house.
After the match, one of my friends produced a marijuana joint and asked If I wanted some.
I told him, “Words get me high!”
You see, I wanted to write a book ever since I was 12-years-old.
I first tried to write a book when I was 19, but I couldn't get past page five.
I didn't understand how to keep a story moving or even how to sit in a chair for more than 30 minutes and write about one thing.
Now, that didn't stop me from boring friends to death in the pub about my ideas for short stories, novellas and non-fiction books.
It is a lot easier to talk about becoming an author than it is to write a book.
I always liked the idea of writers waiting for their muse or divine inspiration to strike and then filling the blank page in one, white-hot writing session.
But, those moments never came. And I didn’t write much at all.
So, I spent most of my twenties figuring out successful authors do the work upfront before they start writing a book.
Then, they write even if they don’t feel like it.
2. There’s More to Writing a Book Than… Writing
Okay, so I’ve always loved to read, and if you’re a writer you probably do too.
But, when I was training to be a journalist, I preferred reading mostly fiction.
That’s fine but…
I didn’t spend much time reading non-fiction subjects outside my comfort zone.
Now, reading an easy book is okay for somebody whose career doesn’t involve moving around words and ideas, but it’s poison for an ASPIRING AUTHOR.
Here’s the simple truth:
If you’re going to become an author, then reading and research is part of your job.
You must spend time reading outside of your comfort zone, reading the work of authors you admire and the works of authors you detest.
You must take notes, write down and learn to arrange your ideas before you start on your book.
If you fail to feed your mind, then don’t expect it to serve you quality ideas when you next sit down in front of the blank page.
3. The Day is Yours to Waste or Spend
Here’s my dirty secret:
I like to put things off, procrastinate, and say it will keep till later.
(Sound familiar? ? )
And this confession is from a guy who wrote a book about productivity for writers.
I’ve often woken up, checked email, bought books on Amazon, phoned the cable company about my bill, arranged meetings, and done everything else but write 500-1000 words.
The day goes on, and if I’m lucky I’ll have an hour left to write just a little.
So, I tried looking at myself in the mirror and telling myself, ‘Don’t be lazy, just work harder’.
Self-talk is nice, here’s the painful truth:
More often than not when I put writing last, it’s unlikely to happen at all.
It took me years to figure out that when I’m writing a book, it’s the most important thing I need to do every day (apart from looking after my family).
So, it’s my job to reduce interruptions and put writing first.
Before social media.
Before the news.
And even before breakfast.
When was the last time you put writing first?
4. You Need to Write Every Day (Even If They’re Not Paying You For It)
For several years in my early 20s, I worked in a career that had nothing to do with words or writing.
I struggled to find some time outside of work to write every day.
I tried writing late at night after the kids went to bed, but I found it hard to get up the next day, go to work, spend time with the kids all-the-while keeping my eye-lids open with matchsticks.
So, I told myself my book would keep till tomorrow and that I could write at the weekend.
Here’s the problem with that kind of thinking:
When I finally had the guts to sit down in front of the blank page and do my work, I could barely remember where I left off or what I wanted to say.
It just took too long to pick up from where I left off the previous weekend.
What’s more, if I missed a weekend writing session because of, you know life, that meant I went an entire week without writing my book.
I would have had more luck pulling out my teeth with a set of rusty pliers.
I needed a daily writing routine that I could fit in around my job and my family, but I didn’t have it.
5. Your First Draft Will be Terrible (And That’s Ok)
I felt like tearing it up, pressing delete and beginning again.
It took me a long time to learn the job of a first draft is to exist… and it’s ok if the writing is lousy.
It’s a good thing that my first drafts are for me alone, and yours should be too.
When you sit down to write a first draft, you may lack confidence or feel uninspired by what you’re about to do.
You may feel like you’re writing with a crayon in your mouth, and that’s ok.
Most successful authors rarely experience white-hot inspiration and perfect prose while working on their first drafts.
A lot of writers doubt themselves and think about pressing delete too.
They don’t though.
Instead, there’s a determined (and over-caffeinated) soul plugging away at his or her manuscript one sentence at a time, looking at their word-count or the clock and all the while thinking:
‘It’ll do for now’, ‘I’m almost there’, ‘I can fix this later’.
You can fix it later too, but you’ve got to finish your first draft first.
You’ve got to reach The End.
And you need a plan for getting there.
6. Get a Little Comfortable With Failure
Here’s a short list of things at which I’ve failed at as a writer:
I failed to build a career as a news journalist. In fact, I was so bad, one editor threatened to fire me, and another editor let me go.
I failed to hold down a well-paying contract with a magazine too. I just didn’t spend enough time researching my articles, so my editor got a better writer in.
I couldn’t blame her.
And my biggest failure?
I didn’t write and publish a book before I was 30 (a life-long goal) because I didn’t feel like I was good enough to do it.
On good days, I felt restless, and on bad days I felt devastated by my lack of progress.
Now, I won’t lie to you.
Writing a book for the first time is tough work.
It’s not something you can fake or dial in. If you want to reach The End (or even just publish on your blog once a week), you’ll fail many times before you get there.
The trick is to learn from these private failures and get better at your craft.
You can do it too.
7. Feedback is Tough to Hear
I used to show my early drafts of my book to friends and family, and they’d tell me:
“It’s great Bryan; you’ve got talent.”
And I’m like, “Wow, thanks. Writing a book is my dream.”
Their well-meaning feedback wasn’t helpful.
The first time I sent a piece of writing to a professional editor, she emailed me back a word document with dozens of annotations and almost all of my draft rewritten or crossed out.
“It’s ok Bryan-” we both knew it wasn’t “-But you’ve got a lot of work to do before it’s ready to publish.”
I almost vomited on my keyboard.
This was the first time I’d face the fire of professional editorial feedback.
I’m not going to lie to you.
Even today, getting editorial feedback is difficult. So, don't let it overwhelm you.
Because it’s also part of the job and key to becoming an author.
Your Path to Becoming an Author
In my early twenties, I was just an amateur trying to figure out my way around the blank page.
I was struggling to learn how to write a book for the first time.
Even today, I make embarrassing mistakes.
I recently spent two months rewriting an old book when I should have concentrated on publishing my new book, but that’s okay.
Sure these painful writing truths are tough to learn, but now I use my experiences to fall forwards, instead of falling down.
Because that’s what authors do.
They study their craft, they do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. They have a roadmap for going from the first page to the last page.
In the next couple of days, I’m going to explain the common mistakes aspiring authors make when they try to write a book for the first time (and how you can avoid them).
I’ll also give you a new formula for writing every day without having to listen to superficial advice like ‘Don’t be lazy’.
This carefully crafted formula is based on years of observation of how successful authors reach The End of their books.
Soon, you too can start publishing your work once a week or even finish your book, and I’ll show you how!
Get your 101 writing prompts today
Need help getting started writing? Use these proven writing prompts. I'll also send you practical writing advice and more as part of my newsletter.