7 Painful Truths I Wish Knew Before Writing My First Book

This is an update of a post about painful writing truths that I published in 2016.7 Painful Truths I Wish Knew Before Writing My First Book

Can we keep this just between you and me?

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 email.

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)

Bryan Collins
In my early 20s I'd a lot to learn about writing a book (and what to wear)

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)

Kurt VonnegutOnce, I wrote the first draft of a book chapter that smelt so bad, I had to open up the office window while reading it.

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.

Here’s why:

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!

7 Painful Truths I Wish Knew Before Writing My First Book

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18 thoughts on “7 Painful Truths I Wish Knew Before Writing My First Book”

  1. Thanks for all ten points spoke to me. I particularly have to step out of my comfort zone to read writers whom I detest. This one spoke volumes to me because it’s something I have never really done.

    1. Reading writers you dislike is an interesting way of testing your boundaries and figuring out what you don’t want to write. If the writing is of poor quality, it’s also instructive.

  2. Hi Brian

    I loved your blog. It certainly resonated, you could be describing me to a tee. I am mazed at my capacity to do all kinds of ‘necessary’ items instead of writing. thank you for your absolute honesty. I am looking forward to reading your subsequent posts and hope to develop the correct habit which is to write every day.

    All the best

    Barbara

    1. Hi Barbara,
      Good to hear you liked the post. Procrastination is natural to writers at all levels, it’s how you deal with it that counts!

  3. What a great post! I think many people see writing as glamourous. I know that there is a perception that we have a lot of time on our hands. The ability to craft something people will benefit from, plus have it interesting and “error-free” is time-consuming. I appreciate your candidness, and the great content you share.

  4. Hey Brian,

    Great thoughts here. Journalism turned me off right away, so I never considered doing it, but I do resonate with many of the points here.

    I hate to admit it, but I have a hard time editing my work. I love to express ideas. Some writers love the tightness of their prose and perfect grammar. I have to struggle to edit my work multiple times, but I know it’s necessary.

    Maybe I ‘ll try grammarly like you suggested in a previous post.

    Off to share!

  5. Hi Ayodeji,
    Editing is tough but if you struggle you could always hire an editor. Sure you have to pay a little upfront but you’ll learn a lot about writing and speed things up.

    Yes, Grammarly is a nice app. I use it most days.

    Thanks for stopping by (and sharing) again.

    Kind regards,
    Bryan

  6. Love all points except #9. There is no failure in writing. Only the absence of writing.

    I think you’re right that you can’t fake it, but you certainly can dial it in. At least, it’s better to type out jibberish than nothing at all because so much of writing is just the movement. Keep moving and you will move to better ideas. But stand still and you can rust really fast.

  7. This is an excellent post, Bryan. One thought – and maybe this is a bit out there – does anyone else think that writing is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself? That is, writing is part of the process of creating something else, rather than an end goal or an end value in itself. If I can use an analogy, it is a bit like washing the dishes. Nobody sets out to wash dishes simply because they enjoy washing the dishes. But, doing that is a part of the process of something worthwhile, which may be providing good meals for family, or providing an appealing home environment, or having friends over for dinner. So, perhaps we need to look at writing as part of the process of communicating ideas, of providing enjoyment to other people in having a book to sell, or in earning income to provide for family.

    1. HI Neale,
      If you’re writing with a purpose in mind, it depends on what you want to achieve: money, fame or impact?

      Otherwise, you can write for yourself first or just simply practice.

  8. Hi Bryan

    Thanks for writing in an open and honest way. I found your list of mistakes easy to relate to.

    I’m a part time blogger with a full time job and making time to write every day is my current goal. I use an iPhone 7 plus, iPad and iMac with every app under the sun and I still fail to get it done.

    When I do hit ‘publish’ it’s hard to know if the low response is due to poor writing, poor marketing/networking or both. (Obviously hoping it’s the latter).

    Thanks again.

    Alan

  9. This post rings true. The points you’ve made are so true, especially the procrastinating part.

    I am also with you on the issue of giving work piece to family to read. They will always want to make you feel better, so much it would affect their answers. In my case some real critique can do the job, before I even send it to an editor.

    For the past weeks I started visiting this site, I am happy I did.

  10. Great article Bryan. I am now on my second book. My first one is still waiting on me to finish it. Procrastination is my worst enemy. I am almost past that point and just flat out lackadaisical about my work, although in fact I rather like my characters and they call me to the keyboard often. When they do, I tell them I have a thousand things to do, while channel surfing and checking FB. Your true confessions have stirred up a couple more chapters so here I go. Thanks.

    Barry

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