Although writing a book can be challenging for many reasons, I can tell you from my own experience, it’s worth it! Here are four pieces of the best advice I can give other first-time authors about how to write and finish a book.
Find a core group of people to support and hold you accountable—no matter what.
Enlist a core group of people—a spouse, a friend, or a close family member—to support you BEFORE you face those times when you might second-guess your ability to write a book (or doubt your reasons for publishing it). Be upfront and ask for their support and to hold you accountable for achieving your goal. Say, “This is what I’m doing. These are my goals. When I don’t believe in myself, I need you to believe in me. And when I want to quit, I need you to tell me, ‘Don’t Quit!”
On the days when you think to yourself, “This book is going to be stupid. No one is going to buy it. No one cares if I write it!” you need people in your life who are actively willing to support you. These are the times when you’re probably saying things like, “OMG, I don’t know if I can do this. Maybe I’ll just not write this book.” That’s when you call the people who believe in you. After working all day, tell them you don’t think you can write this book. Say, “These are the thoughts and feelings I’m having right now as I sit at my computer at 10:00 p.m., having written for the past four hours.” Then listen for them to remind you, “Don’t Quit!”
Ignore people who say you can’t write a book. And don’t be surprised when someone says they’ll support you, but they don’t.
Set your intention and be determined.
Whenever you commit to do something big, that’s everything. When I told my boyfriend at the time that I was going to write this book, he said, “OMG Rachel, you work fulltime, you volunteer, and you travel all the time. How are you going to do this?”
“Because I decided I’m going to do it.”
Don’t say, “I’ll do this if I have this money or that time.” You’re never going to find all the money and time you want. Say what you’re going to do and when you are going to do it.
You will need to make sacrifices to write your book. There were days when I didn’t hang out with friends and days when I didn’t get much sleep after writing all night, so I was exhausted the next day. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. One weekend when my boyfriend and I went with our friends to the mountains hiking, I wrote all weekend, rather than hike. That sucked. But since I determined what I was going to do beforehand, it didn’t suck as much. You know the life you want to live. You are determining that. You set the intention.
My goal was to touch at least one woman’s life with my book. That was my intention. Since publishing, more than one woman has told me that reading my book has made a difference for her, so I fulfilled my intention. That success makes all of the work worth it to me. And I believe my book isn’t just for women. Men need to read it, too, to understand the pressures women face.
Be prepared for a “vulnerability hangover.”
I chose about twenty people to read my first draft. When I started getting all their messages, I got this immense sense of accomplishment, but also this immense feeling of exhaustion. I had been writing, and writing, and writing, so the book was finally a reality, but I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t breathing during the writing process. I had what I call a “vulnerability hangover.” I thought, “Oh my gosh! Now my story’s all out there, and I kind of feel sick over it.” I didn’t feel sick in a bad way because peoples’ comments, questions, suggestions, and etc. were very supportive, but I experienced emotional overload hearing all of it.
It’s like I was standing in front of a group of people, some I knew well and some I didn’t know at all. I had shared everything important that’s happened to me. Things I don’t share. Things I don’t want to remember. Things that I wish didn’t happen, but they did. I told all that, and then I thought, “Oh my gosh, I just walked through my entire life, trials and trauma.” It was a lot to go through, and after I finished, I felt drained and vulnerable.
People are going to experience publishing a book in different ways. That’s OK because I know putting your story out there is powerful. Everyone has a story. Our stories are worth sharing. My story is not better than anyone else’s—it’s just mine. Don’t second-guess your ability to write your story. You’re unique and your story will touch someone. It just takes a lot of energy to put your life in print.
Telling your story can be emotional to re-live, but since I worked through many of my issues in therapy, that wasn’t what created my vulnerability hangover. I was writing in anticipation of others reading it and realized that once the story was out there, I couldn’t take it back. People were getting a deep look into my life. Even my best friends didn’t know some of the events I described in my memoir. Fortunately, people who’ve read the book haven’t been judgmental. They’ve been really positive.
Before you ever start writing, set smaller goals or intentions to meet at specific times throughout the process.
My best advice is to set your goals and your intentions at the start. It’s very easy to say, “I’m going to write a book!” But it’s hard to set goals along the way. For example, “By this day I’m going to have this many pages done. By this day I’m going to be done with the edit. By this day I’m going to start social media.” As a writing coach, Laura helped me a lot with this.
I had personal deadlines, like hiring Laura as my writing coach. Then I told her by what date I wanted my book to be finished. I verbally said when, and I suggest first-time authors write down dates like, “On such and such day, I will submit my first draft, and I plan to publish my book the spring of such and such year.” It’s too hard to set goals and intentions once you’ve already started writing because it’s easy to get caught up in the vastness of the project and get overwhelmed.
Once you have an outline of the process you intend to follow, put it up somewhere prominent where you can look at it regularly. I wrote my goals and intentions on a dry erase board next to my desk with a count down. Other people saw what I was committed to and that became both encouragement and accountability for me.
I also recommend setting intentions for opportunities to expand the impact of your book. For example, besides my intention to publish my book, I intended to be on two podcasts and to audition to be a TED Speaker. I’ve already sent in my audition to TED and been on multiple podcasts, including the LadyGang podcast with Keltie Knight, Jac Vanek, and Becca Tobin and the Ceremony Wellness podcast with Kelli Tennant.
Celebrate all along the way!
Finally, don’t just celebrate your book at the very end once it’s published. Celebrate the milestones all along the way because writing can be a lonely process. I celebrated when I wrote half the book, when I sent the manuscript in for its first and second edit, and then when I turned in the final draft. Go out to dinner. Have a drink. Whenever you meet even seemingly small goals, celebrate your accomplishments, especially with your core group of supporters. You deserve it!