Quick fix pitfalls for authors

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ve seen a lot from me about how to make writing easier and how to keep your book from taking over your life. What you haven’t seen is any discussion of quick fixes. Why? Read on to find out all about the pitfalls of quick fixes for authors.

I’m sure that if you’ve searched Google or social media for anything related to writing, you’ve seen loads of ads about quick fixes from other providers. In this post, I’m going to talk about the potential pitfalls of two of these: ultra-short book writing programmes and ghost writers.

Writers turn to these kinds of quick fixes out of frustration. But in life as in business, taking the easy way and opting for the quick fix is rarely as rewarding as doing it the right way.

Quick fix 1: Ultra-short programmes

Maybe it’s just my feed and the algorithm’s response to my search history, but ‘write and publish your book in a weekend’ courses seem to be popping up everywhere.

These are great for making the point that writing your book doesn’t have to take ages, but if you write and publish your book in a weekend, you’re unlikely to present your business in a good light.

Why? Good writing requires thinking and editing. Thinking and editing require time. Also, you should never publish anything that hasn’t been proofread by a professional.

Hopefully it’s clear how publishing rushed writing that hasn’t been polished by a professional is problematic. Books written and published this way are likely to be full of typos and awkward sentences.

You may now be thinking, ‘but I’m sure I’ve seen you argue we should write our first drafts as quickly as possible’. You’re right. I do advocate writing your first draft quickly. But I’d never advocate publishing that draft.

The second pitfall of these book-in-a-weekend courses is less obvious, but no less important. Rushing through your writing denies you the chance for growth that a longer writing process would give you.

Since this is also a pitfall of hiring a ghost writer, I’ll discuss it in more detail in the final section of this post.

Quick fix 2: Ghost writers

The idea of hiring a professional writer to write your book is appealing, and it does avoid the first pitfall of the book-in-a-weekend courses.

A good ghost writer will deliver a coherent, polished manuscript.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that even the best ghost writer won’t be able to perfectly embody your voice.

Why is that a problem?

One of the main reasons businessowners write books is to establish their expertise with potential clients. If a would-be client reads your ghost-written book, gets excited about what you offer, and books a call with you, they’ll feel a disconnect between the ‘voice’ in your book and the voice on the call.

Most readers won’t be able to consciously identify this disconnect. Nevertheless, it’s enough to cause them to distrust you. Thus undoing all the know, like, and trust your book had built.

Clearly, sowing distrust amongst potential clients is the very opposite of what you want to do. There’s no point spending a lot of money having a book written that reduces your conversion rate.

As I indicated above, the other pitfall of hiring a ghost writer is that it denies you the opportunity to grow from the writing experience, which I’ll turn to now.

How the writing process will improve your life and coaching

When you resist the quick fix and take the time to write and edit your book, you’ll spend quite a few hours in the company of your thoughts. During this time, you’ll be writing about your coaching practice while having to coach yourself through the writing.

I should note here that I’m using the umbrella term coach to refer to all the ‘helping’ professions. These include consultants, speakers, mentors, and healers.

As you write your book about how you help your clients one of two things will happen. Either you’ll allow yourself to struggle on the days the words don’t come easily, until you decide to use the techniques you teach on yourself. Or you’ll consciously coach yourself from the beginning and avoid any prolonged periods of struggle.

Both outcomes are valuable (and neither is available when you opt for the quick fix). Why? Because they teach you to recognise when you need coaching and which techniques work for particular situations. This experience can’t help but make you a better and more compassionate person and coach.

It will improve your understanding of your relationship with yourself. It’ll also improve your ability to empathise with others.

The process will remind you of things you know, on one level, but all too often forget to apply to yourself. For example, you relearn that if you ‘need’ to clean and tidy the house before you sit down to write even for ten minutes, you’re not avoiding the writing. You’re feeling anxious about it.

These are things we often recognise in others, like our clients. But we rarely recognise them in ourselves or those closest to us. When the anxiety-induced avoidance activity happens too close to home, we tend to respond with frustration.

However, the rather meta experience of coaching yourself through writing about coaching will make you more self-aware. It will also make you more likely to respond to yourself and your nearest and dearest with the compassion you show your clients.

If you rush the writing process with a quick fix like a book-in-a-weekend course or miss it altogether by hiring a ghost writer, you do yourself, your coaching practice, and your book a disservice. Your second draft is better than your first both because you’ve edited out the errors and because you are different and more aware after doing so.

Keep Your Work Safe

Over the last few weeks I’ve been writing the first draft of a book about writing a book about your business. As I was preparing to print the first draft so I could start revisions, it struck me that reading this excerpt sooner rather than later could save some of you from a future headache.

Practise safe writing

Imagine having written 20,000 words of your book, saving it on your laptop, and having your laptop stolen. Alternatively, imagine finishing your first draft, saving it, and coming back to it the next day to find that your computer won’t turn on at all.

I know writers who have had such experiences. To keep you from having to add your name to the list of the unfortunate, I want you to put some healthy habits in place before you start writing. In this chapter I’ll address how to keep both hard copies and digital copies safe.

Protecting paper copies

Many writers still write their drafts out longhand before they type them up. For some people this both frees and focuses the mind. If you are one of these people, carry on, but take some precautions.

Risks to paper

Fire

Massively destructive fires are, thankfully, less common than they used to be. But they aren’t unheard of. For a few pounds, you can get a small fire safe in which to keep your completed manuscript pages/notebooks.

Flood

Don’t store your manuscript on the first floor if your house is prone to flooding. Also, don’t store it in the bathroom or kitchen (I’m not sure why anyone would, but stranger things have happened).

Water and paper are not good friends. Water and ink get on less well. Try to choose a pen that doesn’t run when it gets wet.

Wild animals

Okay, maybe not wild animals, but pets can wreak havoc with your paper manuscript. When she was younger, my cat took great pleasure in sliding my papers around the flat. Now, she takes pleasure in chewing on them. Keep an eye on your pets, and keep your papers out of reach.

Children

If you have children, until they are old enough to understand that they mustn’t touch your papers, keep them well out of reach. You don’t want to come home to find that chapter one has been used for your little one’s latest masterpiece, or to find that they’ve smeared the carrot they weren’t happy about at lunch all over the first page.

Backing up your work

Backing up a hard copy requires more work on your part than backing up digital copies. I recommend you do all of these:

  • Get in the habit of photocopying, scanning, or photographing new pages as you produce them.
  • If you choose to scan or photograph them, skip to the next section.
  • If you choose to photocopy your manuscript, keep a copy in your firesafe.
  • In addition to this, at least once a month, take a second copy to store somewhere else – at a trusted friend’s house, in your office (assuming you don’t work at home), or in a safe deposit box at the bank.

You may think these suggestions are extreme, especially the safe deposit box, but think about how you’d feel if you lost your whole book before you could type it up and publish it. That would mean throwing dozens, if not hundreds, of hours away because you didn’t take the time to back up your work.

Protecting digital copies

We’ll start with how to keep it safe while you’re actually writing and work forward from there. We all know that the main risks to a digital copy are failure to save, virus infection, and power surges. Install good virus protection software and use a surge protector. For everything else, read on.

Autosave is your friend

Word has an autosave function. If you’re typing your manuscript in Word, click on File — Options — Save and then choose 1 minute for how often you want autosave to save your document. You can also toggle the autosave function on in the upper left corner (this saves your document to your OneDrive and works similarly to Google Docs). If you use another kind of software, it is worth your while to check whether it has a similar function.

Hard save regularly

If you haven’t already, you’ll soon learn that I don’t trust computers. In addition to using autosave, get in the habit of manually saving your document at least once an hour. Doing this will massively increase your chance of saving everything should there be a power surge, or should your computer take a funny turn.

Save to a flash drive and/or email yourself a copy

At least once a week, save a copy of your manuscript to a flash drive and/or email it to yourself. I suggest doing both just to be absolutely certain you don’t lose anything. If you don’t email it to yourself, make sure you keep your flash drive in a different building than the one you keep your computer in. You could also consider saving a copy in Google Docs – since that is not saved on your computer, so long as you don’t get locked out of your Google account, you’ll be able to access it.

Invest in the Cloud

Saving everything to the cloud is affordable and easy. If you didn’t buy the cloud backup package when you bought your computer, now is the time to look into it.

Print a copy

At the end of each draft, I strongly recommend that you print a copy and ask a trusted friend to keep it or store it in your office if your office is not in your home. As I said above, I don’t trust computers. Also, I recognise the fragility of paper. Printing a copy, in addition to the other steps, almost guarantees that you will have a copy somewhere. Though computers sometimes seem to have minds of their own, paper always behaves as you expect it to.

If you’ve finished reading this and you think I’m just being alarmist, ignore this advice at your own risk. Losing your book draft is much worse than losing your homework or even a term paper could possibly be.

How a Writing Ritual Puts You in Control of Your Creativity

Have you thought about your writing ritual lately?

Rituals are powerful. We all already know that. If rituals weren’t powerful, we wouldn’t see so many of them in, say, religion and government.

They’re powerful on a personal level too. When we have a writing ritual, we’re in charge of when we’re in the mood to write.

This is crucial, because if we stand around waiting for inspiration to strike we may get to this time next year or the next or the next and your book still won’t be started let alone published or your blog will still be sort of limping along with irregular updates to keep your readers engaged.

The inspiration problem

A lot of our problems around inspiration have a really long history. Our inspiration problems go back at least to the Greek Muses – a capricious lot to say the least.

In addition to the Muses, the Greeks brought us other unhelpful ideas about creation like Athena springing as a fully formed adult from Zeus’s forehead – I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your book’s not going to arrive that way.

Brilliant though your book is, a Greek goddess it’s not.

I could list lots of writers through the ages who have lamented their lack of inspiration or who looked outside of themselves for inspiration: John Milton and William Wordsworth to name only two.

The problem with looking to some uncontrollable and often external source for your ideas is evident. It gets to decide when you write, not you. Milton does this when he appeals to the ‘Heav’nly Muse’ in the opening of Paradise Lost.

If you’re a wealthy gentleman wandering round the Lake District with a notebook waiting to see the perfect cloud formation to inspire a poem (Wordsworth) is fine. If you’re a busy business owner who needs to get her credibility-building book written and into her readers’ hands, it just won’t do!

Writing ritual, not inspiration

What if you don’t happen to have time for a walking holiday or a cooperative muse whispering in your ear?

Take responsibility for your own writing practice by creating a writing ritual. This puts you in charge of it.

Our brains love routine and ritual. That’s why sleep experts advise us to develop bedtime routines. When you do the same things in the same order every time, your brain comes to expect the desired outcome.

So if every night you have a cup of herbal tea in a special mug while you sit and read a chapter of a book before brushing your teeth and getting in bed to go to sleep, your brain is going to learn that when we have tea out of this cup and read a chapter and then brush our teeth that it’s time to go to sleep. If you keep up the routine for several nights, you’ll start feeling yourself get tired faster. It doesn’t take that many nights for your brain to get trained so that you’re nodding off more easily than before.

The same is true of other routines.

Some writing ritual ideas

If you write to music, create a playlist. If you just need music to get in the mood but then need silence while you write, create a short playlist, listen to a song or two, turn it off open the document and start writing.

This doesn’t have to be an elaborate, time consuming ritual, and really it shouldn’t be because the point is for you to be able to write little and often (read about snack writing here). So you just need a quick signal to your brain that it’s time to do this thing and then you do it.

If music isn’t your thing, you could try always writing in one particular spot – obviously this is going to be easier if, say, everybody in your household is over 18 and reasonably self-sufficient. For the parents reading this, I wouldn’t get too tied to one space – you know your kids have a way of taking over everything.

Instead, you could develop another simple habit like one of these:

  • putting on a particular sweater,
  • lighting a candle,
  • making a cup of tea or coffee in a particular mug that you only drink out of when you’re writing,
  • putting on a particular scarf, or
  • opening a particular notebook.

Whatever you choose, find something that you can tie to your writing that you’re only going to do when you write. Now obviously, you’re probably going to have tea and coffee at other times, but maybe you could have a special brew for your writing or a special mug for your writing.

Just find a way of setting the mood so that you do the thing and then you can write. That way, it won’t take a lot of time to get into your writer’s headspace.

Will my writing ritual always work?

There are going to be times that your brain’s not going to cooperate. If you’ve followed me for any length of time at all, you that once upon a time I used to plan to have writing days. Laughable, I know. As though I could sit down and write for an entire day.

That never happened, but I could make myself sit in front of the computer for an entire day.

If I was at the computer, why didn’t I write? Because planning to write for 6+ hours was just too big an ask. It invariably caused my brain to turn into a toddler at nap time. My brain would do anything else, but it was not going to write for that long just because I asked it to.

If your brain is having one of those days, you need to develop techniques for clearing your head so you can carry on with your work.

What to do when your writing ritual isn’t enough

How you approach clearing your head on the days when your ritual doesn’t work depends on your mood, your personality, and where you are at the time. It also depends on what exactly is distracting you at the moment.

Sometimes you need to give yourself a break

If you’re distracted because your mother is seriously ill, it’s probably not a good day to write. Instead of trying to force the issue, spend 10 minutes writing about how you feel about your mother’s illness and put your writing away. That way, you’ve kept your promise to yourself that you were going to write which will keep guilt from attaching to the act of writing.

It’s important to not connect writing and guilt because that’s a recipe for prolonged writer’s block. We humans quite reasonably avoid doing things that feel bad. Guilt feels bad. If guilt and writing are connected for us, we’ll avoid writing because writing will feel bad.

Sometimes you just need to focus

When your distraction is less serious, like you’d really rather watch another series of whatever you’ve been binge watching on Netflix, then find a ritual that will help you clear your head.

If this distraction hits and you’re in a co-working space or a café (we will eventually return to such spaces), you’ll need to choose something quiet like a deep breathing exercise. That way you can simply close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly until you feel more focused. If sitting in public with your eyes closed freaks you out, then look at a picture of something calming on your computer or your phone screen while you focus on your breath.

Wherever you’re working, you could try putting on headphones and listening to a short, guided meditation or some calming music. You’ll find lots of apps on your phone that can help you do that and there are lots of free videos on YouTube. Of course this option requires that you have access to the internet.

If you’re not in public and you are somewhere that it would be appropriate and you have the space, you could try a short yoga or stretching routine. That will help quiet the mind and can help you focus back in on your writing. For more ideas like this, check out what Sarah Boak says here.

Finally, if you’re struggling to focus because you keep worrying about the rest of your to-do list, keep a piece of paper next to you while you write. If something that needs to be done pops into your head, write it down and carry on with your writing. Once you’ve written it down you, don’t have to worry that you’re going to forget it, so it should let you focus on writing while you need to write. Then you can move on to something else, like clearing your to-do list, later.

Join the Entrepreneurs’ Writing Club for more support

Have a think about what ritual would work for you and share it with us in my Facebook group. Also, join us for our free #WriteWithMe sessions – click on the events tab in the group for the date and time of the next one!

How to Write Like You Talk to Your Friends

In a blog post from 2011, Seth Godin famously pointed out: ‘No one ever gets talker’s block.’ He goes on to argue that writer’s block should be equally uncommon because we shouldn’t be any more afraid of making mistakes in writing than we are in speech.

While I disagree with his suggestion that we should all write badly in public until we learn to write better (instead, write badly and then fix it before hitting publish!), he’s right about how easy most of us find it to talk about what we do.

Why is writing harder than talking?

When you compare writing and talking you find a lot of similarities. Both use language to communicate ideas and feelings to other humans. One of the big differences is our sense of the audience.

When you’re talking to a friend or even a new acquaintance at a networking event, you know who’s listening. But when you write a blog post, it just sits on your website. You don’t know for sure who’s reading it.

This uncertainty makes writing harder. Yet we all know that as readers, we prefer to read something that feels like the author is writing or speaking directly to us.

I don’t think it helps for writing coaches to keep telling their clients to write the way they speak. It’s not quite that simple.

How can you make it easier?

You could try finding a dictation app that is reasonably accurate and speak your posts into that. For some writers, this works brilliantly. For others, and I’m among them, it’s even weirder to talk to a machine.

I find it helpful to keep my ideal reader in mind. While I hope lots of people read my blog posts, I write them to one, imaginary, person.

If you’re thinking this sounds an awful lot like your ideal client avatar (ICA), it is; but it’s also more than that. When marketing people ask you to develop your ICA, you list her desires, her pain points, and some demographic details.

I’ve never come away from an ICA development session feeling like I really know my client. To fix this problem, I’ve applied what I know about literature – particularly about characterisation.

Characterisation

Characterisation is the construction of a fictional character. So, if you approach developing your understanding of your ideal reader the same way a novelist would approach the development of a character, you’ll end up with an ideal reader that feels more real and relatable than any ICA.

To do this, you need to go further than the ICA development exercises you’re used to. In addition to asking yourself what your ideal reader wants, what she fears, and what solutions she needs from you, you need to figure out who she is.

How you go about doing this depends on your preferences and personality. You could paste pictures of her living and working environments, food, clothes, friends, and family into a Word document or pin them in a private board on Pinterest. If you prefer words to images, you could also describe where and how she lives, works, and so on. All of these things are part of the setting in which she lives.

Once you have the setting figured out, you need to understand her feelings and personality. Start with a simple exercise of making a few lists. What does she read, watch, and listen to (music and podcasts)? Then take this further and spend some time writing about questions like these:

  • Did she vote in the last election? If so, for whom?
  • Does she practice a religion? Which one/if not, why not?
  • How does she feel about major political issues? – Brexit, Trump’s second impeachment, …
  • How does she feel about major social justice issues? – Black Lives Matter, Women’s rights, Trans rights, …
  • How does she feel about herself? Is she happy with her body? Does she see herself as smart and capable, or is she always worried she’s not good enough?
  • How does she feel about her relationships?
  • How did she get to where she is now? What obstacles has she overcome? What are her achievements?
  • What was her childhood like? How does she now feel about the people who were around when she was growing up?

Test it

Now that you’ve got a better understanding of your ideal reader, try writing a letter to her about your latest offer. Is it easier to find the words? Keep working on it – as your relationship with your ideal reader develops, it will get easier to write to her.

If you need some help with this, join my free Facebook group – we’re a supportive bunch.

Jump in at the Deep End: Be a Fearless Writer

Before a swimming lesson when I was about two years old I jumped in at the deep end of the pool.

I loved jumping into the water, so while we were waiting for the lesson to begin my mum had been putting me up on the side so I could jump in, in the shallow end, where she was waiting to catch me.

I had other plans.

Mum put me on the side and she saw me walk towards the other end of the pool, where my swimming teacher had just entered. She thought I was just going to get a pre-lesson hug.

Instead, I was headed for the deep end. I stood next to the diving board and jumped in. My mum figured out where I was headed and got to me shortly after I jumped.

At two, I’d already learned to swim the width of the pool unaided, but I really had no business tackling its length. But of course toddlers don’t think of these things. For me then, there was no real difference between one end of the pool and the other (I couldn’t touch bottom anywhere) except the diving boards where the big kids got to jump in.

I had no fear. I wanted to jump in the deep end, so I did.

Child-like fearlessness vs the ‘shoulds’

Parents and carers everywhere are relieved that not all children express their fearlessness as dramatically (and potentially dangerously) as I did – but all kids are fearless.

When you first started drawing pictures and doing colouring in, you thought nothing of making the sky bright pink with green clouds and a purple sun. It was only when you got older that you started editing yourself: you learned (whether you were formally taught or not) that the sky should be blue, clouds should be white or grey, and the sun should be yellow and orange.

These are just a few of the ‘shoulds’ you bumped up against early in life. None of these shoulds, on their own, made a huge difference in who you were or how you acted, but taken together, they have a massive effect on your life.

Some of these changes are good, life-preserving ones: I no longer jump without looking, but I still have no fear of water. Others can get in the way. Why can’t the sun be purple; it’s your picture, isn’t it?

Using play to keep the shoulds at bay

It can be helpful to know how to quiet the shoulds any time they’re getting in the way of what you really want to do – whether they’re interfering in a business decision, a life choice, or in your writing.

Unsurprisingly, we’re going to focus on how they get in the way of your writing. If you look back at early examples of your writing, you didn’t let little things like not knowing how to form letters or spell words get in your way. You wrote what you wanted to write anyway.

Now that you’ve grown up, you do need to edit your writing to make it easy for others to understand, but only after you’ve made the beautiful mess your inner child delights in.

How do you do this? You get creative.

Keep a stash of brightly-coloured, unlined paper and some crayons or glitter pens on hand. When you need to write fearlessly, step away from the keyboard, get your art supplies out, and create.

When you do this, your inner editor (the keeper of the shoulds) will get out of your way and let you write freely without fear of judgement. She knows that when you’re colouring, you’re not writing copy that’s going to go out into the world. Since she knows you’re not going to post things from your colouring pages to your website (though you could if you wanted to!!), she doesn’t mind how many ‘rules’ you break.

When you use play in the early stages of creation, you make connections and have ideas that you wouldn’t have had if you were following the rules. Being a truly fearless writer gives you the freedom to express yourself, explore ideas, and find your voice.

Once all the words and ideas are out of your head and on the page, your inner editor won’t be so fearful of them. She’ll see that you wrote them and nothing bad happened to you – she doesn’t need to protect you from them.

‘Anything can happen’

This post has reminded me of a poem by one of my favourite children’s poets: Shel Silverstein.

LISTEN TO THE MUSTN’TS

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

from Where the Sidewalk Ends



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Conversation, Writing, and Coaching

On one level, it seems fairly obvious how I got from studying and teaching literature and writing, to being an editor, to being a writing coach. My training as a writer and a teacher are crucial to my work as a coach. But it goes deeper than that.

George Eliot

My thesis was on how George Eliot (penname for Marian Evans – see note) used music to represent emotion in her novels. If you feel your eyes glazing over and you’re wondering what the hell Victorian novels have to do with being a writing coach, bear with me a little longer.

Eliot wanted her novels to change the world one heart at a time. She didn’t believe that top down change imposed by a religion or a government could ever bring about meaningful or lasting change. The only way, she argued, that you could make the world a better, kinder place was to teach people to feel empathy with one another – especially with those they had very little in common with.

To do this, Eliot sought to teach her readers to empathise with her characters, in the hope that they would then empathise with the actual people they encountered in their everyday lives. Thus, she set herself the difficult task of making her readers understand how other people experience feelings like love, sympathy, and hatred.

Think about that for a minute – you know how you experience those feelings, but how do they feel to your partner, your child, or the person behind you in the queue at the supermarket?

That’s where music comes in – you can’t explain feelings without comparing them to something else. Eliot’s favourite comparison was music because music can evoke feelings without the need for words.

That’s nice, but what does this have to do with being a coach?

Good question. With my background, I could be a full time editor, a private tutor for pupils sitting their A-levels in English literature, or a teacher. I could also be a project manager, a time-management/organisation coach, or help people learn to give better presentations. So why be writing coach?

I gravitated towards being a writing coach because I’ve spent most of my adult life studying and working with words – and the better part of the last 20 years thinking about how words can change the world.

Over the years, I came to realise that Eliot got frustrated with trying to change the world through her novels. She saw that no matter how many people read them, the vast majority were not going to be more understanding of their scullery maids or try to really understand the feelings of their business rivals.

In the last few years I realised, first on an unconscious level and recently on a conscious one, that the problem wasn’t with her novels or the difficulty of communicating emotion. It was with her approach.

We do need to learn to empathise with each other, but we won’t do that by reading one writers’ novels. We need conversation to develop understanding and empathy.

Joining the conversation

Every time you publish or read a social media post, blog post, or book, you’re joining the conversation. When you publish, you’re presenting your view and inviting comments and reactions, even if your reader doesn’t share them with you. And when you read, you’re listening to and thinking about another perspective.

This conversation can be very quiet (though obviously not in some comments threads), but it’s vitally important to society that we have as many voices in it as possible.

I became a writing coach to help my clients join the conversation. It’s only when we welcome and celebrate multiple perspectives that we can create a kinder, more tolerant society.

How can I help you?

If you want to have a chat about how I can help you join the conversation, book a call below!

Note

Marian Evans changed the spelling of her first name several times – she was born Mary Ann. After studying French at school, she changed it to Mary Anne and then Marianne. As an adult, she settled on Marian. I use that spelling because it’s the one she chose as an adult.

How will it feel to see your book on the shelf?

The test copy of my book arrived this week! When you publish your book as a printed book (as opposed to an ebook), you can order a test copy so you can see what your readers will get when they buy your book.

Before I get into how it feels to hold your book for the first time and put it on your shelf, I’ll briefly describe what you need to do when you get your test copy.

What do you do with a test copy?

Once you stop marvelling at the fact that you’re holding your book in your hand, you need to take a close look at it.

This is not at all the same as the proofreading stage – you’re not looking for sentence level errors now because they should have been sorted before your book was typeset.

So what are you looking for? When you examine your test copy, you’re looking at the overall layout and quality. Is the artwork arranged how and where you want it? Are the pages laid out correctly?

While at this stage you don’t need to read every word of your book, you do need to carefully look at each page. When you do this, you’re keeping your reader’s experience in mind. Is this the kind of book your reader will enjoy reading?

How did I feel?

I knew when the test copy was arriving and expected to feel excited the first time I held it.

It was exciting, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on over the last couple of days.

Thrilled

It’s thrilling to hold your book, to see that it’s real, to know that the hard work of writing and revising it is nearly finished!

I was happy, relieved and excited all at once. I wanted to show it to anyone who would look at it. I also loved putting it on the shelf and seeing that it looks like it belongs there amongst all the other books!

Sad

I was a little sad. I feel like I should have anticipated this because of how I felt when I finished my thesis. But I didn’t – it caught me by surprise.

On reflection, this response makes sense: this part of my journey is over. Endings, even ones we look forward to like finishing school, are inherently sad. We’re moving from what we’ve known into the unknown, or at least something we know less well than what came before.

Explaining this feeling to those closest to you is another matter. I’m pretty sure my husband is still confused by my response yesterday. He kept saying, ‘but it’s good that you have your book now’. He’s a published author (Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction), he’s been here, but he responded very differently.

This isn’t the first time I’ve perplexed him, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Scared

I was scared. This book is going to be out in the world very, very soon. While it was an idea, it was safe. No one could read it. No one could decide they don’t like it. No one could decide they think it’s brilliant and start referring people to me.

I knew this response was likely, and I address these feelings in my book in chapters 19 (Dealing with criticism) and 20 (Dealing with praise). I’m trying to take my own advice here and remember that judgements (good or bad) of my book are not judgements of me as a person.

This response is another one that perplexed my husband. I don’t like arguments that men are one way and women are another way (men are from Mars, women are from Venus). Humans are too wonderfully complex to be put into neat little categories like that. Nevertheless, historically, female authors have been more likely to have, or at least to give voice to, fearful responses to publication.

They range from Anne Bradstreet’s poetic response in ‘The Author to Her Book‘, in which she calls her book ‘Thou ill form’d offspring of my feeble brain’, to George Eliot’s (pen name for Marian Evans) avoidance of all reviews. She feared positive and negative reviews in equal measure. Eliot thought positive ones would make her feel she’d never write so well again (and therefore shouldn’t try), while negative ones would reinforce her self doubt which would cause her to stop writing.

If you respond to impending publication with fear, try to remember to sit with your feelings for a bit: counter any arguments your impostor syndrome throws at you and trust that this too shall pass.

What’s next?

I’ll have a publication date soon. That still seems weird. A year ago today, I hadn’t even started writing the first draft! I started writing it on 23 April 2019.

If you’re thinking of embarking on this weird and wonderful journey of becoming a published author, sign up for my free ecourse: How to get clear on your book and who it’s for in just 3 days!

How I fit writing in around my life

If you follow me for any length of time, you’ll find I’m insistent that you can (almost always) fit writing in around everything else you need to do. If you’ve resisted hearing that message, you’ve probably wondered what it looks like in practice.

I’ve been there. I used to imagine that ‘real’ writers, because I (then) a lowly PhD student couldn’t possibly count amongst them, spent hours and hours at their keyboards every day churning out beautifully written, thoroughly researched prose.

That’s not how writing works. Not for you, not for me, not for anyone!

This is how writing works for me

I wrote the first draft of my book, There’s a Book in Every Expert (May 2020), in four weeks. I never wrote for more than two hours a day, and I didn’t write on weekends.

Also, I only rarely wrote for two consecutive hours. Usually, I wrote in half hour spurts spread throughout the day.

I wrote on trains, in cafés, and, sometimes, at my desk in my office.

I rarely had uninterrupted time – phones must be answered, appointments must be kept, laundry must be changed; in other words, life goes on even when you’re writing.

My day would go something like this: Write first thing in the morning (because I often woke up with ideas and needed to get them on paper before I forgot), had breakfast, showered, started work, paused to write for a bit, worked some more, had lunch, and then spent the afternoon dividing my time between work and writing. I usually quit for the day by 5 or 6 and leave the writing until morning.

To write your book, you only need to find a few windows for writing in your day, most days. You do not need to retreat to a remote cabin, cut off from civilisation to write it.

How did 10-ish hours a week produce a book?

I wrote quickly, and I’ve learned to accept that all first drafts need to be shit. These points are related.

First drafts that are not shit, never get finished. Instead, they remain pristine, imaginary drafts that never make it to the page.

Your first draft’s only job is to be finished.

That bears repeating: your first draft’s only job is to be finished.

There’s no point in trying to write a ‘good’ first draft. When you try to perfect draft (write a first draft that’s good enough to be your final draft), what you end up doing is taking a really long time to produce a shitty first draft.

Are you still sceptical? You don’t have to take my word for it. Anne Lamott, the writer of one of the best writing books in print – Bird by Bird, agrees. She discusses it in her chapter called ‘Shitty First Drafts’, which you’ll find here.

Returning to the question of how I wrote a book in about 40 hours, the answer is simple: I wrote as quickly as I possibly could.

It really is that ‘simple’

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Neil Gaiman, a talented and prolific author, wrote, ‘hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new’.

The key to writing your first draft is to not get too hung up on making it interesting or new. You just need to get the words on the page.

In the revision stages (yes, there are more than one), you polish your writing and shape it into something interesting and new.

How do you stop yourself from getting hung up on the quality of your writing or ideas? Chiefly, by writing as fast as your pen will go or your fingers will type. When we write quickly, we don’t have time to censor ourselves.

Those of us (many of us) with highly developed internal editors struggle with this and experience impostor syndrome as a result.

Silencing your internal editor

You don’t want to do away with your internal editor altogether – you’ll need her when you revise your book. However, if you are struggling to keep her quiet long enough to let you write your first draft, the best thing you can do is to practice freewriting for 5 to 10 minutes a day for several weeks. This involves writing whatever comes into your head during that time – don’t let your pen leave the page and don’t go back to correct mistakes. To learn more about freewriting, click here.

You also need to remind yourself that all good writers produce multiple drafts. This is what I say about drafting in Chapter 9 of my book:

Unless your goal is to irritate your reader, the first draft is never the final draft (neither is the second or third draft, for that matter). The idea that a ‘true artist’ or a ‘real writer’ doesn’t need to produce draft after draft has been with us for a long time. It goes all the way back to the Greeks with Athena springing fully formed from Zeus’s head. You wouldn’t expect a newborn to get a job and be a productive member of society, so don’t expect your first draft to be your final draft.

There’s a Book in Every Expert

I assume your draft is not Athena, so it doesn’t need to be perfect! Keep reminding yourself of this until you believe it. Use it as your mantra, meditate on it, do whatever you have to do to convince yourself your draft doesn’t need to be perfect.

After all, your first draft’s only job is to be finished!

Works cited

Gaiman, Neil. ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ Retrieved from: https://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Essays_By_Neil/Where_do_you_get_your_ideas%3F

Jones, Jennifer. There’s a Book in Every Expert (that’s you!): How to write your credibility building book in six months (Maggie Cat Books, 2020).

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor Books, 1995).

Who is your ideal reader?

Why do you need to identify her (or him or them)?

If you know who your ideal reader is, it will be easier to write your book. Writing to a person is always easier than writing to an ‘audience’. Also, knowing some specifics about your reader will help you decide what to include and what to leave out.

For example, if your book is about coping with a chronic condition like type-1 diabetes, how you discuss the topic will change depending on the audience. A book for a newly diagnosed child will be very different in tone and scope to one for that child’s parent, an adult living with diabetes, or a health professional working with diabetes patients.

Nevertheless, books for these four very different audiences will have some similarities. It’s likely they’ll all discuss controlling blood sugar through diet and exercise, as well as managing the condition through medication. The differences will be in how these topics are addressed – are they explained in terms appropriate to an eight-year-old or a hospital consultant?

Returning to your ideal reader, you need to think about what she wants and needs from your book. To that end, consider questions like the following:

  • Does she know next to nothing about your field, or is she a fellow practitioner?
  • How is she likely to use your book? Is it an instruction manual she can use for reference, or does she need to read the whole thing? Or is it somewhere in between? (My book There’s a Book in Every Expert (May 2020) is in between; it’s detailed enough to serve as an introductory text, but the chapter titles and subheadings make it easy to find particular topics.)
  • Is your book likely to be a complement to other books she has on your topic? Or is it the only one in the field? (If it’s the latter, is it really? Check a good search engine to be sure.)

As you can see just from these questions, identifying your ideal reader goes a long way towards helping you decide on the scope, content, and tone of your book.

If you’re producing an instruction manual for a fellow practitioner, she likely already has a good set of reference works in your field, so your book would need to be a user-friendly reminder of how to do particular things. By ‘user friendly’, I mean that it would need to be organised in a way that makes finding particular sections easy. If she has to read (or reread) 100 pages to find the answer to a question, she’s going to get irritated.

However, if you’re writing an introductory book for someone new to the field, you’ll need to be more comprehensive. This will mean taking the time to define terms specialists would take for granted, and it will probably mean including plenty of narrative examples.

Think back to our hypothetical book on diabetes; a consultant does not need (or want) you to discuss how insulin controls blood sugar, but an eight-year-old child has likely never thought about sugar in any form except sweets and doesn’t know what insulin is.

Now that you’re convinced you need to identify your ideal reader, how do you do it?

How do you identify her?

You’ve likely come across business development exercises on identifying your ideal paying client (if you haven’t check out Grow Your Tribe by Lor Bradley). Your ideal reader has a lot in common with your ideal client, but the groups are not necessarily identical.

For starters, your ideal client has to be able to afford your course or hourly rate – this is likely a much bigger financial commitment than the price of a book.

This is not to say that only those who can’t afford your primary coaching or healing services will buy your book. Your readers may be, or may become, your clients. But your readers don’t have to be as committed to working with you when they purchase your book as your clients do when they purchase a coaching package or course.

So, your ideal reader will be interested in learning what it’s like to work with you. Your current clients likely share this interest, but they may or may not feel the need to buy and read your book.

As in the exercises you’ve probably done on identifying your ideal client (sometimes called customer avatar), you need to think about who she is and answer questions like the following:

  • How old is she?
  • Does she have a family?
  • What does she do for a living?
  • What are her interests?
  • Where does she hang out on social media?
  • Where does she hang out in real life?
  • What does she do for fun?
  • What are her dreams?
  • What are her fears?
  • What does she look like?
  • What is her name?

Write your answers down. If you’re artistic, draw a picture of her or make a collage or vision board that represents her personality and interests.

However you choose to document your idea of your ideal reader, keep it to hand. When you start writing your book it will be easier to write to a person, than to write to a faceless reader.

What does writing to a particular reader look like?

It looks exactly like this post. Since it’s really clunky (and irritating) to write about how anyone could write anything, I’ve focused this post on helping writers who are writing books for women.

Does this mean it’s not useful to any other sort of writer? No. What it means is that having an ideal reader in mind allowed me to make this post suitably focused.

If you’re struggling to identify your ideal reader, ask for help in the Entrepreneurs’ Writing Club.

Track Your Writing Habit

It’s easier to write when you write regularly. I’m not suggesting you ignore all of your other commitments to spend hours at your keyboard every day. That’s actually not very productive or pleasant.

What works, in this case, happens to be what’s easier: writing little and often. Commit to writing for at least 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

That may not sound like much, but you’ll be much more productive in a handful of small, focused sessions, than you’d ever be in a mammoth-sized binge writing session.

After you’ve written for 15 minutes, if you feel like it and your schedule allows, write some more. If you’re busy or you’re just not feeling it that day, put it aside.

You can put it aside guilt free because you’ve kept your commitment to yourself to write for 15 minutes.

Here, you’ll find two PDF calendars you can use to track your writing practice. One is full colour and is probably best for tracking on your computer; the other has minimal colour and will be best for those who want to print a copy.

As with every other habit you’ve ever tried to build, you’ll be more motivated if you track it and see your progress. On your days off, don’t feel bad about not writing; instead, celebrate by doing something that will energise you for writing later in the week or the following week!