Writing your first book is an exciting and scary thing. And if you’re embarking on this journey, you’ve probably been writing shorter pieces for a while. Maybe you’re a poet who’s had a few individual pieces published online, or a fiction writer who’s had a short story or two published in literary magazines.
No matter your genre or publication history, nothing can really prepare you for the unique experience of writing a book for the first time; there are many things you’ll learn along the way. Here are my top five examples.
Note: I’ve tried to keep these topics broadly applicable to various genres of writing, although my personal specialty is in writing/editing poetry manuscripts.
1. You’ll hit a wall at some point.
Everyone deals with writer’s block — even if only for a few hours at a time. It’s completely normal to feel stuck, frustrated, and uninspired at certain points of the process. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to have a constant creative output with no hurdles along the way.
There are many ways to remedy this, which I’ve covered on the blog before in Stuck With Writer’s Block? Here Are 5 Tips for Pushing Past It. In that post, I mention strategies like journaling, listening to music, reading, finding local calls for submissions, and interacting with other writers.
Another good post from the archives is 4 Alternative Ways to Up Your Writing Game, which mentions listening to intellectually-stimulating podcasts, watching interesting films, socializing, and meditating.
Those are all great strategies to consider — but I also want to point out that sometimes, it’s completely necessary to take a break from writing in order to boost your creative output. Maybe you’ve been working intently on your manuscript for weeks or months at a time, and you’re getting a bit burnt out.
Give yourself permission to take a week or two off. Spending your time doing other things — AKA living your life — will help you feel energized and refreshed before returning to your desk. Over-working yourself is never the answer; writing a book is a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t wear yourself out trying to hit an unrealistic daily word count if it’s not working.
2. You’ll re-read your manuscript so many times that it stops making sense.
Have you ever repeated a word out loud so many times that it stops making any sense? It doesn’t even feel like a real word!
You should know that you’ll probably experience this same phenomenon while writing a manuscript. Polishing your manuscript will involve a lot of re-reading and re-writing, so you’ll likely feel a bit disconnected from the text.
As I mentioned in tip #1, in order to get over writer’s block, you’ll often need to take time away from your writing desk. But that advice holds true for this issue as well. Take a week or two off from the writing/editing process, and try not to think about it too much. Give yourself a break from the entire book-writing process.
This may seem counter-productive. You might be thinking, I’m trying to write an amazing book. Shouldn’t I be working on it non-stop to make sure it’s absolutely perfect? Taking a break will just slow me down.
And I understand that concern. I’m definitely guilty of overworking myself and obsessing over the details of my work. But I’ve learned from experience that taking time away from my writing can make a huge difference. Even just a day or two spent away from the keyboard often helps me return to the work with “fresh eyes.” Taking time off can help fight the fatigue of the entire process.
And when I return to the work, I often pick up on simple typos/errors that I hadn’t noticed before. Spending too much time working on your book can get you too wrapped up in the manuscript itself. Step away for a little bit and watch how you become an even better writer in the process!
3. It will require a lot of collaboration.
Another great way to improve your creative output/editing process is to engage with others in the literary community. Finding friends, colleagues, and mentors you can talk to about your work is invaluable.
Writing a book seems, in theory, like an isolating experience. Unless you have a co-author, it seems like the whole process largely falls on your shoulders. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, if you go the traditional publishing route, you’ll likely collaborate with an editor at the final stages of the process. But as you write the manuscript from its conception, you probably won’t have a professional editor at your disposal to help you along the way.
This is where a writing community can seriously boost the quality of your work. For me, I first found this sense of community while in high school, when I was part of a creative writing group. That was when I started taking writing workshops and engaging with fellow young writers.
When I got to university, it was even better — I took creative writing seminars, was published in campus journals, and attended different poetry readings. All of this helped me make contacts in the Toronto literary scene.
One of my professors ended up becoming a mentor and friend with whom I consulted on both of my books. I was also able to make friends in classes and at events. This helped me establish a wider network to collaborate on my work with.
The great thing about making friends in your local literary community is that it’s usually a two-way street; everyone wants to get feedback on their work, so they’re happy to give it back. It’s common to swap work and chat about each other’s writing. Grabbing a cup of coffee with another writer friend isn’t just a fun social outing, but an easy way to get another set of eyes on your work.
Nothing exists in a vacuum; your writing process shouldn’t feel isolating. Make it collaborative. Even though current social distancing restrictions make it difficult to take in-person workshops or attend live readings, try searching for digital literary events in your area, or just reach out to a writer friend of yours (if possible). You could always set up a Zoom call or just send emails back-and-forth critiquing each other’s work. Try to find a way to get (and give) feedback.
4. It will feel impossible at times.
I won’t lie to you; writing a book is extremely difficult. There’s a reason why most people who “have a great idea for a book” never end up writing it.
But just because it feels overwhelming doesn’t mean you should give up. You’ll probably feel like giving up many times along the way. Don’t let that stop you.
My number one suggestion would be to keep going. Even if the quality of your writing doesn’t seem great, don’t stop writing. Maintain a regular writing practice, whether it’s daily, weekly, or on another schedule. Stay consistent. Don’t try to be perfect. You can always edit later.
And if you’re really concerned about your skill level, seek out information. Keep reading blogs just like this one, along with books on the topic. If possible, take some type of writing course (even if it’s just a virtual workshop).
Or try to get shorter pieces of writing published, so that you can build up confidence in your skills. Once you’ve got a few publishing credits under your belt, you’ll feel a bit more comfortable with the process of writing, editing, and submitting work in general. That will make you better prepared for the book-writing process.
5. Your book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (and that’s fine).
It’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, your book won’t be for everyone. Once you’ve finished the writing process and start sending it out to publishers, don’t expect to get glowing reviews from every single one. Editors are people, too — and we each have individual tastes. You can’t please everyone — and you shouldn’t try to!
As an author, it’s your job to put in the work to write a book you’re proud of. You should take the time to work hard, get outside perspectives, and polish your manuscript. But you can’t control how other people — including editors/publishers — will respond to your work.
When I wrote my first chapbook, I sent it out to multiple small presses. And guess what? The first response I got was a rejection email. The editor was not impressed with my work. They even sent me a list of other authors I should change my work to emulate.
Sure, it stung a little bit. I felt a bit defeated. I wondered: Should I really be changing my work to be more like these other authors? Was I doing it all wrong?
But the second response I got was from my now-publisher, who immediately picked up my book and published it (without a single additional edit). They thought my manuscript was great just the way it was. And after collaborating with my publisher on many other projects, I’ve realized how lucky I was to find an editor who really vibed with my style.
Try not to take it too personally if you get a few rejection letters. Just keep submitting your work to different publishers, and do your best to find one that fits with your individual style. Check out their website: What kind of work do they publish? What kind of topics do they focus on? Do you fit in with their overall vibe?
There’s no “right” and “wrong” when it comes to writing. What one person loves might be the same thing another person hates. Regardless of outside perspectives, stay true to your authentic, unique voice.
As mentioned, one way to keep growing as an author is to read blogs just like this one. So, don’t forget to subscribe to the Writing Advice blog to stay notified of each new article.
And let me know in the comments: What has been your biggest obstacle when writing a book (or a shorter piece of work)?