If you are thinking of writing a book and are a complete novice like me, you will find this post both hard-hitting and encouraging.
Writing a Book. 6 Months in. How it REALLY Feels.
I have been writing my book (even when I say that I still can’t believe it’s true) for six months.
Last week, I finished the first draft. Almost 60,000 words.
Before I started this book writing malarkey, I imagined that it would be romantic. That it would make me feel intelligent and arty and special.
The reality is that I feel like a knackered old donkey.
Here’s how the last six months have been:
Step 1:The Approach
I am a blogger. I have had a blog for just over three years. So I am used to writing lengthy pieces.
When I began writing my book back in January, I approached it as one massive blog silo. That way, it didn’t seem so daunting.
If you aren’t familiar with the term silo, it’s terminology that bloggers use. It refers to a group of blog posts that relate to the same thing.
I knew that I wanted this book to be about how it was to travel the world with teenagers, so I told myself that all I had to do was tell a story about each country.
Step 2: So You Have The Idea, What Next?
So that I had some sort of framework to share, I wrote down every county that we had been to.
I then thought about all of the weird and wonderful things that happened in each of those places.
These notes were all made by hand.
Tessa, my daughter, bought me a beautiful notepad for Christmas, and in it, I keep all of my ‘book idea notes’.
(So in answer to your question, Rachel, no, I don’t have zillions of bits of scrap paper all over the place. My book notes and ideas are all very neatly contained in my extra lovely notebook).
Now I had my stories ready to tell; I had to decide on how long each chapter should be.
I contemplated making my stories super short, 500 words each. Keeping it brief and funny. But if you know me and are familiar with my writing style you will know that I would have struggled.
But I also didn’t want a huge long-winded War, and Peace sized book. It needed to be something that people could read before they went to sleep or in the bathroom.
I had found this information on the internet.
- books under 100 pages don’t sell very well (lower perception of value)
- books between 100 and 199 pages sell the best
- books between 200 and 299 pages sell almost as well
- books over 300 pages sell the least (that length is a big investment of time)
You can assume about 200 words per printed page as a rule of thumb, so 100-199 pages is 20k-40k words.
Perfect! I’d write a medium-sized book. I’d aim for 40,000 words.
Initially, I decided on 3000-words per chapter.
Twelve chapters, one story per country.
I then changed that idea to two shorter stories per country. Each story would have approximately 1500 words.
Step 3: Writing a Book. The Process
When I began writing the first draft, I used Microsoft Word. Simply because I like how it is at the bottom of my computer on the link bar, and it is easy to save and edit. It’s an excellent word processor and easy to use.
But three months into writing, I read (I think it was on Quora) that you should never write your first draft of a book in Microsoft Word as it plays havoc with the HTML code. Something like that.
With over 12 chapters already written on Microsoft Word, I promptly copied and pasted each one and put them onto my blog website. I then saved them as drafts. I have a WordPress site that comes with lots of storage. This is where I continued to write the book and where the first draft of my book now lives.
I know nothing about code, absolutely zilch, so I hope that this mistake won’t come back to bite me in the bum when it comes to formating the final edit.
Step 4. The Procrastination Monster
Every day, I aimed to write at least 250 words of my book. This rarely happened.
There were weeks that I couldn’t even face opening my computer. Those weeks were tough. Painful. Boring.
It was fine once I’d started writing and was in the ‘zone’ (sorry, I hate that word, but you know what I mean), it was starting that was the hard part.
To combat this, I told myself that I’d write for twenty minutes, no more. I lit oil burners. Listened to relaxing music, and I always used a timer. Nothing fancy, just the Google one.
I set the timer at 20 min intervals, and I made sure that when that little alarm bell went off, I’d make a tea or walk outside.
There is evidence to prove that this timer technique works, and I agree. It helps me enormously in productivity.
I’m not going to lie…
But I’m not going to lie, most of the time, writing my book felt like a slog. Doing what you love is fabulous until you have to do it. Then it becomes a chore.
I’d love to tell you that it was bubbles and roses. But it wasn’t. Far from it.
Five and a half months later and the skeleton book was complete.
Please don’t ask me how; I have no idea. The words just sprung out of me. Or were yanked, depending on which way you choose to look at it.
After the first draft was complete, I got straight onto the editing.
When you’ve cockily told people that you are writing a book and you send them an email each week with your progress, you kind of feel the urge to keep going!
Step 5: Editing The Book. Attempt #1
I thought that editing a book meant re-reading each chapter and working on it. So that’s what I started to do.
Wrong. Nightmare. It certainly didn’t work for me.
Rereading and scrutinising what I wrote months ago was a HUGE mistake.
I wanted to delete the entire thing because I thought it was rubbish.
Perhaps this was a stalling mechanism ( I can go back and rewrite the entire book, and then I won’t have to face publishing it), I’m not sure. All I know is that those first few weeks of attempting to edit was depressing. I criticised everything I’d written and would then spend hours going back and changing it line by line. Horrible.
Two weeks into this process, I realised that I had spent the last six days on the same chapter. And I still wasn’t happy with it.
Knowing that I had another twelve chapters to get through left me feeling overwhelmed and miserable.
So much so that I felt deflated and close to giving up. I would close the computer and wish that I’d never told anyone that I was writing a stupid book.
Step 6: Writing a Book. Second Attempt at Editing.
I have never paid any money for a course on how to write a book. But, in hindsight, maybe I should. It probably would have saved me a ton of time.
Everything I have learned is what I’ve read from other peoples free blog posts. (Thank you to all of the kind people out there).
It was while researching how to make editing easier that I found this brilliant piece of advice.
According to Scribe media (who I highly recommend, especially for their podcasts and free info), says that every writer should edit their book like this:
Editing. A three-step process.
# 1: The Make it Right Edit
Start with your first chapter and spell check it. Correct the grammar. I use the tool Grammarly. It picks up almost all of my spelling and wild comma mistakes; I love it, it makes me sound far more intelligent than I actually am.
Next, staying with the first chapter, add any “look this up later bits.” Things like names and places. Fill in the deets.
Do this methodically for every chapter in the book. Do not be tempted to jump ahead or to read too deeply. Do not change any words. Not yet. You are there only to correct mistakes and to make sure everything makes sense.
You are working on the bones, not on the flesh.
Even if you know that you’ll cut that sentence later down the line, stay on track.
# 2: The Cut a Line, Cut a Paragraph Edit.
Time to cut out all unnecessary fluff. Be direct. Get to the point. Quickly.
I’m not up to this bit yet, but I know it will be the most challenging part for me.
I love the sound of my own voice and think that everything I have to say is valid and worthy of being on the page. I don’t know when to shut up.
I’ll either love this step and feel like a liberated woman, or I’ll be tearing the words from the computer like fingernails. Either way, I’ll let you know how it goes.
#3: Read Aloud To a Real-Life Person Edit.
Gulp. Next will be to find someone to sit and listen to you. They are not there to give their opinion, only to listen.
By doing this, you can catch a hundred more errors. Tucker Max (a famous author) says: ‘Hearing yourself speak your words forces you to notice bad or strange phrasings.’
As I said, I’m not up to this step yet. I will write a follow-up post. A part two and let you know how it went.
Writing a book (at least the first draft) wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
I had imagined that it would be similar to writing twelve blog posts. But I was wrong. It was completely different.
When you hit publish on a blog post, you get to choose if (and to who) you want to promote that post. With a book, it’s there in people’s hands. In the shop. On the shelf. You can’t very well say, ‘here’s the book, but can you give chapter eight a miss? It’s not that funny.’
I knew that it had to be good. And at least a little bit funny, so the pressure increased.
I also thought that writing twelve chapters would take me no longer than three months. But it took double that time.
And then I dreaded the editing.
Finishing that first draft and knowing that I had to go back over the whole thing and read and tear it apart was overwhelming. I couldn’t face the thought of it. I felt like throwing the towel in.
I was ecstatic when I found the three method editing process. I work far better with small manageable tasks, and I now feel that I can go forward carefully and manageably.
The three-step editing method has taken away the dread and has given me the push to continue with my book. I no longer feel as though I have a massive mountain to climb.
I hope this had given you a deeper insight into what the book writing process looked like for me. Let me know if you liked knowing all of this stuff and if you have any other questions. I am happy to answer them.
Ok then, back to the editing…