25 Things To Keep In Mind If You Want To Write A Book

25 things to keep in mind.

1. All you need is one idea. The rest will come as you write.

2. But you must absolutely love that one idea. Writing a book is kind of like marriage. Are you willing to wake up with that idea after it’s become old and boring day after day, month after month, year after year? When you want to bail (and you will) you’ve got to be able to remember the love.

3. Writing a book is also like having a baby. You must be willing to sacrifice a bit (or a lot) of your social life in order to take care of the baby.

4. Get a small notebook and have it with you at all times. Without a notebook your life will be littered with scraps of paper where brilliant ideas went to die.

5. Most ideas will come when you are trying to sleep. Don’t ever, ever, EVER fool yourself into thinking you will remember it in the morning. Keep your notebook by your bed and write it down, or use the voice memo feature on your cell phone.

6. Your creative process is your own. Learn from, and be inspired by other writers and bloggers, but don’t compare, and don’t assume you must do it the same way they do it.

7. Some people outline, some don’t. Try it, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay.

8. For your first book, write the book you would like to read. Don’t worry too much about market appeal. Once you’ve proven to yourself you can do it, you can worry about how to do the next one better.

9. After falling madly and desperately in love with your characters, you will talk about them endlessly. Hopefully you have an understanding partner.

10. Accept that you will become “book bi-polar,” crying over it one moment, swooning over it the next. Learn to ride the waves.

11. It’s a cold, hard, terrifying fact: you will need feedback before you publish. A good editor, proof-reader, and beta-readers. Scary, huh?

12. People might not be as supportive as you hope. And when you do finally publish, some people might behave in baffling ways. That’s about them, not you. Surround yourself with those who are on your side.

13. Don’t let confusion about the publishing process stop you from writing the book. Trust me, you’ll have more than enough time during the writing process to figure it out.

14. Find someone you trust to bounce ideas off of. It’s difficult to write a book in a vacuum.

15. Learn to listen to your intuition. If you are writing and something feels off, it probably is.

16. Sometimes you will not want to write. There will be zero inspiration. You have to write anyway.

17. And sometimes you will need to walk away for a few days. Or maybe even weeks. That’s okay, too.

18. Your first draft will suck. Expect it. Revel in its craptacularness. That’s the only way you’ll allow yourself to write it. (See The Real Problem With Your Crappy First Draft.)

19. Create an elevator speech about your work in progress. You will want a quick, concise response when friends (and strangers) ask you what you’re writing.

20. What’s your book’s theme? And your writing style? What about your voice? Don’t stress if you don’t have the answer to these questions. They’ll be revealed as you go.

21. If you’re truly concerned about what so-and-so will think, write under a pen name. Writing a book is hard enough without the fear of being “found out.”

22. That said, most people don’t care about what you write as much as you think they do.

23. Some people might be really mean and make you feel like what you are writing is not “real” writing. Once again, that’s about them, not you.

24. It will probably take longer than you expect.

25. It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway: you’ll think it’s not good enough. Don’t you dare let that stop you.

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Being True To The Story

"Fiction is the truth inside the lie." ~ Stephen King

I recently found myself at a dead end with my work-in-progress, Raven in Gray. If you’re a pantser like me you’re probably familiar with the question I was asking myself: now what?

I tried to write myself out of it. I played the what if game. I read. I went out and lived life, hoping to be hit by a lightening bolt of inspiration. I pinned to my book’s storyboard endlessly. I walked away from my manuscript, figuring I’d simply lost my pants and I’d eventually find them when the time was right. But time ticked on. And on. And on. Nothing.

I asked myself if there were fears I wasn’t acknowledging. Maybe that was the problem? Nope.

Then one day, when I was obsessing over the plot and my characters for the thousandth time, I noticed something in myself. It was a feeling that arose in response to one aspect of my story: the fact that my protagonist has a young son. It was a feeling so fleeting and subtle I hadn’t noticed it before. And the feeling was sort of like the sensation that comes over me when I think about doing something I don’t want to do (dishes, the dentist, parties.)

Since I approach writing as an intuitive process, I knew I needed to explore this feeling. The result of that exploration was the realization that my protagonist doesn’t have a son. Well, she shouldn’t.

But you’ve already written him into the plot! That will change everything!

Yes, yes, it’s a pain, but that’s how stories are written. They evolve and change. I had to accept the fact that my protagonist being a mother was simply not true to the story.

So I took out the kid and guess what happened? Bam. The inspiration, words, and ideas flowed like water out of a busted dam.

Being true to the story is kind of an abstract idea, but I think this is what it’s about. Stories and characters have a life of their own and it’s our job to represent that story and that character truthfully. It’s our job to find “the truth inside the lie” as Stephen King says. Our characters will let us know if we aren’t telling the truth. But sometimes they whisper their objections so quietly we can’t even hear. All we have is a subtle, ooky feeling that something isn’t right.

Don’t ignore that feeling. It can be the difference between a few small revisions and an entire re-write!

What about you? Are there times you realized you weren’t being true to your story?

When Writing Becomes Misery

Step back and get some perspective.

You gather your wits, strength, and courage about you. You’re going to need them. You check your equipment. You make sure you have everything you need – could possibly need. Then you check it all again. You say a quick prayer that you’ll be guided on this perilous mission. Your breath quickens at the thought of what lies ahead, the significance of this task, and what will happen if you fail. You shudder and your body constricts. You must not fail. But you can’t think about that now. No, you can only focus on the moment at hand. This moment. When you bow your head and brace yourself… you’re going in.

Since this is a writing blog, you probably know I’m talking about writing. But it doesn’t sound like it, does it? Sounds a bit like we’re diving into a live volcano to extract a nuclear detonator. Or something along those lines.

But that’s exactly what writing feels like sometimes. (If it doesn’t feel that way to you, um, good for you and please move along.) It’s almost ridiculous how difficult the simple task of sitting down before a computer and tapping at little buttons can feel.

When it gets to that point, when writing a book feels as heavy as saving the world from certain doom, it’s time to step back and get some perspective. I have to do this on a regular basis. Here’s how…

Bring in childlike curiosity and joy

Think back to the way you wrote as a kid or teen. Back in the days when you thought writing was awesome and easy and everything you wrote was the greatest thing ever created. Now, go and actually write a short little ditty from that place. For me, it would obviously be a ridiculous, unrealistic love story in which the hero shows up and saves me from… well, everything.

Then, bring that enthusiasm back with you into your heavyweight work-in-progress. What would the child version of you say about this story? What would they like to see happen?

Grown ups are too serious. Make it fun again.

Release the expectations

We struggle most when we put pressure on ourselves. It’s understandable. We want people to fall in love with our work. To cheer us, validate us, and throw money at us as we dive into another volcano to pull out another story. But that might not happen. People might boo us instead. Or not even read a word.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic (so good!) she writes that how others react to our art is none of our concern. Our only job is to create it, birth it, then do it all again.

You’ll have critics and you’ll have fans. In the end, it doesn’t matter what either of them have to say. It’s all subjective anyway.

The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgement. ~ Wayne Dyer.

Nurture your garden. Write the story that’s beautiful to you.

Change your attitude

This is a hard one for me. It’s also very effective when I manage it.

If you’re feeling miserable about your creative process, find a way to be grateful for it instead. Take a walk in nature and think about the art you have been inspired to create. Not everyone receives this gift. Many are too busy to hear the whispers of creativity, or they have simply shut themselves off to any possibility that they can create.

But not you. You are open to inspiration. You are birthing something into this world that will last forever. That’s a gift. If you can see your creativity as that, it takes on a different vibe.

We’ve all been conditioned to believe that the creative process is a burden. That an artist’s life is suffering. It is true that it can be hard at times. But if that’s all we focus on, that’s all we’re going to experience.


So what about you? How do you turn the creative process into something enjoyable after it’s become something heavy?

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Your Authentic Voice

Who are you when you're writing?
I talk about it often. Every writer has their own unique story, and it’s through embracing and expressing our authentic voice that we will find success. But what exactly does all of that mean?

(I understand that in many circles “authentic” has become a buzzword. Yet I continue using it in the context of writing, because I know that beneath its overuse, its essence remains untarnished.)

Some say that our authentic voice is not to be found, but rather, developed. Some say our authentic voice equals our world view. Some say our authentic voice emerges from the subconscious.

Yes, yes, and yes. But that’s not all.

I was chatting with my teaching partner, Debbie Anne, who writes beautiful, raw, evocative prose and poetry. As we discussed the subject, she mused “how do we know if we are really writing from our authentic voice?”

Well, the answer we agreed upon is this:

We don’t have just one authentic voice. We have many.

We are multifaceted human beings with a plethora of personalities inside of us. I know it sounds a bit Sybil, but it’s actually very healing and empowering to understand the different archetypal aspects of our own nature. Most of us operate unconsciously from one or two primary parts (usually, wounded ones.) Once we are aware of this, we can make a conscious choice to act from a different place.

I think writers are especially prone to well-developed “inner-aspects.” As F. Scott Fitzgerald said…

Writer’s aren’t exactly people. They’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.

I’m not just a writer and a wife. I also have a playful and sensitive inner child. I have a dark, depressed goth girl inside (with awesome clothes.) I have a hippie. A wise witch. A snob. A temptress. A healer. The list goes on and on. (And mine will be different than yours.)

Before I became a coach and learned this inner aspect model of the psyche, I thought there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t figure out who, among all these Athenas, I really was! Now I get it. I’m all of them. No one part of me is more authentic than another. They all have their place. Even the super shadowy aspects I, um, decided not to list above.

So, if we have multiple authentic parts of our personality deep inside, doesn’t that also mean we have multiple authentic voices in our writing? I think so.

Ask yourself this question: who am I when I am writing?

Chances are your answer will be different depending on what you are writing. You aren’t the same person writing a blog post as you are when you’re working on your book. Or even a poem.

There are many voices inside of you that want to be heard. And you can identify their level of authenticity by the way you feel when they are expressing. When you slip into that deep, beautiful, space where the words carry you away, you are touching truth.

Many writers will advise you to pick a voice and stick with it in order to establish yourself in your genre. But I say don’t be afraid to experiment with different voices to find which ones feel the best. (Or have the most to say.) If you’re concerned about writing from multiple voices, consider having more than one website and using a pen name.

You will also find that your voices change over time. What was authentic for you today will not be true for you in ten years. It’s an ever-evolving process. Let that fact loosen your grip on doing it right.

Exercise To Help You Find Your Voice(s): 

List all the aspects of your personality that you can think of – even the ones you’d rather not look at (especially those.) Then let each one express themselves in writing. Don’t judge and don’t censor.

In closing I’d just like to say that all of this is a bit like trying to analyze every brushstroke in an abstract masterpiece by Picasso. In truth, your voice(s) are fluid and work together (a bit like a small chorus of your inner aspects.) But sometimes deconstruction is helpful.

3 Metaphysical Concepts For Writers

The muse, parallel universes, destiny and writing.

Okay. I’m going to go out on a limb here. This post may be a little “woo-woo” for some. But if you have an open mind, who knows, it just might inspire you to think differently about your creative process.

I’m a pretty metaphysically minded person. Everything is energy and we can’t always see what’s going on behind the scenes. I believe that in many ways, this mindset helps me as I writer. It helps me have faith in my process… and that’s an important thing to have!

Here are the three primary concepts that give me confidence in my creativity:

1. Writing is a co-creative process.

Two of my favorite voices in the field of creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron, speak of this often. The artist doesn’t work alone. Our creativity is a co-creative process with something outside of ourselves. Some call it God, The Universe, The Muse, Spirit Guides, Angels, The Collective Unconscious, or a myriad of other names.

In her spectacular TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert shares that ancient Romans believed in a creative, magical entity who lived in the walls of artist’s studios. They called that spirit a “Genius,” and it was their job to assist the artist in their work. Since a writer, sculptor, or painter knew that their creation was the result of a joint effort, this protected the artist from both narcissism and failure.

When the Renaissance arrived all of this changed. Having a genius became being a genius. Now creativity was up to the artist alone. And so the tortured artist archetype was born.

Like those ancient Romans, I like to believe that there is something out there that gives me ideas and guides my writing. (I don’t think it lives in my walls. But who knows.)

The thing to remember is that it’s a joint effort. Whatever (or whoever) it is, it doesn’t arrive unless it knows we’re serious.

2. The book is already written.

Michelangelo famously said: Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

I believe that applies to my writing as well. The story is already there, it’s simply my job to reveal it.

You can also think of it in terms of parallel universes. Okay, I know that’s getting out there. But really, we don’t know if parallel universes exist or not. Let’s just say they do, and that time isn’t linear as most of us believe. If this is the case, your novel is complete. You are simply playing catch up.

It’s a powerful practice to visualize yourself holding your completed book. And if you can believe that it really, truly is complete – even in the midst of first draft woes – well, that provides a huge boost of confidence and inspiration.

3. Someone is destined to read it.

I’ve experienced enough synchronicities, coincidences, and serendipitous events to know that things aren’t totally random. I believe things happen for a reason, and that we’re led to certain books, songs, people, and experiences at exactly the right time.

This means that somewhere out there, there are people who are already lined up to read my next book. It will come into their life at the right moment and they will glean something from it – be it good or bad.

Many authors say we should write for one person, not the crowd. So that’s who I write for: the person who is destined to pick up my book. Maybe it will only be one person. And maybe it won’t be until long after I’m gone. But if my writing touches that one person, I’ve done my job.


I don’t know if these concepts are true or not. What I do know is that they help me feel a lot more confident in my creativity. They feel good to me. So why not?

When Comparison Strikes

No, I don't teach Victorian literature. And I'm okay with that.

No, I don’t teach Victorian literature. And I’m okay with that.

The other day I found myself at a social gathering. We all know how much I love those. Actually, this particular gathering was small and consisted of friends. When the one new face in the crowd was introduced as a fellow author, I was excited to connect. I talked a bit about my book and how exciting it was to finally have my first novel out there in the world (after 7 long years of struggle.)

“What about you? What do you write?” I asked.

“I teach Victorian literature at Stanford.” Cue awe, envy, and comparison. “I just released a book, too. It also took me 7 years! It’s a critical analysis of Victorian poetry. Right now I’m working on a book about narrative.”

“Oh.” A tumbleweed tumbled past. (You have no idea how bad the drought is in California.)

Another woman jumped into the conversation. “Athena, did you bring me a copy of your book?”

My book found its way around the table, pausing for a few moments in every pair of hands. As Lady Professor flipped through it, reading here and there, I had to resist the urge to snatch it from her fingers. Speaking of narrative, the particular narrative going through my head at that time was pretty dismal. The comparisons had launched themselves into full flight.

I’m nothing compared to her.
Stanford. Seriously? I think she’s younger than me.
What does a book “about narrative” mean anyway?
Oh God, I’m a total fraud!

As the evening progressed, and in the days following, I got a handle on those comparisons by remembering three simple things…

1. Only we can tell our story.

So what if someone else does this or that, has a fancy title, or has written a thousand best sellers? We are on our own journey and it would serve us to remember that. Often. No, I can’t teach Victorian poetry (reading it is challenging enough, thanks.) But I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have written Dharma and Desire, either.

“Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.”
-Meg Rosoff

Our mind, hearts, and souls are our own. No comparison is possible.

2. We tend to compare our behind-the-scenes to other’s highlight reels.

How do I know what this woman’s struggles are? Maybe she wants, more than anything, to write a formula romance novel. Or an erotic novel. Or a sci-fi novel. But she’s terrified. Who knows? We tend to presume that everyone else has it amazing. That other authors have it easier. It’s just not true.

3. You’re only in competition with yourself.

I wrote a novel. Period. No, it’s not high-brow literature, but I wrote it. And I continue to improve my writing all the time.

And if you’re reading this, comparing yourself to me, thinking “I haven’t written a novel,”… so what if I wrote a novel? You’re writing and that is more than many will ever attempt. You are moving toward your goals. That’s what’s important.

If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time recognizing how far you’ve come. But I’m willing to bet if you really look at it, your writing has grown by leaps and bounds. You’ve accomplished a lot. Honor your achievements.

I’m pretty sure the greats out there (authors, leaders, teachers, etc) don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how they measure up to someone else. They are too busy focusing on helping others while being the best they can be.

 

When it comes down to it, Lady Professor and I probably have more in common than I realize. We’re both writers. We both want to share our minds, hearts, and souls with the world.

It’s okay — actually, it’s pretty damn cool that we do it in different ways.