How NOT to Write a Book

Updated: Jan 21

I still remember the lit-up feeling of excitement when, as a kid, I wrote my first poem about a caterpillar living under a mushroom. I scrawled the words with a stubby red crayon on a bright yellow sheet of construction paper, which I proudly handed to my sleeping parents at the crack of dawn. I remember thinking, I'm a real writer now!


Photo by Susana Coutinho on Unsplash

Except for most of my adult life, I became an expert in how not to be a writer. How? I didn't write. I only thought about writing.


I used to think that writers were born not made. I imagined a book simply floated down from the sky to these blessed creatures called authors effortlessly without any work on their part. Boy, was I wrong!


What I learned in the past year and a half from writing a book is pretty simple. For all of you article skimmers (me too!), I'll give you the lesson right up front.


How does one write a book?

  1. Write words

  2. Experience intense feelings of insecurity, doubt, fear, and failure

  3. Keep writing words anyway

If you want to know all of the gory details of lesson #2, please keep reading!

From giphy.com

Last Fall, I decided I was going to stop thinking about it, and write a damn book! I committed to writing 1,000 words a day even if it was absolute drivel, which most of it really was. At the end of sixty days (I skipped a few days) I had 50,000 words of verbal vomit. I was so excited, I was a real writer!


That wasn't so hard, I thought. Even though I had all of these words written about something I deeply cared about -- the understanding of the mind that all of my coaching work is based on -- I still didn't know what the book was about. What was I trying to say? What is my point, exactly? Was this even a book?


Stymied by a loss of direction, I stuck it in the proverbial drawer for a couple of months.


Then I signed up for a program called, "Creating the Impossible," where we were asked to pick an impossible project to complete in 90 days. Distinct from setting a realistic goal, this program encouraged us to pick a project that we truly thought we would fail at, on purpose. If it didn't have a 5% chance of success rate, we were to pick something harder, more impossibler.


At the time, finishing that f&%^ing book looked pretty impossible. To add even more impossible-ness, I declared that my project would be to " write a bestselling book" in 90 days. The general consensus of a "bestselling" book is that you have to sell at least 5,000 (and some sites say 10,000) copies in one week. There you go, that was definitely impossible!


For 90 days I wrote and re-wrote, wrote and re-wrote, over and over and over again. My title changed six times and the theme of the book changed even more. But I kept working on it. At the end of the 90 days, guess what?


I hated my book. Seriously, I wanted to put it in the fire. I had worked so hard and yet I was convinced that it was still utter crap. I stumbled upon a quote from Ira Glass that perfectly summed up what I was feeling:


From https://truncatech.wordpress.com/

I couldn't talk about my book without crying. I had wrapped up a lot of my identity and self-worthiness into writing this book, and into "being a real writer". I shared some pages with someone who kindly responded with, "Maybe this isn't a book?" I was devastated.


My head was a tangled ball of messy, insecure, and gloomy thinking. Back into the drawer she went! This time, I wasn't sure if I would ever return to it. The seasons changed. Summer started to bloom and the mountain bike trails were calling. I didn't write or edit for four months and just played outside in the summer sun.


In August, I had the idea of creating an online course for my coaching business. I was inspired to share this understanding of the mind that had changed my life in so many ways with other people. It was the same understanding that I had been failing to express in writing.


I began to organize all of my content into twelve modules over the course of the 12-week course. As I did this, I realized that some of the chapters that I had written for my book would fit in nicely as articles for the course. So chapter by chapter, I grabbed what was relevant and slotted it into this new structure. Pretty soon, I realized that this unorganized jumble of random articles could actually become a real book!


From Tenor.com

Almost exactly one year after I originally spewed the first words onto the page, I finally had some semblance of order. (And, title #7!) I began to wonder if maybe I should find an editor, but I had no idea where to start.


Then, I happened to be taking a coaching workshop and while the teacher was introducing herself, she mentioned that she was writing a book. She happened to be working with this great editor and she said, "If any of you need an editor, I highly recommend this person." I wrote down his name and contacted him later that day.


I sent him my pages, which I was still highly insecure about. He assured me that, "Yes, this was a book".

"Are you sure?" I asked uncertainly.

"Yes, this is actually further along than a lot of books I get," he responded.

"Well, holy shit!"


From giphy.com

After working with My Editor (yes, now I'm bragging) for three months, I am pleased to announce that this "Little Engine That Could" of a book will soon be published.


It's not even a very long book, just under 40,000 words. However, I probably wrote about 400,000 words to get to this point. And it still does not live up to my high expectations of the caliber of books written by my writing heroes, Elizabeth Gilbert or Glennon Doyle. But it's the book that I have written. And that's enough for me.


I have received the gift of a thousand learnings along the way. And, I will repeat the lesson I shared above.


How does one write a book?

  1. Write words

  2. Experience intense feelings of insecurity, doubt, fear, and failure

  3. Keep writing words anyway

My biggest lesson was that the writing only felt hard if I was focusing on thoughts such as, "Man, this is so hard". I witnessed how much of my insecure thinking -- doubt, fear, worry-- was simply untrue. Those scratchy feelings simply alerted me to the fact that I was once again "in my head" about writing and not actually writing.


I realized that it doesn't actually matter how I feel about my writing as long as I kept writing. Some days it felt like a slog, some days it felt like ease and flow. What a relief to see that my insecure thoughts could not actually stop me from writing. It is only the act of not writing that can make me not a writer.


The answer to the title of this article: How not to write a book? Don't actually write one!


It's easy to focus on the finish line of completing a book and to completely miss the present moment. When I rest in the space of flow, I actually feel all of the feelings that I have attached to "writing a book" -- a sense of spaciousness, ease, and purpose. When I just show up and write, I'm often joyfully surprised at what comes through me. I am not doing the work of writing, the writing is working through me.


When I am fully present, I reconnect with that little girl again -- lit up by the muse as she ran barefoot down the hall to show her parents the words that she had written on that crumpled, yellow page. The work of writing can be joyful. It's all in how we hold it.


Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

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