What holds aspiring authors back from writing a book? How do they go from saying, “I think I have a book in me,” to finding out whether they have a book in them.
Fear and Doubt. Let’s start with those. Fear and doubt feels crippling to most people, and that alone is enough to prevent anybody from doing anything, writing or otherwise. There’s an inner voice – let’s call it a Little Fucker – that says, “You can’t do this. Your idea is terrible. People will hate it. It’s already been done before. You should quit while you’re ahead.”
Every writer has that Little Fucker following them around. But some writers – including myself – have another voice that chimes in that says, “This is AMAZEBALLS! How did anyone NOT think of this before? YOU wrote this? You’re a genius!”
For me, writing is an exciting roller coaster ride with both voices, only it’s a roller coaster that is constantly trying to throw me off and make me plummet to my death.
One day I’m the voice of my generation, and I’m planning what I’ll say in my Nobel Prize speech. The next day I’m convinced that my legacy will be no better than that of Delmore Scwartz, known for one great short story and never able to build on that success, succumbing to alcoholism and mental illness, spending my last days in reclusion, only to die in obscurity. And then on the next day I get up and do it all over again.
It’s not about whether you have that Little Fucker to begin with. It’s not about mastering the fear and doubt. It’s about easing in to the roller coaster ride and about how much power you give to that Little Fucker and to the other voices in your head. It’s about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off at the end of the ride and getting right back on again.
Do this enough times, and eventually you are not at all surprised by the roller coaster ride. You’re familiar with the twists and turns, and while the descents still scare the holy bejesus out of you, it’s never as bad as that first time.
The Work. I’ve written about this so many times that my regular readers are probably rolling their eyes and thinking, “Gawd, this again!”
But when you say to yourself, “I think I have a book in me,” what are you really saying?
Are you saying, “I like the idea of having written a book and the respect and prestige that comes with it”?
Or are you saying, “I have an idea in my head that is clawing to get out, and if I don’t get it out of me, I will spend my final days in a padded room”?
If the former is true, you are not going to last one day in this occupation. Not one. Single. Day. You are going to fold. If you’re doing it because you want to see your name on a bestseller list or have something to talk about at your high school reunion, then you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. That reason alone will not be enough to see you through this messy process. You’ll be throwing up off the side of that roller coaster, and it will throw you off an the first twisty turn.
If, however, the latter is true, then that is absolutely the best reason to write a book. That’s not to say that it will be a book for the ages or even a best-seller, but it will be more than enough motivation to hang on for dear life and never let go.
Priorities. You don’t make it the most important thing going on in your life. Yeah sure, job, marriage, kids, whatever. Yes, those come first, but I’m talking about after that. How are you planning your time so you can make sure the work gets done? Are you going to bed on time or waking up early enough? Are you saying, “No”, to other things so the work gets done? It needs to be in at least your Top 5 Priorities to make it happen.
Treating It Like A Job. Showing up, no matter what, every day. If you fall off the roller coaster, you set those bones and stitch those cuts and get right back on.
Braving The Suck. You very may well have a great idea. You may have something magnificent and innovative and stunning. But for the first couple of drafts that writing is really going to suck. All great ideas start out messy, and it takes persistence to make it magnificent.
You have to want enough. You have to love the idea more than your creature comforts, because you’re going to have to give something up to create this thing. You have to love the idea more than your ego, because the Little Fuckers will try to bruise your ego.
You have to love the idea more than you love your creature comforts or the habits that help you escape, because you can’t have those and have the time to write a book.
If all of that sounds unglamorous that’s because it is. You have to love the idea more than you love yourself. You have to love it so much that you make sacrifices without thinking twice, as if you have no other choice, because the only other option is never seeing that idea to fruition. And that – that feels like death. So you take the sacrifices, because the pain of the sacrifices feels like a Teacup Ride compared to letting that idea die before it sees the light of day.
That is how it really feels like to “have a book” in you. And if all that sounds harsh and severe, that’s because there’s another side of the book writing process, and on that side you have feelings of awe of something that is much, much bigger than you, and for this time, you embody it, and it fills you with wonder.
If you can do that, then you truly have a book in you. Show the world what you’re made of.
Photo from Unsplash, by Mariusz Prusaczyk