How to write a book: six things to think about before hitting the keyboardMight as well get this out of the way…
This is not a fluffy, writing-makes-me-all-poetic-and-goey-inside kind of post. It’s a ‘truth post’. So if you’re a ‘sensitive’ sort, or the type of person that’s likely to get offended about a post written by an ‘upstart writer who thinks too highly of herself’, best walk away now.
Still here? Good. So here goes.
I’m glad that you want to be a writer, really, I am. But here’s the thing: talking about how you love it blah, blah won’t make you a writer.
If I want to be a lawyer, talking about it wouldn’t make me a lawyer. Going to law school, graduating, seeking and getting employment as a lawyer, and you know, doing real-life law stuff is what will make me a lawyer.
So if you want to be a writer, find out the type of writer you want to be and start making shit happen.
You want to write books
Then sign up for creative writing courses online (or offline, if that’s your thing), get a book coach, or if you don’t want to do all that, sit your ass down in front of your computer and start typing.
You see, that’s the thing about being an author; you actually have to sit down and write the book. That’s what authors do.
It sounds obvious, but you’ll be surprised at the percentage of people (90), who tell me how much they just love writing, and would love to write a book. All well and good, except they totally skip the part about the writing process and just fast forward to the bit when they see their books on the New York Times bestseller list, and themselves on Oprah.
Turns out that when they say they want to write a book, they mean they want to have written a book. The actual writing part is an unpleasant process that doesn’t exist in their fantasy, and they don’t appreciate being reminded of it, either, thank you very much.
If you just want to be known as an author (without doing the boring, unsexy, unglamorous work of actually doing the work, the writing), at least be honest enough to admit it to yourself. Then get yourself a ghostwriter. It’s the quickest way to feed your ego, put that author fantasy to rest and leave authorland for those of us that actually care about this stuff.
You want to be a freelance writer
If you want to be a freelance writer, I hate to tell you this, but you’ll need clients. And to get those clients, you’ll have to pitch for work, and shock, horror, deliver the work. That’s what freelancers do, because it turns out that freelancing is very much like running your own business. In fact, it is running your own business.
Well, as it turns out, very few people. Those Facebooks ads with people in bikinis with a laptop on their lap, talking about the remote lifestyle?
Take it from a veteran freelancer, that lifestyle takes work. Serious work (because running a business – and yes, being a freelance writer is still very much a business – is serious work). True, you can work anywhere in the world with an internet connection, but you’ll need to have a stable roster of sane clients (very important, this), and projects to maintain your cashflow.
For example, if you know you need $2K minimum a month to live, then you’ll need to find at least two clients (or project) a month to cover this basic. Like any business owner, you would also be aware of your off/peak seasons and ensure you’re fully covered for those.
You’ll also need to be a go-getting gangsta marketer and master communicator with a bullshit radar that NASA would put you on a lifetime retainer for.
All this stuff requires strategic planning and ruthless implementation. Because that’s what it takes to make it as a freelancer (or writer in general) – Abidemi Sanusi
If this doesn’t align with your fantasy of the carefree, inspiration-and-crazy-ideas freelance lifestyle, don’t hate; I’m just keeping it real.
Writing is not a hobby, unless it is
When I tell people I’m a writer, 95% of the time, this is what comes next: ‘I wish I had the time to write.’
Which is strange to me, because writing is my job. It’s not a hobby; if I don’t write, I don’t get paid. And if I don’t get paid, I don’t eat, the bills go unpaid and life becomes really quite unpleasant.
If I want to be a doctor, and I meet a doctor, can you imagine the looks I’ll get if I say, ‘I wish I had the time to be a doctor’?
This romantic ideal of a writer as someone hovering over a 1920s typewriter, as they wait for inspiration to strike, in a bare-but-aesthetically-pleasing cottage in the Canadian Rockies, has to stop, because it’s not doing anyone any favours. Mostly because it perpetuates the myth that creatives don’t really ‘work’.
No, we float on a higher planet of ethical, art-induced poverty, because we’re all ‘about the art’.
If I waited for inspiration to write books or create content for this website, nothing will get done. Hear that? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
If I have an idea for a book, I:
- mull it over
- plan it
- schedule the writing time and make that time count (the length is irrelevant, and I’ll explain why later in this post)
- develop a marketing strategy to sell the book
Because there is the art of writing and the business of writing. If you want to make it as an author, you’ll need to think of it like a business. I’m all about the art, but I’m also enough of a hard-nosed capitalist to appreciate the difference a seven-figure income can make to my life.
Same thing with this website. I have a content plan, which I usually start working on in August.
The plan is flexible, but it’s there, and meant to prevent chaos, so that I can write in peace.
As for the writing itself, I batch-write and schedule the posts at least four weeks in advance.
This is what being responsible and taking ownership of my writing business looks like.
Ideas are great. Inspiration has its place. But without implementation, the two are worthless, and consequently, useless.
Not to beat this ‘inspiration’ horse to death, but…
A company that has spent $250,000 on a website is not interested in your art, inspiration (or lack thereof) stories – they just want the content that has been promised by you, the web content writer, and their website to be launched, so that they can get those sales coming in from their website. Inspiration has very little to do with this. It’s called doing your job, and it’s what millions of professionals, from plumbers to professors, around the world do every day. Professional writers are no different.
Unless of course, writing is your hobby, in which case, discount everything you read in this post.
But if you want to make it as a professional writer (that is, someone who actually makes money from it), you have to disabuse yourself of any romantic ideas you have about what the reality looks like. It’s a job (or business), and like most jobs (or businesses), some days you’ll hate it (especially on those days when you’re chasing deadbeat clients for payment – the life of a freelancer), and some days you won’t (those thank you emails from clients are pure gold).
And if you’re a 9-5 corporate writer, chances are that you spend your days battling the legal, compliance, press, marketing and sales teams about your copy (everybody has a view on it, and mostly not good for your sanity). That’s if you’re not being hauled in front of senior management to explain why you instilled some personality in the boring-ass content that they personally wrote and they demand should be on the company homepage, despite the fact that it has no business being there, or anywhere else on the company website for that matter.
This is the reality of being a professional writer – you’re also a bloody diplomat.
Success takes work, and sometimes, it hurts
Writing sounds easy until you try it. Especially, if, like 95% of people who want to earn an income from it, you write in that precious time between family responsibilities and work. I know people who write between 11pm-1am. Their responsibilities are such that it’s the only time they can get any writing done. Most importantly, they are so committed to their writing dream that they find a way to work towards their goal. Such people are legends, because they are normal people like you and I, which is probably why I find them so inspiring.
I will always find time for such people, because they’re doers, not dreamers. They implement. They get stuff done.
Everyone has the same 24 hours. Don’t think you’re exempt because, I have this writing dream and if I could only do it full-time, I’ll be able to write the book/poem/play/screenplay of my dreams and change the world, blah, blah.
I hate to break it you, kid, but if you want to be a writer, you just have to get in line and work the same-ass 24 hours as the rest of us.
One famous summer, my sister, her husband, their two young kids, my mum and some other in-law stayed with me.
I had an 80K book to write, and an unforgiving 9-5.
What to do?
I buckled down. I woke up early, sometimes, as early as 4am, to write for a few hours before going to work. Then, I wrote on my way to and from work. The evenings were impossible, because the house was packed and chaotic. In fact, whenever I could, I used to sneak up to the bathroom with my laptop to get in 15 minutes of writing.
It was painful, brutal, even, but that was the only way I could write that book.
If all you have is 15 minutes a day to write, then write in that time.
If all you have is an hour on Sundays, then write in that time.
There is no law that says that you are less of a writer because you’re not writing every day. The important thing is making your allocated writing time count – Abidemi Sanusi
But you must do it – write, that is. If you’ve been talking about writing for a long while, know this: time waits for no one. All that energy you expend on talking about it could be much better spent actually doing some writing.
Unless you’re one of those people who like the idea of being a writer, and are not really interested in the writing bit. In which case I’ll refer you to paragraph 11 of this post and bid you farewell.
And finally (and well done for getting to this point), want to know what writers do?
They release their work to the world, knowing that they’ve done their best, and that done is better than perfect.
Ships were meant to sail not rot at the dock
I am a writer, but I am not defined by my work. So if I get a bad review, it’s water off a duck’s back. I don’t like every book I read or movie I watch, so I don’t expect everyone to like my books. Having said that, if they offer constructive criticism, I’m more than happy to listen and take note.
I’ve met people from all walks of life whose manuscripts are ready for publication, yet, are terrified to hit the publish button on Amazon (these are indie, not traditionally-published authors, obvs), because they think they’ll be ‘found out’ .
Why go through all that hard work of writing a book, getting it edited and ready for publication, only to decide that, actually, you’re not ready for it to be out there, because, you’re worried it’s going to tank and people will think you’re a loser?
It’s like a spoken word artist, a playwright, or even a comedienne spending months, weeks, days, hours, working on their piece, only to decide on the day of their live performance that, actually, I don’t want to do this anymore, because I’m scared of the response I’ll get.
My two cents: you’ll have to get your work out there sometime, so you might as well do it now and get it over and done with. If you let your fear hold you back, eventually it will hold you prisoner and your writing goal ransom.
When my first book was published, I went to see a friend. She held out a copy of my book to me and said: ‘I’ve highlighted the bits with typos so you can correct them in the next edition.’
I thanked her and moved on.
A few weeks ago, someone noticed a broken link in one of my emails and emailed me to let me know, saying it was ‘lame.’
When I got her email I wasn’t even pissed. I fixed the link and moved on.
This website is riddled with inconsistent house style, because I can’t make up my mind whether to go for US or UK spelling and grammar, or just do a mash-up of the two (the top three web visitors are from the US, UK and Canada, and in that order).
I haven’t yet, but I know that, at some point, I’ll get an email from someone telling me what a crap writer I am, and hadn’t I heard of Hart’s Rules or The Chicago Manual of Style, or even better, isn’t it time I got myself an editor?
To which I’ll thank the person, and as is my way, move on. Life is filled with battles. And debating the finer points of an Oxford (or Harvard) comma, and my jackass use of single and double quote marks is just not a priority battle for me now.
Being a writer is scary. Having your work out there, for people to scrutinise and judge is scary. But take it from someone who’s been there and lived to tell the tale, releasing your work to the public is actually the easiest part of being a writer, because you’ve done the hard bit already. That is, stepping out of your comfort zone and going ahead with your writing goal. Few people have the courage to do that. So well done you. Now go hit the publish button on Amazon, that writing competition, that pitch to that newspaper or magazine editor.
Go on. Do it. I promise you that you’ll live to tell the tale.
Stop, and write
I’m going to finish off here, but before I do, there’s one last category of wannabe writer that I want to talk to.
You know who you are:
- You watch every writing webinar going like you’re binge-watching Netflix
- You download every writing freebie that you can get your hands on. It’s like an addiction; you can’t stop
- You buy online courses like someone stockpiling ice lollies for a summer apocalypse
- You haunt writing websites (much like this one), soaking up all the information you can get your hands on, in readiness for that day when you finally sit down to write your masterpiece. Except you and I know that day will never come
You don’t need another webinar, freebie, online course or evening class
In fact, you’re probably suffering from information overload, which in turn has led to paralysis. So, I’m going to simplify everything for you by saying this: start writing. Because, when it gets down to it, the real reason you’ve been stockpiling all that info is because, deep down, you’ve been scared to write, because you think that if you do, you may discover that you’re not good enough.
That’s a big problem. HUGE, actually, because you forget that all the greats were once beginners. Just as you are now. But one day, if you really want it and you put in the time to learn the craft, you will become great yourself. Just don’t be a dick about it.
Fired up? Good
- Want to start your own freelance writing business? No need to start from scratch. Get the From Pitch to Get Paid. These are tried-and-tested email scripts, contract templates and processes to help you run a profitable, online freelance business, from pitch to get paid. Check out ‘em out here…
- Want to write your first book? Get started here…
- Got an opinion on this post? Don’t suffer in silence. Comment below 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼
Also published on Medium.