In April 2011, after months of delays, I finally sat down to write my first book, How to Make Melt and Pour Soap from Scratch. My goal was to have the book written and published in time for a speaking engagement. My plan had been to start the book in January with what appeared to be just enough time to have it ready in May, and then life threw me a curve ball.
In January, my mother became ill, and in February, she died. My focus during those 3 weeks was on her care and comfort. I returned home to piles of work in my business and home. Towards the end of March I was mostly caught up at work, I sat down to write and I couldn’t. Suddenly writing was more difficult than ever. Writing had always been directly connected to my heart. With the loss of my mother suddenly the flow was blocked and it was difficult to open the dam.
I was experiencing a major set-back. On one hand I had a goal. On the other hand I had a thousand and one excuses to not reach that goal. Under normal circumstances it seemed nearly impossible to write, edit and print a book in time for my speaking engagement. Now I was suffering with a serious case of writer’s block.
I sat in front of my blank screen and had to choose whether I was going to embrace my excuses or my goal. I decided to reach for my goal. I started to write, realizing it might turn out to be half the book I planned, but knowing the right thing for me was to reach towards the goal no matter the results.
First, to get things flowing I organized and wrote all the technical stuff. I wrote for two weeks solid while conducting home based experiments in my kitchen to make sure all the lab work translated to the kitchen chemist. After two weeks of writing the book was already more than I had planned from the beginning. I calculated if editing took one week to complete I would make it just in time. Editing took two weeks and the book grew. I figured I would make it by the skin of my teeth if layout, design and proofs took a few days. Those changes took another two weeks.
It would be an all-out miracle if the book printed by May; but then again, I believe in miracles! When the final proof arrived, I was on an overnight field trip with my daughters’ school on the Oregon Coast. The office acted as my eyes and reviewed the final proof for me. While walking through the woods with 5th and 6th graders, I talked them through the final steps of accepting the proof and setting the ball in motion in order to get printed books to my speaking engagement in time.
I was scheduled to speak on May 18th and my books arrived at the speaking venue on May 17th. Miracles do happen!
Nothing, and I mean nothing, went according to plan in 2011. It seemed impossible to write, edit, layout and proof the book I had envisioned in time for the conference. And yet, it all came together.
I’m sharing the back story of my first book to encourage you that even when things don’t go according to plan, aim for your dreams anyway. Embrace your goals, instead of the mountainous list of excuses that life presents. The conference date was going to arrive whether I tried to reach my goal or not. I was so thankful to have arrived at my speaking engagement with my goal accomplished, rather than kicking myself for not trying. I thought of the Will Rogers quote when I imagined arriving empty handed, “Even if you’re on the right track, you will still get run over if all you do is sit there.”
My Top Ten Tips for Writing a Book
“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King
A writer can never ever read too much. Read about writing, read successful authors in the genre in which you want to publish, read the cereal box, read fiction, nonfiction, magazines, blogs and fluff, just read. Reading stimulates creativity and inspires.
You can identify the books in my library that inspire me by opening the cover of the book and looking for my scribbling. A good book will have sections underlined and marked up. A great book will have inspired notes scrawled in the margins. When I’m stuck, I can get unstuck by flipping through the pages of one of the great books from my library and re-visiting my notes.
Read books on the topic you want to write on. Doing so will help you verify that you have something new and unique to add to the mix. You can also learn how successful authors have accomplished their goals and use their stories to inspire you.
While writing this book I read three current books on self-publishing including: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch; Be the Monkey – EBooks and Self-Publishing: A Dialog Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath; and Dan Polynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, Volume 2: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book.
My goal was to insure that I wasn’t writing a book that had already been written. What I discovered was every author has their own unique perspective based on their experience. That unique perspective and writing style impacts readers based on shared life experiences. Having read all their books I was able to see the value of a women’s voice from the perspective of having started a successful business on a shoestring budget. There is a theme in the story of your life, your business and experiences that will connect with someone who has lived a seemingly parallel story line; those are the stories that need to be told!
I have provide some recommended reading for writers including books, magazines and websites at the end of the How to Self Publish in the Appendix 2.
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” Margaret Atwood
Just write. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. Write junk for a few paragraphs if you have to, but get started. You can waste a lot of time and energy getting ready to start. When writing, don’t edit as you go.
I was once in a writers group with someone who refused to use the words, “I” or “me” in his writings. This made for some awkward sentences and stories that got lost in translation. I could see the start of a great story and then it seemed like he lost track of what he was trying to say. Finally, I gave him an assignment to write without hitting the back space or delete buttons. He simply had to write and keep writing no matter what mistakes he made. He arrived with the most touching, heartfelt story he had ever written. Sure, it had grammatical errors, but it was beautiful and from the heart. That is how you write without editing yourself. Simply write. Editing is a separate process.
I’m a huge believer in the zero draft. A zero draft is the one no one sees. You should write your zero draft as if you are vomiting everything out onto the page. It should be full of mistakes and random ponderings. Get it all out on paper and then come back to it to cut, edit and blush about your grammatical errors. The zero draft allows you to write with the sole purpose of finding out exactly what you have to say. When writing flows uninterrupted, you have the opportunity to discover uncensored brilliance.
When you are done writing, write some more. Then when you have nothing to say, keep typing. When you have writers block, read to take your focus off the block for a few moments then start writing. The secret to writing is . . . writing!
Until I became a mother at 25 years of age, I wrote every single day. I started writing when I was in 5th grade. Writing, for me, was the life line I used to cope. A pen, paper and quiet was all I needed to wrestle out the thoughts in my head. Each day when I was done writing I felt a little lighter. Then life changed, stole my quiet time and solitude and replaced it with the non-stop pace of motherhood. I no longer write every day, but I write consistently. I set aside time that is designated for me to write. You need to determine how much time you spend writing based on the stage of life you are in, but don’t just think about writing, do it.
3. Guard Your Time
“Being a poet is one of the unhealthier jobs – no regular hours, so many temptations!” Elizabeth Bishop
Little things are the greatest stumbling blocks to writers. Things like laundry, dishes, TV, kids, text messages, Facebook, Twitter and phone calls are high among the distractions that steal your time. If you are serious about writing, the only way to accomplish your goals is to turn off the distractions for a specified period of time.
I have three kids. In order to set myself up for success, I tried not to choose time periods that had a high potential of needing to be kid time. But sometimes the kids had needs that took precedence. On those days, I waited until everyone was in bed before trying to write.
During your writing time, turn off the TV and radio, sign out of social media outlets and email inboxes, leave the phone in another room, and shut out the distractions that are your Achilles heel.
4. Join a Writers Group
“However great a man’s natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once.” Jean Jacques Rousseau
Writers need other writers. No one quite understands the inner workings of a writer better than another writer. Most importantly writers need accountability. I have heard countless writers say that they need an agent just to get started. In reality, you need a writers group to bounce your work off of long before you meet with an agent. The writer’s group critique is vital to moving a story forward. I found my writers group by trial and error. I wanted a group of Christian writers so I started one at my church, it morphed, grew, shrunk and changed over the years. I’ve been invited into other groups along the way as well. It seems like when you are a part of a writers group, other opportunities suddenly open up. When I moved to a new city, I found a new writers group. Writers need writers, period. End of sentence. Now go find your group. I talk more specifically about the different kind of writers groups in Chapter 7 of How to Self Publish.
5. Educate Yourself
“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Albert Einstein
As long as I have breath in me, I will be seeking further education. I’ve never looked back and regretted learning something new. That is why I ended up in David Sanford’s seminar. That one seminar swung all the doors open to the publishing world for me and removed all of my self-imposed shackles.
Take writing classes at your local community college or university. I took fiction and poetry writing in college long ago, but learned so much when I decided to take a journalism class at Multnomah University in 2011. Go to a writers conference or retreat. The options are endless.
6. Create a Plan
“All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary — it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.” Somerset Maugham
Set aside an hour or two to brainstorm your ideas for the first ten books you want to write. David Sanford gave the attendees of his seminar this assignment. I couldn’t wait to go home and start my list. I spent an hour following his advice and now two years later I already have the first four books from that list on the market. Even if you think that you only have one book in you, take the time to do this assignment. Get very specific as you write this list.
- Potential book titles
- Theme of each book
- Audience for each book
- Why you are uniquely qualified to write each book
- Steps you need to take to write each book
- What material you already have to start any of the books
I’ve written 54,000 words of one of the remaining books on my list titled Puffy & Blue. However, I learned so much in the process of writing, publishing and promoting the first four books, and knew this was a topic that others wanted to learn about, so this book you are holding (reading an excerpt from) was added to my plan of books to publish. It was bumped ahead of the other book in progress.
The need to write this book took hold of me in February 2013. During 2011 and 2012, I had helped several new authors publish their books and then had been interviewed by Donna Maria Coles Johnson, President of Indie Beauty Network on the topic of self-publishing. During this time, I was involved in helping others to self-publish. I didn’t give much thought to writing a book about it.
After I published my fourth book, When I was Young I Flew the Sun Like a Kite, David Sanford asked me on my Facebook page when I was going to write a book about self-publishing. My friend Donna Maria Coles Johnson kept nagging, “You need to write a book on self-publishing.”
I was successfully ignoring both of them though that little voice inside kept asking, “Why are you resisting?” To be truthful, I already had written three “how to” books and it didn’t sound fun to write another.
While on the 2013 Indie Mastermind Cruise learning how to grow my own business, I was inspired to write this book. As I sat in a session with other small business owners listening to La Shonda Tyree empower her audience to teach soap making classes as a way of using their skills to increase their revenue my thoughts started flowing around empowerment.
Inspiration is like a seed, and as I thought of how empowered these women would feel if they knew how easy it was to self-publish, that seed grew and bloomed in the span of 30 seconds. As an alternative to teaching classes and handing out Xerox copies of their instructions and recipes, some of these women might prefer to self-publish as another source of income. The thought of empowering business owners to use their gifts, talents and information was all the inspiration I needed. When I shared the idea with the group, I knew I had to write it because they validated that a book on self-publishing would fulfill a real need in their lives.
You never know when seeds of inspiration will plant themselves. Though creating a plan to write is necessary, you need to be flexible enough to alter that plan when inspiration hits. My original plan was to return to working on my yet unpublished book, Puffy & Blue, after I finished publishing this book, until I was inspired by a “sticky” idea for a book series. A “sticky” idea is something that is memorable to a target audience, engages people and can go viral through the use of social media. I discovered that my cat, Gogo, was sticky on social media.
The simple act of posting updates and pictures about him had created a loyal fan base for Gogo. Not only were his fans loyal, but they made postings and pictures about him go viral at four times the rate I had by myself. Gogo the cat is sticky and so I adjusted my future plans slightly to focus on books about him. With Puffy & Blue on hold, I am currently building a platform for Gogo Naughty Paws books.
7. Set a Deadline
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Douglas Adam
Now that you know what you want to write, set deadlines for yourself. Without a deadline, you will have no goal to shoot towards. With that said, forgive yourself when you miss a deadline, and reset the goal. Don’t use missing your deadline as an excuse to give up. I’ve missed every deadline that I set for myself, but I just kept going until I crossed the finish line.
One of my crowdsourced editors, Debbie Richards said that she remembers hearing me say during a speech I gave in 2009, “I’ve been asked why I haven’t yet written a book. I tell them, because no one has given me a deadline yet.” Thank God I finally set my own deadline, took control of my publishing career and stopped waiting for someone else to do it for me.
8. Keep Notes
“The hardest part is believing in yourself at the notebook stage. It is like believing in dreams in the morning.” Erica Jong
My world is littered with little scraps of paper, bulging notebooks and scribblings. Life is inspiring all day long, every day. Write down the thoughts, words, memories, songs and unfinished thoughts that whoosh past you every day. Hang onto them, collect them and turn to them when you sit down to write. These little notes and notebooks are the ammunition that will help you fight the battle against writer’s block. If you don’t have paper handy use the voice recorder on your phone, leave yourself a message on your home phone or otherwise record your ideas before they lose their impact.
9. Blog and Social Media
“The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.” Seth Godin
Promoting your book and yourself as a writer does not start the day your book is published, but it no longer takes three years to build a platform either. Create a platform today for the books of your tomorrow. Direct the traffic you create on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Pheed, and Google+ to your landing place, either your blog or website. Grab up your name on every social media platform you can find, even if you aren’t ready to use them yet. Reserve your name so that when you are ready you aren’t fighting for it.
When you have an idea, reserve the website for it. You should own the (dot) com of your name, the name of your publishing house and any catchy phrase that you just might run with some day.
10. Write a lot
“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.” Edgar Rice Burroughs
William Stafford is my favorite poet. He was incredibly prolific during his lifetime. I remember reading that he sat down to write every single day.
“Every day I get up and look out the window, and something occurs to me. Something always occurs to me. And if it doesn’t, I just lower my standards.” William Stafford
I think of that some days when I want something brilliant to appear on the paper and my mind is blank. I just start writing and remember that it is okay to “lower my standards” sometimes for the sake of getting the words flowing.
My husband thinks I should specialize in one genre of books, but I have too many genres in my head to give up on them all. It is wise to specialize, but for me it would cause me to sit at the computer in a deadlock with writer’s block.
I wrestled with this concept for a while, and then I heard Erik Metaxas speak one day. His books range from serious biographies like Bonhoeffer, Christian books like Everything You Always Wanted to Know about God, and children’s books like It’s Time to Sleep, My Love. This made me feel better about my sometimes schizophrenic writing plan.
Final word of advice:
At the end of the day, there are no hard and fast concrete rules for writing that work for everyone. So, keep reading to shop for more ideas and direction.
“There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.” Somerset Maugham