Writing a Book: From Awful to Great

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“How hard can it be? You to sit down and write the thing and that’s it.”

There are a lot of people who think that’s all it takes to write a book. You just sit down and write the thing and that’s it. They’ve never tried it, so they don’t understand why it’s hard. And they really don’t understand how awful their first draft is likely to be.

The first draft is the worst draft.

Yes, indeed, every first draft, including yours, is likely to be awful. Ernest Hemingway put it more strongly. He said, “All first drafts are crap.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the only thing you can do from here on out is make it better.

Draft by draft until you’re done.

Get ready to write several drafts of your book. How many? Most of my clients write three, four, or five. One client wrote a dozen complete drafts.

Write as many drafts as you need. Stop revising when your draft says everything you want to say and reads smoothly. After that, revisions make your book different but not better.

The truth is your friend.

You will produce a better book if you get lots of feedback from friendly, knowledgeable people. Some of them will resemble your ideal reader. Some will be experts in your field. Some will be professionals, like editors and coaches.

The best reviewers will tell you the truth but never try to be hurtful or parade their ego.

Give ideas space to grow.

For most authors, writing a book is a journey of discovery. If you’re not getting new insights as you work, you’re doing something wrong. My guess is, you’re working too hard.

Good ideas and insights need space to grow. Give them space in your day by taking breaks. Give them space in your project by allowing “fallow” time between drafts.

There is no way to microwave great work.

Great work takes time and attention. There’s no secret shortcut. There are no tips, tricks, or hacks that will produce great work quickly. Relax, take the time you need, and enjoy the process.

Takeaways

The first draft is the worst draft.

Draft by draft until you’re done.

The truth is your friend.

Give ideas space to grow.

There is no way to microwave great work.

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