Writing a Book: You Don’t Know What You’re in For

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As of this moment, Joseph Epstein has published 17 collections of essays and nine nonfiction books. Keep that in mind as you read the following.

“Before I had first done so, writing a book seemed a fine, even grand thing. And so it still seems – except, truth to tell, it is a lot better to have written a book than to actually be writing one. Without attempting to overdo the drama of the difficulty of writing, to be in the middle of composing a book is almost always to feel oneself in a state of confusion, doubt, and mental imprisonment, with an accompanying intense wish that one worked instead at bricklaying.”

I’m one of those rare wackos that enjoys the process of crafting a great book. I love the challenge of teasing the angels of meaning out of my writing partner’s head and then wrestling them onto the page. But I’m the exception. Most of the people I know who have written a book would agree with Joseph Epstein that, “It is a lot better to have written a book than to actually be writing one.”

Writing a book is a grand thing. But even if you get a wacko like me to help you get the job done, you’re still in for a lot of hard work, learning, and adjustment.

You’re in For Some Hard Work

Writing is like many other things that look easy when someone else is doing it. One reason is that you usually don’t see them doing it. Writers go off to their writing caves and crank out deathless prose. That may seem easy until you try doing it yourself.

Even if you don’t do the actual writing yourself, you’ll work a lot on clarifying ideas. You’ll be involved making changes in your first draft and every draft that comes after it.

Most great writing is iterative. The book doesn’t come out whole in one session. Most of the time, we do three or four full drafts of a book manuscript. That doesn’t count the multiple revisions to some chapters along the way. All of that will require intense involvement from you.

You’re in For a Lot of Learning

Jeff Senne, my coauthor on two books, once compared writing a book to getting a PhD. That’s an exaggeration, but you’re going to learn a lot.

You’ll learn about your subject. The process of turning the multitude of ideas in your head into an ordered march of ideas through the pages of a book will sharpen your ideas. Turning your off-the-cuff descriptions into precise written statements will help you deepen your understanding. You’ll spot holes in your arguments and in the information you use to support them. You’ll clarify things that were good enough for oral expression but won’t pass the test of being on a page. And you’ll resurrect ideas and information that you haven’t used in a while.

You’ll learn about the writing process. That’s the overall process in general, how a book is structured and comes together, and is also the process of how you do your best writing work. That won’t always be comfortable, but it will be rewarding.

You’ll learn about the publishing process, too. It’s likely that you’ve never had to learn what different kinds of editors do. You probably have a good idea about what cover design is, but you probably don’t know what interior design is and why it’s important. And, if my clients are any guide, you probably have unrealistic expectations about how long the writing and publishing processes will take. But you’ll learn.

You’re Going to Have to Make Some Changes

Writing a book won’t magically slip into your already stuffed calendar with nary a ripple. You’re going to have to make the effort to carve out the time to do the work you need. That always means tradeoffs.

You’ll probably have to extend your workday. Authors I’ve worked with have done that in a lot of different ways. Some get up an hour early every morning or stay up later into the night. Anything works, if you’re not sacrificing sleep to do it. Sleep is important.

Some clients who are self-employed consultants or speakers, schedule book writing as part of their work day. In effect, they’re trading the income they would normally earn for time to write their book.

Many authors I work with carve out time on the weekends to do their work. They set aside a half day, or two half days, on the weekend to work on the book. Naturally, there are tradeoffs there. The people who love you will support you, and they’ll make concessions, but you don’t want them to grow resentful of your book. It will be a challenge to maintain your important relationships while you work on your book.

You may discover that to get the time you need to work on your book you need to take drastic action. Maya Angelou would rent a hotel room and work there. I completed one of my own books by staying over for three days at a hotel after I gave a speech in a distant city. To complete another one, I spent a week at a friend’s cabin on the Russian River, where there was no phone and no television. This was before the days of the internet.

Bottom Line

Writing a book is a grand undertaking, and it can make a big difference in your life and career, and the lives of your readers. Getting from “I want to write a book” to “here’s a copy of my book” will not be easy. You’ll put in a lot of hard work and thinking. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, your subject, and the entire process of writing and publishing., You’ll have to adjust your lifestyle and your business to get the project done. I think it’s worth it. What about you?

If you want to know more in detail about the process of writing and publishing a book, download my white paper: “Do You Want to Write and Publish a Business Book: How to Go from Your Idea to a Book You’re Proud Of.”

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