I’ve written a lot of books. I’m currently writing a book. I’m the kind of book nerd who when someone says, “Can you recommend a book?” my heart beats faster, I sit up straighter, and I remind myself to try not to overwhelm the poor person.
I put books on a pedestal. I artfully conceal my shock when someone says to me, “I don’t read.” Not because I judge them for it, but because I can’t imagine living without books. I’m happiest when I have a dangerous stack teetering on my bed side table.
Which hopefully explains why I used to believe that all writers would want to write a book.
But with lots of years of coaching people on this very topic, I came to realize it’s not true! It is not necessary for everybody who writes or has a business to write a book. (But but but my inner book nerd sputters, are you sure?) (Take a breath, it’s okay and I am.)
Because writing a book is difficult. Intellectually, emotionally, and on the rest of your life. You might not get out of your baggy ass sweat pants for months or longer, let alone see friends, be an attentive parent, go for a run, or eat your greens. So you really want to ask yourself a few discerning questions before you commit.
And now, I offer you just such questions to perhaps help you discern if you truly, madly, deeply have a book in you and if you truly, madly, deeply want to write that book.
#1 – What do you want writing a book to do for you?
Do you want to:
- Fulfill a life long book nerd dream (I clearly get it!)?
- Attract customers or clients?
- Build your reputation as an expert?
- Consolidate a lifetime of knowledge on your subject?
- Share your story with your family and friends?
- Make sense of your life?
Any response is valid as long as it’s true and compelling for you. Don’t fudge this one; it’s important!
#2 – Why do you think a book is the best form to fulfill what you just said?
If you’re a book lover, it can be automatic to assume a book is the best or only way. But there are so many forms to create in and so many ways to build a business, share your history, impart your knowledge. Take some time to consider the best form for what you want your work to do for you.
#3 – Why might a book be the best form for the people you want to reach?
Put an image in your mind of the person or persons who would be receiving your work. Do they like to read, watch, listen? In what forms and where?
You might chafe at this consideration (it’s all about what I want!) but writing a book – in fact, producing any creation – is always a conversation between creator and receiver. It’s a gift. Both for you as the creator and for the reader. Be generous in your giving from the outset by wisely considering the form this project takes.
#4 – What talents & skills of yours do you want to call on in this creation?
Do you like using these talents or do you just think you should because you have them? Are they talents and skills that lend themselves to a book form? Or another form? Can you imagine spending hundreds of hours using those talents and skills?
#5 – What talents do you want to develop and what skills are you willing to learn to make this project succeed?
This is not the time to be pie in the sky but look at where your project will demand you to stretch. Are you are willing to do that? Do you currently have the energy and time?
This consideration may make you change the form or scope of your project. That’s good! Really! Maybe it’s not a three volume fantasy epic but one fantasy fiction short – for now. Maybe it’s not a complete history of your family for four generations but the story of your mom’s early life in Brooklyn, with text, pictures, and video snippets. Maybe it’s not everything you know about yoga but everything you know about yoga for people recovering from a stroke.
#6 – If this project could do anything for you, what would that anything be?
Paint yourself a big sparkling vision. Then reflect: is that a vision that can best be realized in book form or in another?
#7 – What would total failure look like?
What’s the worst that could happen? For my book-in-progress, there isn’t a failure possible because I’ve already learned and grown so much, as a writer and a person, that while I would love to produce a beautiful book that is read by many, that’s now gravy. I can’t fail at this point. So think about how the form of your project might help you to benefit no matter the outcome.
#8 – What will make you proud?
If you read straight through these questions without doing some thinking or journaling, forget this last question for now. Because it may have a different answer after you dig into the other questions. But do ask yourself this at some point.
So what if after all this discerning, you do want to write a book? What do you do next?
Decide on a simple organizational system and stick to it. No system is perfect! I use Evernote and Scrivener and one notebook at a time. When I’m done with the notebook, I pull out or transcribe any notes I need. When you want to get a new system half way through the book, you are avoiding writing. Stop yourself.
Find the approach that works best for you. Nobody really knows how to write a book. But plenty of people are willing to tell you they do. You’re going to have to piece together the approach that works best for you. Do not believe anybody who says they know exactly what to do – what they know is what worked for them or for a very particular kind of book, which if you want to write that book, great. Prepare to cobble ideas, to be lost often, and to discover from yourself over time what your book is really about.
Write. Even when you don’t know exactly what to write. Talking about writing and studying about writing is so fun but it is not writing.
Study structure. Yes three act narrative structure if you are writing fiction or memoir but structure is so much more. Start by reading John McPhee’s Draft #4.
Find friends and mentors. Do not do this alone. Invite friends to accompany you and read your work along the way, writers or not. Find a few smart mentors. A great peer group. But first, write a bunch and develop some trust in your own voice and process.
The book nerd in me bows to the book nerd in you. Happy writing! Or other creating!
P.S. Think after all of this that you do have a book in you – or another writing project you feel called to create? That, of course, makes me happy! How about joining me for a 5 day getaway to a private house just off the beach in Mexico where you will have the time and space to write and relax? There are 3 spots left for my Write. Move. Rediscover. writing retreat in Sayulita, Mexico. It’s happening February 14th-19th and you can get all of the details (and see the fabulous pictures of where we stay) here.