I’ve just finished my seventh book.
This amazes me, because when I finish each book I always say, “Never again!”
Why? Because churning out the number of words needed (my longest is 98000 and shortest, 22000) is VERY hard.
From time to time, people tell me they would love to write a book and ask me what it’s like. Depending on when they ask me, my response either might completely put them off, or could give them an unrealistic sense of the euphoria that can occur (very briefly usually – for me anyway) when writing.
I am currently not writing a book. I’m at the very pleasurable stage of inviting people to the launch of a book I’ve finished writing. The book is firmly off my plate because it’s gone to print, so I’m not behind on any word count goal and absolutely no more changes are possible!
That means I’m relaxed and can offer a balanced view of the pros and cons of acquiring that coveted status ‘author’.
So, what’s it like to write a book?
Let’s start with the bleak bits.
Here’s what writing a book is not like for me:
Easy. I don’t sit down and feel full of inspiration and start tapping away ten to the dozen. I’ve read quite a few books about writing by famous authors and it seems I’m not alone in that. It might have been Stephen King in his fantastic book On Writing who said you just have to sit down, even when you have nothing to say, and start typing. Preferably facing a wall so you have no distractions. It’s hard graft and mostly feels relentless.
Inspiring. Usually it’s more a feeling of drudge along the lines of ‘I have to write at least 2500 words today because I’m really behind’. Ugh. I get started after several displacement activities are done. I write a few sentences, look at the clock. Have a little burst where it flows, then give myself an unearned coffee break. I get back to my desk and do a ‘word race’ to try and get going again. Then I do a bit of research on the Internet. I realise it’s late afternoon and I’ve only done a few hundred words. Then I end up tiring myself out by working too late into the night to try and catch up. It’s exhausting.
Stress-free. I hardly ever get stressed in life, but I’ve learnt there are many moments of potential stress involved in being an author. When you can’t make a chapter work and can’t see a solution; when you discover lots of errors even after copy editing and proofing have been done; when you disagree with your editor about something and become riddled with self-doubt. And the worst thing ever, when you open your hot-off-the-press book and spot a mistake! Yep, it happens. In the book I wrote on ethics, ‘ethics’ is spelt ‘ehtics’ on one page. Once it’s out there in the world, it’s out there FOREVER.
But fortunately, there are many positives too.
Here’s what writing a book is like, and why I keep doing it:
Stimulating. Why? Because it’s a challenge. You have to decide what your message is, why you are writing the book in the first place, who your reader is, how to structure the book to make it engaging (much harder than it sounds), what to put in and what to leave out. This is all very creative and I absolutely love the process of working out how the book is going to be.
Exciting. I get to share with more people than I ever could in person about things that I think are important and make a difference. A publisher once told me that one of his criteria for taking on a book was whether the author is genuinely passionate about the subject. He’d found over the years that many people just give up if they don’t care enough about their topic. That turned out to be excellent advice; I could never write just for commercial reasons, for example. It’s the excitement of making a difference to thousands of people that keeps me going.
Rewarding. Not in a financial sense. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done for virtually no financial reward. I mean, sometimes there is an advance (though publishers often don’t give advances these days) and of course there are royalties on sales. But, if you weigh up the amount of time you spend planning, writing and then promoting the book the pay rate is extremely low.
For me the reward comes partly from the learning. Even if I know a lot already I learn still more and go deeper into the nuance. I bring to bear my inner critic and doubter to question and challenge what I think I already know. And I discover new, accessible and engaging ways to convey knowledge to the reader. I become more of an expert in my subject.
But the main thing that keeps me writing is the idea that the book will, even in a small way, make people’s lives better.
My latest book The Strengths Book: Discover How to Be Fulfilled in Your Work and in Life comes out in the UK on 26 October and the USA on 5 December 2017.