Wrote a Book. Learned 5 Things!
On May 26, 2019 at 3:49 PM, I finished the first draft of a book I’ve been writing since September 1st, 2018! My goal was to start writing when my daughter began school, and finish before the glorious days of summer vacation. I made it! It was a thrilling moment for me, and I look forward to the real work that’s ahead - revision, editing, writing a book proposal, and learning how to pitch so I can snag an agent who will help me get a fabulous book deal.
This isn’t the first time I’ve finished a book. A couple years ago, I finished a memoir that’s safely stored on a hard drive (and in an old-school binder in my closet). Although I adore this book, it still needs to age appropriately, or be rewritten as fiction to protect the innocent!
These two books could not be more different, but the process of writing them felt the same. It was exhilarating! Whether they get published or not, I adore them and learned so much about the writing process. I don’t regret a single moment of hard thinking while clacking away on the keyboard.
Lesson #1: I don’t need to limit myself to one genre.
For a long time, I thought I was strictly a memoirist who liked to write personal essays and poems, but Backyard Birds and Words is a teaching book about helping families fall in love with writing. I was surprised that I loved writing it as much as I loved crafting true stories about my horribly hilarious blind dates in Dreamy Boys.
I thought writing nonfiction would feel like I was doing dry school assignments, but I was wrong. It felt just as creative as writing poetry, personal essays, and picture books.
I’m learning that as long as I’m writing about a subject I love, the genre doesn’t matter.
Lesson #2: I loved working with a writing coach who gave me deadlines and feedback.
I wrote Dreamy Boys and Backyard Birds and Words with writing coaches who are part of Author Accelerator. I don’t think I would have finished as fast without weekly feedback and deadlines that kept me writing at a good clip.
Life happens and writing can easily get pushed aside when kids and husbands and dirty laundry need you to do something other than spin a good yarn. Yes, there were times when I had to delay submission deadlines, but there were also times when I just pushed through because I didn’t want to waste my money (yeah - having a coach costs a buck or two!) and I knew my coach was expecting words to read.
Most importantly, I don’t think my books would have been as good without the input of my coaches. Lizette and Kathleen’s feedback was always spot on and supportive.
Finally, I loved knowing that I wasn’t writing in a vacuum. Writing is often a lonely journey and I always felt like I had a cheerleader in my corner. Yes, my husband and daughter were super supportive in every way, but they haven’t actually read any of the pages in my books yet. My writing coaches have read every single word.
Lesson #3: I’m so thankful that I planned my books before I sat down to write them.
Not to sound like a broken record ad for Author Accelerator (they have no idea I’m writing this), but I started with their Blueprint for a Book method and it was a lifesaver. I did five weeks of work before starting my first draft. This included:
a deep dive into why I was actually writing my books
jacket copy (this is the blurb that goes on the back of a book)
a series of possible titles and taglines
possible structures for the book
an annotated outline of the book
ways I can connect with readers
competitive titles (books similar to mine)
a description of my ideal reader and what he/she will say after reading the book
platform-building and marketing ideas
a one page book summary
writing goals for 6 to 12 months, plus the next 5 years
sample introduction, first chapter, and conclusion
Yes, this was a huge amount of work, but it forced me to think hard about my book. It made it so I didn’t write myself into a corner four months down the line. This is because the book I thought I was going to write before the Blueprint for a Book Class, was very different than the one I actually wrote. It would have taken me a lot longer to discover without the Blueprint class.
Lesson #4: It was thrilling when real life moments connected with my book.
This happened many times while writing Backyard Birds and Words, but my favorite moment happened when I was sitting in a hotel room writing a vignette about an egret. I stood up to take a break, walked over to the window, looked out, and saw an egret in the river.
Over and over again, I had goosebump moments when I looked back at journal entries or recalled stories that were perfect for my book. Without knowing it, I felt like I’d been getting ready to write this book for decades. I felt the same way when I was writing Dreamy Boys.
In some ways, this is a like the elusive runner’s high. It exists, but you gotta run a lot of miles, or write a lot of pages to experience it.
Lesson #5: I’m learning to trust my gut about revision decisions.
So many times I’d read comments from my book coach, Kathleen, and I’d recall that I’d had the same hunch when I was drafting the writing, but ignored it. It was a faint deja vu kind of moment.
In many instances, I was just too tired and too busy to write an additional sentence that would solidify my point. Kathleen would nudge me to “write a little more here.” It was nice to get confirmation that my writing instincts were right even if I was too tired to execute them.
Fortunately, I have all my notes from Kathleen and I can catch those parts when I return to my draft and begin big revision work after summer vacation.
I can’t wait to see what lessons I’ll learn about writing on the second draft. That’s when I’ll be venturing into new book writing territory and I’m excited to see how it unfolds.
No matter how much you write, there’s always something new to learn about the process. That’s why it’s so thrilling. There is always a new adventure waiting around the corner.
P.S. SumoWriMo starts June 10th. It’s a fun and doable summer writing challenge. I hope you’ll join us.
P.S.S. After this post, I’m taking a break from weekly blog posts for summer vacation. I’ll post on June 10, July 10, and August 10. I’ll be back with regular weekly posts on August 27th.