What I Learned Writing a Book
Last week, I told you why I wrote A More Beautiful Life. Today, I’ll share some of what I learned as a newbie to the publishing world and writing process.
“Write a book” has been number two on the goal list since I was in 9th grade. I’d always hoped to put pen to paper someday, but I had no idea how to get from a concept to a published book. There were many learning curves along the way.
Walking through the process taught me so much. I’m one of those people who learn best by experience. While I’m happy to make mistakes, sometimes I wish I could figure things out without having to live through them simultaneously. It turns out that writing a book is like parenting: they hand you the contract/child, but no instruction manual. I did my best to learn from my mistakes, turn errors into lessons, and manage the emotional rollercoaster throughout the writing journey.
When I started this book writing journey, I didn’t know how to get from step A (idea) to step Z (holding my published book in my hands).
I couldn’t have done it by myself. So many people I met along the way helped guide me through the process. I met my agent, Bryan, through a mutual friend before I knew I was ready to author a book. He helped me toss around a few book ideas rather patiently for several years. It wasn’t until I’d developed HEART goals and taught several workshops on HEART that I knew—this was my (first) book.
When I finally had a firm grasp of the book’s central theme, I emailed Bryan. He guided me through the book proposal process, which is like a mini-book! For authors looking to get a book published, a quality book proposal is a crucial first step. I was confident in the HEART system—I know it works, and the benefits of implementing it in my life have been enormous—but I was not as confident in my writing skills. I turned to my friend Jeff to help me craft the proposal.
Turning the idea into an outline taught me even more about HEART. Jeff guided me through the process and told me what to expect. Without his guidance, I might have given up before I started! I met others who helped me along the way, like Allison Trowbridge, founder of Copperbooks. Her enthusiasm for authors and storytelling helped me believe my story was worth telling.
Once I signed with a publisher, I spent about 14 months working on the manuscript. I wrote longhand, filling up composition book after composition book before transcribing it into Word. My friends Annie, Alli, and Nicole helped edit and compile chapters along the way. A small circle of close, life-long best friends each gave their perspective, and every set of eyes and ears brought something new to the book. David and our kids sat through more than one lousy reading, and David put his hands on early manuscripts.
They say writing is rewriting, and I can now verify the truth of that statement. Turns out, writing is mostly rewriting. There’s the terrible first draft—and I mean, terrible, horrible, awful, pathetic, disgusting, disorganized first draft. After that, it was hard to count the number of read-throughs and edit rounds. The most significant gift at this stage was anyone who would say, “OK, now that’s boring,” or “That doesn’t make sense.” I prefer my feedback served cold.
Early feedback encouraged me to use anecdotes to illustrate points. Confession: I looked up the definition of anecdote after my publishing team suggested this writing technique. I guess I missed that lesson in high school and college writing classes. It was one of those words I knew I’d heard, but I wasn’t 100% clear on what it meant. When I looked it up: lightbulb! I realized I use anecdotes all the time. I’m the gal my friends call for advice. I share stories to illustrate points, listen, ask questions, and problem-solve. These stories I share when a friend calls with a problem? Anecdotes. I just had to write them down and figure out where to put them in the book.
Writing A More Beautiful Life was, at times, delightful. I would have stints of zone-writing, where things flowed, or a good editing session, where I loved how the words fell together. At other times, writing was an arduous process. If I hadn’t stopped to implement HEART and take care of myself along the way, I never would have been able to finish.
The manuscript improved with each round of feedback and edits. Slowly, ideas moved from outline to paragraph, paragraph to chapters. And then—after hours of journaling, marathon writing sessions at the lake, tweaking, rewording, and obsessing over every little detail—it was done, and I was finished.
I wasn’t ready to hand it over. We were behind on the deadline, and I’ll be honest, I was discouraged. Learning by experience means I pretty much wanted to start over. I wanted to take the knowledge I had acquired during the process and go back to the beginning, start over and make the book much better. At this point, my editor told me it was a common problem with authors, and she needed to pry the book out of my hands. I wasn’t ready to let go of it. After pouring so much of myself into the writing process, I had a vulnerability hangover—and was scared of what came next.
Because once it went to print, there was no going back. I wholeheartedly believe in A More Beautiful Life and HEART—but what if? What if no one bought it? What if the reviews were scathing? The final step of turning in the manuscript was terrifying. But I did it. I turned it in.
And the book was published.
And it’s been a joy to get feedback from others who have implemented HEART and changed their lives. One of the most meaningful pieces of feedback came a few weeks ago. My friend Rebecca Smith, who hosts the Moms Struggling Well podcast, posted on Instagram about feeling like her life was out of control. I sent her a book, and she invited me to be a guest on her podcast (you can listen to the episode here). We discuss how we’ve each used different strategies to implement time focused on All Our People. I read to my kids, and you’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear her take on it!
The whole process, beginning to end, was exhilarating and exhausting. When I hear from people like Rebecca who have benefited from HEART, I know that every second of anxiety experienced authoring the book was worth it. During the process, I developed writing endurance and confidence. And I realized I have more to say. A More Beautiful Life is just the beginning of the stories and anecdotes (wink) I want to share.
A book is nothing without readers, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading the book and following along on my journey. Next week, I’ll share a little more about what I hope A More Beautiful Life can do for you. And if you haven’t read it yet—you can get a signed copy (with an exclusive bookplate) right here!