Writing a book is a life-goal for many people, and the creative anxieties surrounding such an intense, long-term project can be distracting. If you’re like most authors, you’ll teeter between unchecked enthusiasm (my book will be the best in the world!) and practical limitations (how do I make the words go?).
In my experience, most authors don’t really deal with the fear until later. They aren’t necessarily afraid of failure, negative reviews, overspending on a book launch that gets no sales. It’s less of a phobia, and more of a vacuum of experience and knowledge.
You’re smart, and eloquent, and a “good writer” (or so you’ve been told) but facing the blank page, the journey from getting started and getting it done feels insurmountable.
But don’t worry, we’re here to help!
So first off: what you want to say and how you want to say it are much less important than this simple prospect: what’s the point of your book? Who will enjoy it and why? What’s the main hook or story or premise that makes it worth reading.
The good news is, the writing style or quality of words you’ve employed don’t matter all that much… but that’s also the bad news. Because it means, your creative effort is mostly in vain, and no amount of polishing will make an empty book feel meaningful.
The other important thing to keep in mind, is that writing a book is a process that depends not only on evolving brainstorms (sudden epiphanies that fill in the blanks only arrive AFTER you’ve mapped out the territory and recognized the issue); it also depends on many rounds of fixing and revision – the heavy lifting or the good writing often comes in the late revision stages.
How do you actually start writing a book?
You can break a book down into individual sections or scenes, by focusing on what single thing needs to happen, or what single point you’re trying to make, and then adding in all the relevant context to make that thing happen. So you’re not trying to write a book – that huge chunk of a manuscript – not today at least.
Today, you’re trying to figure out one small issue.
Or, maybe you’re trying to write 500 words to get started thinking about how a certain section or chapter might go. Personally, I start with a tight outline.
If you’re having trouble getting started, feel free to use mine:
Those resources have helped hundreds of authors make progress faster – and they’re vague enough not to feel contrived or formulaic. They’ll just help you tell your story better, by giving you constructive boundaries. Once you’ve figured out your outline or structure, you’ll begin filling in the blanks.
We’re still in the drafting phase, so don’t make the mistake of overpolishing, or wrestling with your word choice, or feeling like your writing “isn’t good enough.” That’s not the point of a draft. The point – the unskippable, necessary point – is to figure out what you’re saying or how the content or story all fits together.
Drafting is a whole thing, but it’s mostly about letting the words flow through you, rough and raw, to fill in a shape and see how things settle. A lot of it might be extra, or unnecessary; especially backstory or infodumps or summary – which are fine for first drafts but need to be ruthlessly cut and honed and reduced in the final draft.
If you’re still feeling the fear…
One of my favorite things is an antique book on solitude that maps out the “3 orders of creative wretchedness” – it’s all about creative fear and anxiety, which can be reduced to concerns about quality and value:
1. is this good enough?
2. will this matter?
This see-saw of uncertainty, this sometimes crushing anxiety about your creative work, isn’t something to be fixed or avoided. It’s not a flaw, it’s a feature. And it never goes away: but you can recognize it and allow it to be there. It’s that inevitable panic that comes when you’re at the edge of your known world and can’t see the next step in front of you; the yawn of the abyss concealing an unknown future. It will show up with each step.
But you’re in good company, because all writers feel it.
The best thing to do is, gather all the resources you can to make sure you’re avoiding amateur mistakes that all first-time authors make, and figure out early whether you’re writing a thing other people will enjoy, or just writing for your own enjoyment (hint: it’s *always* better to do both).