How NOT to Fail at Writing Your First Book

Updated: December 2, 2011

Coach Cat

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This is a guest post by Cathy Archer.

As I typed the last sentence, a feeling of immense joy and overwhelming excitement coursed through my body. I had done it! I had just completed my first book. I had never dreamed I’d actually be able to do it. From the time I was sixteen years old I wanted to write a book ‘some day.’ Some day had arrived and I was filled to the brim with self satisfaction.

The first person I called to share my joy was my Success Buddy, James. Despite the joy I felt, it didn’t feel real until I shared it with him. He was just as excited as I was. I felt so complete hearing his congratulations and words of praise.

The more people I told, the more I heard the sentiment, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” My response was always the same: “Oh, it’s not that difficult. You can do it! I’ll help you.”

Many individuals love the idea of writing a book, but the thought of such a huge undertaking can be scary. Writing a book can be a one of the most fulfilling experiences a writer can ever have. Yet, it can be a daunting task.

As the old saying goes, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ If writing a book is a lifelong dream, you should definitely ‘just do it.’ The coach in me couldn’t help but create an outline of the steps individuals can take to succeed at writing a book.

In this post I will lay out some action steps to help you write your first book.

Action Step 1: Get rid of the obstacles!

Yes there are obstacles. The three big ones are a multitude of fears, lack of time, and lack of confidence. We tend to allow thoughts of doubt and fear to take over our thinking.

We are convinced that we could never find the time to sit and write a book, and we tend to lack the confidence in our ability to get it done. It is very difficult to focus and take the steps necessary to achieve a goal with feelings of doubts and fear.

The thing about doubts and fears is that once you possess them they can take over and control your thinking and behavior. They can manifest themselves in procrastination: what would happen is that every time you think about writing, or you sit down to write, you experience writer’s block or you find some other task to distract you. This can be very frustrating to the new writer.

Every successful writer has experienced doubts and fears at some point in their writing careers. The difference between a successful and an unsuccessful writer is that the successful writer has conquered his or her doubts and fears, or at the very least, learned to move beyond them.

I knew that one of the first things I needed to do to succeed at my goal of writing a book was to get rid of my fears. So, I used an exercise on myself that I normally use with my coaching clients to help them address any internal blocks to their goals. It was only then that I was able to move past my doubts to work on the book.

Before you can succeed at writing your first book, you have to get rid of the obstacles. You have to address the fears and doubts. I recently came across an article written by a Dr. Annette Colby that outlined 6 keys to overcoming fear and doubt. The steps are quite helpful.

The tool that I created for my clients involves three simple steps.

Step 1.

Acknowledge your fears. Allow them to surface and be expressed. Even though the conventional wisdom is the opposite (to push negative thoughts away and only think positively), unless you first acknowledge the truth of how you are feeling, you will never be able to move beyond them to be able to write a book.

Step 2.

After expressing the truth of how you feel, these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that will not help you write that book must be released. So, consciously choose to release those beliefs that are not in your best interest to believe.

Step 3.

Replace the old thoughts and beliefs with new ones that will serve to support you in writing a book. Create the beliefs that are in your best interest to have. Choose for these new beliefs to become your reality.

(If you feel that your doubts and fears are deeply rooted and you would like to use the complete version of this tool, contact me and I’ll send you a free copy of the tool. Just email me and put “Please send me ‘7 Steps to Removing the Blocks to Writing Your First Book’” in the subject line.)

The key is to master the art of getting your mind to cooperate so that you can allow yourself to write without distractions of doubts.

Also, know that you don’t have to be a genius to write a book—which is one thought that makes us hesitate. People want to hear from people just like themselves. If you have a story to tell, people want to know about it. You are ‘expert enough!’

Action Step 2: Plan Your Writing sessions!

We all know that if we really want to do something, we have to plan for it. For example, if you decided that you wanted to wake up early the next morning and go for a jog, it’s not likely to happen if you are relying on yourself to just do it naturally.

For most of us we would have to plan it first: we’d have to decide where we are going to jog, what time we are going to jog, and what distance we are going to jog. Then we’d have to set our alarm clocks the night before and maybe even layout our jogging attire the night before. If we did all this, we would be much more likely to get up early and go for a jog.

If you are waiting for inspiration before you sit down to write a book, you are not very likely to complete it.

While the idea of writing a book may sound glamorous, actually getting the words down requires work. This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the process; it simply means that it requires dedicated effort and a continuous commitment. It is difficult for inspiration to come to us when we are busy running around and living our lives.  In order to feel inspired, you have to allow yourself the time and focus so that the inspiration can be felt. Here are some helpful tips for planning your sessions.

Tip 1. Decide how much time you can dedicate each week to your goal of writing a book. Start off small, so that you don’t get overwhelmed by this new activity. If you start off with 2 hours a week, you can increase it as you get more comfortable with it.

Tip 2. One of the things you can do to make it easier to get started writing is to think only in bite sizes. Focus on one task at a time. For example, in one writing session, brainstorm various versions of the title; then in another writing session, work on the outline; etc.

The mind needs to perceive your book project in manageable bite sizes so that you don’t get overwhelmed and give up completely. In essence, you are tricking the mind into actually engaging in the project of writing a book without allowing it to tell you “It’s too big a job!”

Tip 3. Experiment with different days and different times for your writing sessions. See what day works best for your schedule. Also, consider what time of the day is your most productive time. For me, early morning writing sessions are best. It doesn’t mean I can’t write in the afternoons or at night. It simply means that the writing is easiest in the morning. When I write in the afternoon or at night it is more difficult for me to focus and what I am writing takes twice as long to get done. So determine what would work best for you.

Action Step 3: Access your creative center

Each of us has a creative center. Each of us has a place deep within us that allows us to be creative and have moments of brilliance in our lives. The key is to find ways to make those moments of brilliance become hours of brilliance.

For some people, writing comes easy. That’s because they have a continuous flow from their creative centers. If writing is not easy for you, that’s okay. You can actually learn how to access your creative center on a continuous basis.

Once you get in the habit of accessing your creative center, you would be amazed at how quickly you can do it and how easy the writing will become for you. I have always been able to easily access my creative center, but it used to require the conditions to be right. I used to have to have total silence to write. One day I had to babysit for a friend who had an emergency. I was working under a deadline for one of my books, so I couldn’t afford not to spend that time writing. What I discovered amazed me.

While her six-year-old was running around the house making noise and stopping her activities to interrupt me every 15 minutes, I was still able to focus on my book and write effectively. It wasn’t the most enjoyable process, but the information still flowed easily. I found that I could actually stop writing, go and deal with her six-year-old, go back to my writing, and the flow would continue from where I left off. What an amazing discovery!

Once you get in the habit of accessing your creative center, you will always be able to do it and it will become easier and easier. Here are the keys to doing that.

Key 1. Identify a trigger for accessing your creative center. It could be anything that you do before each writing session that tells yourself, “I am about to access my creative center.” For me, it’s taking a shower. In fact, it has become such a strong trigger that even when I am not planning to write, information just flows like crazy whenever I take a shower and I usually have to turn it off. It is believed by some that there is a connection between water and creativity. I’m sure you must have experienced getting ideas while in the shower before. If not, try it. Before you take a shower, ask yourself how to go about doing something. Then the next time you take a shower, focus on the question again and watch the information flow with all sorts of ways you can do it.

Key 2. Get rid of all physical distractions like hunger, cold, or heat. The key to accessing your creative center is the ability to focus on it. If you are hungry, that’s where your focus is. If you are cold or hot, it’s a distraction. What I tend to do is write in between meals. I like to write early in the morning before breakfast. If I must eat something, I try to eat light meals so that I don’t become lethargic and not able to write after a meal. I also keep a blanket nearby in case I get cold so that I’m not distracted by physical discomfort.

Key 3. Discover your most conducive work environment. Each writer is different. All writers have to decide what writing environment works best for them. Try writing in one of these environments:

  • Write at night
  • Write early in the morning
  • Write with music on
  • Write in total silence
  • Write closed off in a room
  • Write out in the middle of nature
Key 4. Have a ‘stress-reliever plan of action.’ There are going to be times when you want to write and you are not in the right frame of mind to do it, but you must do it. For writers who make a living at their craft, they have to find a way to shift to a more conducive state of mind.

When I am feeling too stressed to write, I stand in a garden with my shoes off and bury my toes in the dirt. If I’m feeling too lazy to wash my feet after, I’ll run the dirt through my fingers instead. This always, always calms me. Somehow the earth has grounding energies that can calm you when you are stressed. Another thing I do if I drank too much caffeine or I’m feeling too hyped to relax and write is to go for a walk or do some physical exercises. This can also help you to relax enough to access your creative center.

Get more helpful ways to relieve “writing stress” here.

The most important thing to remember is that learning to access your creative center is like learning to use muscles for the first time. It takes stretching and a lot of practice, but in no time your creativity muscle will be supple and flexible.

Action Step 4: Create the Success!

It is important to set yourself up to succeed. Here are some success tips that will help you succeed at writing your first book.

1.     Create your book in the ethers

In other words, imagine your book as it already exists. Instead of using visualization exercises to see it, use your feelings to imagine the joy of writing your book and how it will feel once completed. The heart is a far more powerful creator than the mind. The more you do this, the more excitement you will feel every time you sit down to work on your book and the easier the writing process will be.

2.     Choose a Success Buddy

A Success Buddy is an individual that you identify to support you through your goal of writing a book. A Success Buddy can make the writing process so much easier and is essential to the writing process. I got an opportunity to realize just how essential my Success Buddy was after I lost him. I floundered with my writing projects for a while after he passed. He knew me so well and knew exactly how to encourage me when I had tight ghostwriting deadlines. I would excitedly call him up to listen to something I had written that I felt was brilliant and calling out to be shared.

Success Buddies can have a positive impact on your ability to succeed.  They can listen to your frustrations, they can encourage you through the challenges, and they can help you celebrate each accomplishment, which brings me to the next step.

3.     Celebrate Celebrate Celebrate

You should celebrate with every accomplishment. Although writing a book is doable, it does require a lot of focused effort and isn’t always as simple as it seems. Therefore you should always celebrate your progress. It keeps you moving forward because celebrating communicates to your mind that the project of writing a book is achievable. So instead of the mind feeding you doubts of how it is not possible, it can feed you reminders of all of your successes.

Therefore, when you have chosen your book title, have a glass of wine (if you like) in celebration. When you have completed your first writing session, celebrate. When you have completed your first chapter, celebrate. Throughout the writing of the book identify milestones that you can celebrate. This helps to develop automatic habits of success.

4.     Have a survival kit nearby

Having a survival kit makes the writing process easier and more enjoyable. That kit can contain any number of things. My survival kit contains:
  • A blanket
  • An enclosed cup of hot tea (to make it last longer)
  • Light snacks (fruits & crackers)
  • A Thesaurus
  • A Notepad and pencil
These items serve several purposes:
  • The blanket stops me from getting distracted by the cold (I get cold easily in A/C even though I live in a year-round warm climate).
  • I can’t explain this one other than to say a cup of tea gives me comfort.
  • Light snacks stop me from getting too hungry or too full either of which can distract me and block my creative flow.
  • Sometimes when I write, I can’t move on unless I find the right word, so a thesaurus nearby stops me from interrupting my flow to look for one. Even though I write on my computer, (it took a long time to make that adjustment until I realized the absolute waste of time in writing on a pad and having to type it all up) I still like to scribble and make notes to myself on my writing pad.
The key to your survival kit is having all those items that will allow your creativity to flow freely without interruption. As you may have already experienced, once the flow starts, you need to be able to capture the words right away because sometimes if you don’t, they are lost forever. You don’t need distractions interrupting those great moments of genius.

5.     Don’t sweat the small stuff

You can always find help with any aspect of writing a book that you are not familiar with. So don’t let the fact that you are not an expert at writing stop you. If you feel that your grammar isn’t good enough, you can always hire an editor to review your writing and correct it. If you have trouble sitting still for long periods of time or you type too slowly, then speak your book into a microphone and have your recordings transcribed. If you can’t possible put your story or your message into a style that can work, then hire a ghostwriter. Entire online careers are focused on just providing these types of services.

A great resource for writing advice and services is Daily Writing Tips. In just the Writing Basics category alone there are over 113 articles.

If you have a message to share or a story to tell, it is definitely achievable no matter what you think your limitations may be.

6.     Enjoy the ride

Remember to have fun with your project. Don’t allow it to overwhelm you. You are human, so take it easy on yourself and lower your expectations of completing a book in a day or a week or even a month. Allow yourself a reasonable timeline for writing a book.

If you find yourself stressing out, step back from it for a while and figure out how to resolve the things that are causing the stress. If you feel unsure of where you are heading with your writing or want feedback, set up an account at and take advantage of that writing community.

Action Step 5: Writer’s Block Is Your Friend

One of the fears that many aspiring authors face is not knowing what to write and feeling stuck. They can’t help but be fearful when one of Hollywood’s favorite depictions of writers is the writer experiencing writer’s block. Some writers worry about having writers block and they allow this to debilitate them. It is not something you should fear. Writers block is simply a block in the creative flow caused by some kind of distraction. That block can be caused by any number of things and can be easily addressed.

If you sit down to write and the information is not flowing there are several steps you can take to understand what’s going on and address it.

Step 1.

Determine whether or not you are physically out of balance. If you are hungry, or too full, tired or feeling ill, these can be causing a distraction to the point that you cannot focus and tune into your creative flow. The same is true if you are emotionally upset for any reason. Even though you may want to stick to your writing schedule to be productive, if you are not feeling balanced, reschedule your writing session to a time when you can easily be in a creative flow.

Step 2.

Did you address all of your fears from Action Step 1? If there are any inner conflicts going on, they will get in the way of your ability to allow the creative flow and write. You will know that the conflict is an inner conflict if your blocks are mental. In other words, if you have conversations going on in your head that makes you doubt yourself and everything that you are writing.

At the same time, doubts can also be your friend. If you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right about what you are writing and you can’t seem to move forward, it could be a message from yourself that you need to head in a different direction. Listen to what the doubts are. Pay attention to what gifts it may be bringing you.

When you are having doubts about something it could be bringing you a gift that suggests you make changes. They could just be little things, but the little things can have a big impact on the success of your book. So make writers block your friend and listen to what it’s telling you.

Step 3.  

If none of the above things are the issue, try changing the time of day you write. Also try changing where you write. And, when you do sit down to write, write whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be related to your book. You simply want to prime your creative pump and get the juices flowing.

If I’m feeling totally distraught over something, I sit and write every single thing I am feeling just to get it out of my system. I then delete it of course, but it works to clear me from distractions and allows me to focus on whatever writing project I’m working on at the time. A great resource for getting your juices flowing is at this creative writing prompt website. It offers a ton of ideas that you write on to stimulate your thinking and get your creative juices flowing.

Step 4.

Even if you can’t seem to get started writing during your formal writing sessions, ideas probably to come to you at different points throughout the day. So make a habit of keeping a note book handy. You can write down any ideas or thoughts that come to you to work on during your writing sessions.

Know that it takes practice to consistently be in the creative flow so that when you sit down to write it is easy. You will get there. In fact, once you get in the habit of a creative flow you’ll find that ideas are always coming to you especially before you go to bed at night. You might even get to the point where you have to turn your creative flow off to get to sleep. At this point in my writing career, I am so adept at accessing my creative center that I refuse to let myself think at night. If I do, the ideas spill over non-stop, and if I stop to write, I’ll stay up all night and not get any sleep.

If all of these things fail to take you out of writers block, email me and I’ll help you determine (free of charge) what’s causing the block. I am convinced that anyone who really wants to can succeed at writing a book and I want to see you do it.

Please leave a comment below and let me know how else I can continue to support you in writing your first book.

All the best to you in writing that first book! I look forward to seeing you at the finish line!

(image via Flickr)

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