Oh, how many books have I begun to write? Let me count the titles… there was a book of poetry, three YA novels, a serious nonfiction exploration of divorce, at least two separate picture books, and a memoir. I have started and set down manuscripts for half a dozen books, all of them good conceptually. But when it comes down to brass tacks… I have a hard time getting the work of writing done.
I got serious about one book in particular two years ago. I can’t tell you how many self-imposed deadlines I’ve missed since then. I can’t tell you how many people have asked, “How is your book coming along?” Cue me laughing (so I don’t cry). I’ve started to answer my friends with a quip: “Well, if thinking about writing counts as writing, then it’s still not coming along well because I dedicate about 20 minutes a month to thinking about my book.” If they’re a writer they nod and commiserate that most of the writing process involves very little writing, at least in the beginning. If they’re not a writer they laugh and tell me they’re sure my book will be wonderful (I have kind friends).
The funny thing about my writing is that I’m a publishing professional. I’ve worked in the literary world for a decade and I know how hard it is to get pen to paper. I know how hard it is once your book is done to get it published. And I know that it’s rare to ever see it stocked on a bookstore shelf, let alone bought by a stranger, reviewed by major media, or—in my wildest dreams—revered by the literate masses. Here are a few tips for staying on track and seeing your writing projects through to the end.
I’m friend to a lot of writers (the previously mentioned kind souls), and I can dish out the support and advice all day long that I myself need to hear. I work with writers in my professional capacity as a Book Publicist. It’s not knowledge that gets you there; it’s something else entirely. I’m the classic example of “those who can’t do, teach;” and yet here I am—working on doing—though the going is slow.
There are the rare writers that say their words cannot be contained. I know these people—these wonderful, terrible wellsprings of inspiration that are somehow equally gifted with talent and grit. They have ideas, they have panache, and they have the drive to type late into the night and birth their creations.
It's All Hands on Deck to Finish A Book
Some writers have that drive and dedication. But that’s not most, I think. Most writers struggle more. And yet they know they have something to say, and so say it they must. If you go to the launch party for a very first book especially, you will hear of the hard work it took to get that book to your happy hands. Whether it took the author years of writing and then years more of the business of publishing the book, or the words just flew from their finger tips and they lucked into an easy publishing process, the stories of our paths to publishing range the gamut and it can feel easy to compare our own struggles to someone else’s end result. Something I’ve found comforting that my “insider” publishing experience has truly illuminated to me is that it takes many, many cooks in a book’s kitchen to get it to a final literary feast. Your 20th draft will still be edited, marketed, designed and much more by a team, whether you are independently published or traditionally published! The buck doesn’t exactly stop with you, and realizing that can be comforting.
You Are Not Alone
Feeling less alone in my writing process has helped release me from some of the pressure I think has caused my writer’s block in the past. Unnecessary perfectionism to create a perfect book and hand it off to print overwhelmed me, but remembering the many industry partners each author accumulates and how they shape the course of the book can be an enormous relief.
Lean On Your Support Network
I’ve seen books in their early stages that continued to stay under editorial eye for years before they were published. If those authors had tried to make a perfect book before their agents and editors got hold of it, we’d never have those bestsellers on our shelves now. Instead, these writers trusted in their support network—they let work that was “not done” go under another’s critique, and in doing so relinquished perfectionism and embraced the hard work of simply getting the writing done.
I know this is how I write myself out of my fears and away from the rough starts and stops of the last decade of writing projects. Laying to rest perfectionism and instead moving into community can help me walk my writing talk!
This is a guest post by Sara Wigal. Sara Wigal is an Assistant Professor of Cinema, Television & Media and Director of Publishing at Belmont University, a unique undergraduate degree that equips students with necessary skills and knowledge to enter the book world. She serves the Next Chapter Society council which supports the programming made possible by the Nashville Public Library Foundation. She previously worked in literary PR, beginning as an assistant and working her way up to a Senior Manager role, shaping author brands and interacting with the media. Wigal has been published by The Tennessean, Publishers Weekly, and Writer's Digest.