Over the last ten years or so, I’ve had lots of conversations—with friends, clients, colleagues, people on airplanes, people waiting in line at Trader Joe’s—about how to write a book.
Here is a summary of every conversation I’ve ever had with people about their books. The questions, worries, and hesitations that I’ve heard, most often—and my responses.
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Q: I want to write a book. But I’m worried nobody will actually read it. What if I do all this hard work and then only five people read my book?
A: If that happens, then you will know that you created a positive ripple in five human being’s lives, and that’s a beautiful thing. If your book helps even just one human being to feel a little happier, calmer, stronger, encouraged, uplifted, entertained, inspired, or less alone in this crazy world, then, in my opinion, your book is a success. (Changing one human life is a big deal.)
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Q: I want to write a book but I’m so busy (work, kids, dogs, ponies, iguanas, etc.) and I worry it’s going to take forever and ever.
A: If you have major time constraints, one option is…don’t write a long book. Write a tiny book instead. Think: 20, 30, maybe 40 or 50 pages on a topic that lights you up. A tiny book about meditation. A tiny book about surviving divorce. A tiny book filled with love messages for your children. Tiny books are beautiful. Tiny projects can make a big difference in people’s lives. Not every book needs to be War & Peace.
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Q: I want to write a book, but I worry my message isn’t original enough. It’s all been said before. I’m not contributing anything new to the world.
A: There are certain timeless, universal messages that human beings need to hear again…and again…and again. These types of messages are not necessarily “new” or “original” and yet, we still need to hear them. Repeatedly.
For instance, this message: “Be kind to one another. Treat your brothers and sisters with respect and compassion.” Jesus delivered this message. So did Gandhi. So did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So did Mister Rogers. So does Ellen DeGeneres. So do thousands of other people throughout history and today. Same message—delivered by different people in different ways and different formats (books, speeches, TV shows, words and actions, too.)
If you feel like your message is not “new,” perhaps this is actually a very good thing. Perhaps it’s a sign you’ve tapped into one of those timeless messages that human beings have always needed to hear, and still do, and always will.
There are thousands of songs about falling in love. We still need more. There are thousands of songs about heartbreak. We still need more. There are thousands of books about how to lead a purposeful life. We still need more. There are thousands of essays about how one person’s choices can change the world. We still need more. Because we all bumble through life and we get distracted and we forget things we’ve heard before, things we know to be true. We need reminders from a variety of voices—from other people, and from you.
There’s always room for more art.
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Q: I love writing, but I hate the marketing side of things. Ugh. When I think about promoting my book, my stomach feels gross and my chest feels tight and I can’t breathe.
A: One mental reframe that has changed my life is this idea: Marketing can feel like an art project. For instance, if you design a flyer about your book, that’s an art project, and that’s marketing. If you host a beautiful event at your favorite bookstore, with chocolate and music and interesting questions to spark a conversation amongst the attendees, that’s an art project, and that’s marketing. If you write an e-newsletter where you share a personal story that’s related to the theme of your book, that’s an art project, and that’s marketing. Marketing = Making Art. See? They’re even spelled almost identically.
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Q: I want to write a book and I think I’d like to self-publish it. But I get so overwhelmed by the technical side of things. Design, layout, printing, etc. I’m not a techie person.
A: If you feel overwhelmed, ask, “What’s the simplest possible format for my book?” Maybe you could write a short book, go to your local Fedex Office store, talk to a helpful person there, and they can help you get 10 copies printed. Glossy cover. Spiral bound. Done. Start with that. Simple. No drama. Minimal expense.
Or Google “book printing and binding in Los Angeles” (or Tacoma, or Chicago, or Melbourne, or wherever you live) and you’ll see plenty of businesses that can help you get this thing done. You can walk into the store and say, “Please help me figure out how to print my book!” and a nice person will say, “Of course.”
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Q: I’ve been wanting to write a book for a long time, but I am stuck. I can’t seem to get started (and/or, I can’t seem to finish).
A: Maybe, deep down, you don’t really want to write a book—and that’s completely okay. Maybe you’d be much happier doing something else—hosting a podcast, making a comic strip, re-painting your house, or throwing a dinner party and telling stories to your closest friends and making memories together.
Or maybe, deep down, you really do want to write a book, but you need something to get unstuck. Maybe you need a week of quiet time in a peaceful environment to work on your project without being interrupted every twenty minutes. Maybe you need a break from social media to clear your mind. Maybe you need a writing coach to lovingly prod you along. Maybe you need to change your book concept—make it simpler, smaller, tinier, less daunting to complete. Maybe you need a really strong cup of coffee and a pep talk from a friend and a desk with a view of the river. Maybe you need to trot over to your local public library, put on your headphones, hunker down for an afternoon, and just get the first page out. Maybe all of the above.
Ask your hut (heart + gut), “What do I need to get this project finished?” See what your hut says. Your hut always knows.
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If you really yearn to write a book—any type of book, a book for your clients, a book for your family, perhaps a book for the whole wide world—I hope you will do it.
Keep it simple. Keep it short, if that feels more realistic and sane for you. Set a beautiful intention (“I hope this book creates a positive ripple effect in the world, big or small”) and let that intention carry you through to the finish line.
My dad is currently writing a mystery novel set inside an opera house. He has never written a novel before.
When I asked him, “Why are you writing this book?”
He said, simply, “Because I want to.”
Sometimes “Because I want to” is the only reason you need—and the best reason of all.