How I Wrote a Book

Sharing 15 tips for writing with my friends at Dropbox, if you’d like to read!…

I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, the how of it all. How did you find the time? How did you manage the workload? How did you overcome writer’s block?

And the grand finale:

How are you feeling now?

(Spoiler alert: So very grateful.)

First things first. I wrote Chasing Slow in a most maddening fit of backwards logic, opting to get it all down on paper unsullied for later tightening. (Famous last words: “I’ll structure this in editing!”) Two months into the writing of the text, in which I’d worked tirelessly to pen part one – seventy pages I’d thought for certain were brilliantly in tact and finally final – I emailed my editor a sneak peek for early feedback.

Her response: This is a good initial outline, Erin! Keep at it!

(There is a special seat among the thrones of heaven for gentle editors.)

And so, my 15 tips for you, based on what I learned by trying and failing and trying again:

  1. Consider structure.
    There are a zillion and eight ways to structure a book, which is not at all overwhelming (joke font). Choosing which route to journey toward before you take your first steps will save you from a massive u-turn halfway through the book (or, ahem, from your editor confusing your second draft for a first outline). Not sure where to start? Here are 15 unconventional story methods that work.
  2. Find the thread.
    Our lives are far more universal than we know. The difference between your memoir and mine lies only in the details — we’ve all started somewhere, lost track, overcome an obstacle and found our way again. We are living the same story with different plots. The trick, then, is to find the thread that ties our paths together. It can be hard to unravel, but not impossible. This book helps.
  3. Start here.
    Listen: it’s never a good time to write a book. It’s never a good time to have a baby, to make the move, to join the gym. There’s always tomorrow, until there isn’t. Start here, today.
  4. Organize.
    Keep timelines, outlines, photos and soft chapters on your desktop computer with back-up copies on a portable hard drive (or three). Or, better yet, get thee to Dropbox so you’ll have it all safe and available at a moment’s notice. Whether your story informs the art or the art informs the story matters not — what matters is that you can reference both at any given time, whether at your desk or on the go.
  5. Anticipate mud.
    There is nothing tidy about writing. It is messy, and like most good things, it gets worse before it gets better. Wade deep anyway – there’s a sea of contradictions to learn from in your everyday life. Write them down. Learn from them. Use them. Wear boots.
  6. Be gentle.
    Writing is hard. Be kind to yourself. There will be days where you’ll feel raw/spent/depleted after a long morning of writing, and reacquainting with the actual world might feel trickier than usual. Take deep breaths. Re-emerge gently. Pour some tea.
  7. Think marketing.
    It’s inevitable; you’ll mull it over eventually. To publish or not to publish? What is your market? Who will be reading? And why? If you’re unsure who your book is for, take the easiest shortcut: look in the mirror. Write what you need to learn. Write what you want to read. Write what you know.
  8. Invite others.
    Resist the temptation to go at it alone. Invite a close, trusted friend or editor to share your Dropbox files for collaborative feedback. Add in a fellow creative to help inform the aesthetic direction (my friend Cassie shot the most beautiful photos). Gather a launch team and share folders containing snippets of the book – from early chapters and full texts to finished photos and graphics. Sync memes to Pinterest. The book is yours, but the story is everyone else’s. Be generous with it.
  9. Simplify.
    A blank screen, a warm drink, two hours. This is perhaps all you need to write. Forget the fancy software, the timeline tools, the convoluted methods. Find your own method, then whittle it down to the bare essentials. Anything else is mere distraction.
  10. Read well.
    Fill your mind with rich thoughts, ideas. Surround yourself with good craft. Read sentences that work; they’ll soon inform your own.
  11. A ritual.
    If possible, rely on a ritual. Writer’s block happens – often and always. For the times your mind might fail you, let your body take over. While writing, I ordered the same black coffee and omelette (extra hot sauce), listened to the same classical music, wore the same scent on my neck. Even now, I’ll hear Danny Elfman’s Finale and feel an itch to return to the page. Rituals work.
  12. Tell the truth.
    Resist the urge to fancy your lines, or yourself. Writing is an act of truth-telling; meet your real self on the page. (The truth is always far more fascinating anyway.)
  13. Take notes.
    Keep a notes doc on your phone, or a handy Moleskine nearby. Everyday life is the most beautifully inspiring think tank imaginable if you can manage to catch the inspiration and pin it down for later. Lines, smells, textures, descriptions – it is all yours for the taking. Take it.
  14. Fall in like.
    Like your book. Respect it; treat it well. Go easy on it. Do not demand too much from it, nor too little. Enjoy its company for the time you spend together; then, release it into the world.
  15. Repeat.
    Over, and over. Do it again. Practice makes good, then better, then still better yet.

And I suppose those are the only hows I know. To do the work, to meet yourself in black and white, to wield words without judgment and trust that it might possibly, hopefully, be enough.

(It always is.)

 

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Dropbox. The opinions and text are all mine.

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  • This is such a beautiful message, especially to a novice writer like myself who is trying to balance motherhood with my desire to write. The thought of writing a book is a dream but a terrifying one. Thanks for sharing your lessons and providing your encouragement! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of your book!

  • Great tips, Erin! I’m a freelance editor but haven’t worked on a book, yet. Will keep these in mind for future clients! Or, possibly, myself if I ever figure out my story. :)

  • I’m very taken with the structure:
    – the stark black and white (so you!)
    – the sidebars, the large “digital” numbers, the white space
    – the talking points and places to write in response to questions (and the white space to jot notes!
    – the quotes that head each chapter
    – your words, your thoughts, your emotions…

    BIG XOXO on this amazing accomplishment, Erin!!

  • I loved your book Erin. I’m usually a fast reader, but yours I read slow (no pun intended!) and savored each chapter. Even thought I have stacks of books I have yet to read, I find myself reaching for yours again. Beautiful work and story- thank you for sharing with us.

  • Erin- I stumbled upon your blog last weekend after a long and tiring week. I tucked my kids into bed, lit the fire and before I knew it, I was 3 rum and cokes in,filled with tears, smiles and contentment. (And let me tell you, having 4 young kids all of those above items are rare…. well,I take that back, the personal quiet time and rum and cokes are quite rare, the tears, smiles and contentment are abundant. There are so many posts I could have commented on, but alas, I decide to on this one; today, a dreary Ohio morning with my standard yet trustworthy cup of tea. I have thoroughly enjoyed your writing, your sense of style andI love how you have intertwined your sharing your faith with beautiful words of grace and wisdom.

    Today, I wanted to comment because I just want to say thank you for sharing on how to start a book. I have actually started one, maybe twice, simply to heal; from a difficult pregnancy and a rare diagnosis of my unborn child. In those five years we welcomed my second son; (full of medical challenges but more full of life and love than I could ever imagine), and two sweet daughters while living our full, crazy and wild ride.

    Something is tapping on my hearts door to write again and your post put in perspective that I can do this. I know there won’t be the perfect time and I know my children will always be tugging at my leg for something and I know I will never feel like I can stop, but maybe if I just follow your steps, it will be possible. (And I totally can follow my secret ritual of sitting down with a cup of tea and a chocolate cake pop.)

    Thank you. Thank you. Wishing you many blessings and thank you for sharing. One of my favorite things to do is read about beautiful families and their amazing journeys. Thank you for sharing yours.
    -Jill

    • oh jill – thank you for such a kind, heartfelt comment. i’m so so thrilled that writing has been reignited in your life and have no doubt in my mind that you’ll learn so, so much from it all. i wish you the best on your journey to the page; over here cheering you on!

  • Erin, I just LOVE your writing. Your book is waiting for me in my mailbox, and I am counting the moments until I can head home and dig in! Thanks for sharing your voice with us.

  • Hey hey!

    This message and your book is a Godsend. Seriously. I’m sitting here this morning with my cup of tea soaking in all your lovely, spot on advice. I’m to finish my first ever ebook tomorrow (hope I make my deadline) and the nerves and “not enoughness” seems to get me every time. But your advice is quelling that. Thank you so much!

    Love your book too. Bought it at Barns and Noble last week. It’s informed my formatting a lot. Thanks a zillion,

    Bri

    • oh brianna, thank you so much for your kind words! and best of luck on your ebook deadline!!!!!!! what a lovely accomplishment! :)

  • Erin! This is BRILLIANT and full of compassion and so useful… thank you for writing it! I love the line about meeting your real self on the page. No need to be a better/fancier version of yourself. YES.

  • Just wanted to say how much I loved this book. I checked it out from the library, but now I want a copy of my own. I want to read it again! I love your writing style, and love your honesty. Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts and experiences on paper!! Keep writing!

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