Writing a book is a transformative process, though we tend not to think of it in those terms. Instead of thinking about how to navigate the creative journey we’re about to take, we tend to be focused on the end goal and the after-goodies that the book can bring: recognition, thought leadership, speaking gigs, client leads, authority, money. We don’t think about the fact that book writing is creative work, and requires not only your analytical mind but your emotional and creative mind, as well.
Above all, I want you to understand that writing is a creative journey. Because nonfiction writing has taken on such a business-oriented air, new authors often forget this. I don’t know about you, but when I slap a “business” label on anything, I have to fight my preconceived notions of what business or work should look and feel like. It’s as if we attempt to take the writing process outside the realm of creativity in the name of efficient goals, but there is nothing more personal (or messy) than writing a book, even if it’s not directly about you.
Even if you consider yourself to be the least creative person on earth and favor analytical thinking, you will have to call in your creative genius or your readers will be bored to death. Conversely, if you’re a creative writer, you will have to use your analytical side to organize and provide structure, or your reader won’t know what’s going on. The whole of your being needs to be engaged to write an effective book that moves your readers. While it isn’t easy, it is achievable.
When you start the journey of writing your book, you’re also starting a creative process that will take you – and eventually your reader – on a journey. Alex Grey, the artist known for his spiritual and transcendental paintings and images, describes his version of the creative process in his beautiful book, The Mission of Art, using six steps:
- Formulation: discovery of the artist’s subject or problem.
- Saturation: a period of intense research on the subject or problem.
- Incubation: letting the unconscious sift the information and develop a response.
- Inspiration: a flash of one’s own unique solution to the problem.
- Translation: bringing the internal solution to outer form.
- Integration: sharing the creative answer with the world and getting feedback.
Steps one through four take time and are not always experienced in a nice clean, linear fashion, in my experience. A writer might be saturating in their ideas, methodologies, philosophies of their field for years, and they might have a series of insights and inspirations over a short period of time that lead them to write a book. They might incubate and formulate all at the same time.
The writing process typically begins with step five. At this point, a writer has accepted the work of translating their knowledge and unique solution to the problem their readers face into a book.
If you’ve been in your industry or area of knowledge for a couple of years, you’ve gained some experience, you’ve tried and tested the prevailing methods and ways of thinking, and you’ve developed your own approach to your field’s problems, you might be ready for step five. In that case, it’s time to take all of this rich material you’ve gathered over the years and put it into words that flow, inspire, and move your readers in the same way the subject has moved you. But don’t expect these stages to end; in the process of writing your book, you will have many more insights and realizations that will help you express yourself clearly.
In Translation lies the challenge of writing. How do you take something as hard to define as a thought or a feeling and describe it on the page in a way that delivers your truest meaning to your reader? And once you’ve done the hard work of translating your thoughts into words, how do you organize them into a book that makes sense? The inevitable gap between what we intend to say and what we actually write is what makes writing – or any creative endeavor – challenging (and so rewarding).
Every writer goes through their own creative journey, whether they acknowledge it or not. If you take nothing else away from this post, please remember that you will find yourself emotional about your book on some days, exhilarated on others, and at times downright frustrated and crazy over it. You’ll have peaks of triumph throughout the experience, and you’ll have troughs so low that you’ll think about quitting and walking away from the work altogether, even if you’re near the finish line. This is totally natural, but it’s the awareness of the journey that will keep you going when the going gets rough.
There are a few guidelines that can help you navigate this journey a little more easily:
- Set reasonable goals and expectations for yourself. You need to get real with yourself about what success means to you and gauge the likelihood your book will achieve that definition of success. For example, if you don’t have a platform or an incredibly original idea, and you don’t intend to shell out money for a PR firm, and still you’re convinced you’ll be on FOX and CNN, well… this is probably not a reasonable goal or expectation.
- Don’t set arbitrary deadlines. “But Sara,” you might be thinking, “I said I would publish this book in [insert ridiculously short deadline that has nothing to do with what would best serve the book or your readers]. It can’t possibly take more than a month to write, edit, and publish this book!” I hear this often. If you’ve never written a book before, and you plan to write 60,000 or more words, plan on the entire process of writing, editing, and publishing taking nine months to a year. While I firmly believe in deadlines (I’d be a hot mess without them), I don’t believe in arbitrary deadlines that actually hurt the value of the book.
- Practice awareness. Knowing yourself, how you react under pressure, how you work best, and how your creativity is nurtured is going to be an incredible asset to you. If you don’t yet know how you work in a creative process, then give yourself the time to learn.
- It’s darkest before the dawn. When things get hard, or you find yourself creatively stuck or blocked, know that it’s often hardest just before you’re about to have a major creative breakthrough. This isn’t a sign you should give up – it’s a sign that you’re probably much closer than you think.
Once you’ve taken the time to realistically align your mind and your heart with reasonable expectations, you’re ready to prepare for the writing process.