I’ve always wanted to write a book. I started blogging a few years ago as a form of self-expression, but also as training grounds for writing a book. I have always believed that I had a full-length book in me, waiting to be unleashed – I just needed to build up my writing muscles so that I could go the distance. It was a matter of digging into my mental reserves and pulling it out.
I’m happy to say that I did it. This month, I published my first book, Magic: The Addiction, on Amazon. I actually wrote a book. I’m still in disbelief. And I did it in seven months, as a part-time gig.
How did I do it? We are constantly telling other people, and ourselves, that we are too busy to pursue our dreams. That we don’t have time to do anything other than work and sleep because we’re overwhelmed with life. But I am no different from anyone else. I have a full-time job that does not involve writing. I have family and friends to take care of.
Here’s the system I used to write a book in seven months. We are all different, and your mileage may vary. But I will repeat again – I am not special. If I can do my passion project, then you can do your passion project. Believe in yourself and the rest will follow.
The starting point for everything is conviction. I truly believed that I had a unique story to tell – the story of my obsessive tendencies and competitive streak with the Magic: The Gathering card game. I believed, 110%, that I wanted to tell this story, AND this was a story that no one else was telling in full-length book format.
In the early stages, the skeleton of the book started out as a series of blog posts. I realized that this was a story that people connected with. Strangers on the Internet identified with my story of obsession, alienation, and trying-too-hard. My readers emboldened me through positive feedback.
I had conviction, but this belief grew stronger through validated reinforcement. I tested the idea publicly and it gained traction. That’s when I knew that I could go all the way.
I repeat – validated conviction was the most important element in completing the book. There were many days and weeks that I did not want to be holed up at home, writing and editing something for the millionth time. But I knew that the story was something that needed to be told, and that made everything else work.
Related to the above, I had a small circle of Magic-playing friends who were extremely supportive. They say that no person is an island – and I definitely appreciated my friends’ support. When I posted my first sample online, they promoted it. When I felt discouraged, they told me to keep going.
There were many times that I wanted to quit. This wasn’t the first book I tried to write, and many past drafts of book ideas have been discarded in frustration. But I pulled through this time because my friends backed me, and I felt accountable to them. When I gave them updates on how I was doing, I knew that I couldn’t let them down. Letting people down was not an option, especially when I controlled the outcome 100%.
I didn’t do it for the money (let’s be honest here, there is little to no money involved). I did it for myself, and for my friends who believed in me. My success reflects on them, and I’m grateful to have them by my side.
Change life’s habits
I wanted to write a book, but I had a job and other life priorities. I took a hard look at what I was doing and realized that I needed to change my habits.
I was going to bed late, and checking my phone in the mornings when I woke up. I wasted time watching TV and doing non-productive things.
So I cleaned up my habits. I started going to bed early. I woke up early – and when I got up, the first thing I did was write. I went to bed early even on weekends, so that I could maintain the same discipline throughout the week. This allowed me to write for substantial periods of time while the rest of the world was asleep.
I screwed myself over for a few months when I decided to sacrifice exercise in the pursuit to write a book. Big mistake. My body reacted, and I knew that I needed to maintain my regular routines there. I threw out things that were non-productive, like Facebook, to make room for exercise.
Fortunately, I’ve never been the life of the party. It was easy to say no to social gatherings, or to go home earlier than everyone else, because I knew myself well. Life is too short to do things that you don’t want to do. In my case, I knew that I would only be satisfied if I wrote a book. Nothing else on the social scale mattered, so I stuck to the basics.
It’s very easy to let things slip, until there is no urgency and no push to do anything. My day job is in the software industry, and this type of thing happens all the time. On our software team, we always operate with a sense of urgency and goal-driven intent. What are we trying to do today? What are we trying to accomplish this week? What are the big rocks and dependencies?
All of these things are important, because we are only on this planet for a finite amount of time. Carpe diem. The key is to make progress everyday.
Writing a book is a lot like completing a software project, or any project. Intermittent milestones must exist along the way. Sometimes the milestones are arbitrarily set, because I don’t have a publisher to answer to. But I know that discipline is good for me, and so I stick to the milestones.
I set milestones that are achievable, realistic, and short-term. I’m not thinking about a goal three months from now – that’s too long. I’m thinking about how many words I need to write within the next seven days. I’m thinking about how many editing passes I need to complete for my next three chapters, by Sunday.
Milestones also create the means to move forward. I resist the urge to perfect every aspect of every sentence by telling myself that I have to move on after a certain amount of time. In the big picture, perfectionism is a constraint, not a virtue.
Writing a book isn’t about perfectionism – it’s about shipping. I understood that I wasn’t going to hit a grand slam with my first book. As a reader, I would rather read something that’s 80% there than 0% published. It’s about shipping the product, and getting better over time. I did NOT want to be working on my first book for three years. That was not my prerogative.
Don’t beat yourself up if life gets in the way
Unexpected things happen. Life happens.
In my seven months of writing, several unexpected events have entered my life. They have delayed my writing, and I’ve had to deal with them before moving forward. (The title of this post should have been “six months” instead of seven. Such is life.)
At times, I have felt the beginnings of burnout. I would spend too much time on a specific section, and get mentally blocked. When that happens, I try to remove myself from the situation for a bit. I take a few days’ rest to recharge. I resume things by working on a different section. I take care of myself mentally and shut things down for some time, until I feel I’m ready to go again.
I never lost sight of the main prize. I knew, with conviction and passion, that I would complete my book. The specifics of the release date aren’t important, and life will always interrupt routine. The important thing is to keep going and not abandon things for good. I made progress, but not at the risk of derailing the project entirely.
Don’t fall in love with yourself
Sometimes, shit is shit. Shit stinks. It’s very easy to get attached to certain passages that I’ve written. It’s also very easy to think that the main narrative can’t change, or that I’ve done things in the best way possible.
Newsflash – nobody is perfect. Just because this is MY book, doesn’t mean that I should only listen to myself.
Over the course of writing my book, I’ve sought a ton of feedback from friends and acquaintances to keep myself honest. If several people tell me a passage doesn’t work, I change it. And I maintain the discipline to be my own worst critic.
My final published book is 67,000 words, but I must have written at least 150,000 words. I added, removed, added, and then removed some more. I cut out entire chapters that didn’t work in terms of contributing to the main narrative. I was vicious with myself, and I believe the book is ultimately better as a result.
Cherish the moment.
I certainly committed a lot of mistakes along the way, but it was all worth it because I published a book in the end. I’m not going to sit here and admonish myself for making mistakes. I choose to take nothing back because the pleasure outweighs the pain.
I knew that writing wasn’t an easy task. I am not a natural at it, but I enjoy the fruits of my labor. So I kept going, and I am glad I did.
I don’t think I wrote the magnum opus of my life. But early reviews of the book are looking good and my story has resonated with readers. So that’s encouraging. But writing with ego is dangerous. I pay attention to the areas where I can improve, so that my next book can be better.
If you’ve managed to read this far, thank you. I hope that this was been mildly informative and/or inspirational. Now go and write your own book, or make your own passion project happen. I’m counting on you.