Why it's so hard to write a book
I’m going to write a book, you say. You’ve been doing things differently in your business and it’s time to share your observations. You’ve been told that your personal story is so encouraging and challenging that that you should write it down for others to share your perspective.
How’s that phrase go?
Easier said than done!
You’re right! It’s much easier to think about writing a book than to sit down and do it!
Why is that?
You know you can write reasonably well, according to those who have had to read your memos, articles, SOPs, marketing plans, product descriptions, etc. You write all the time.
You have a solid outline to start with. You also have enough material to cover your subject well. There’s no concern that you don’t know what you’re talking about, because you’ve lived and breathed and worked and taught this stuff for years.
You’ve even done due diligence around the truth that writing your book will take significant time, so you’ve already identified the hours in the week that you can reasonably expect to carve out and guard with some success. The idea of a major commitment does not bother you at all.
But… when you sit down to put word one to paper… something in the pit of your stomach gets hard and cold and your brain goes blank. Ummm, this other project is more important, you tell yourself, and you find another reason to put it off. Again.
There are many reasons why it’s hard to put the first words to paper, why the idea of writing a book is so enticing and terrifying, and most have nothing to do with the actual topic you want to cover. It may be hard to dig in if you are looking at a bunch of concepts that are disorganized or disconnected, but these are technical issues that can be addressed with more research or perhaps consultation with someone who is good with ideas. It’s harder to pin down the evasive issues of the heart when it comes to writing a book. Whether it’s your own unique approach to stellar customer service or your stories about being a pilot with TWA when Carl Icahn took over, your mind may be all green lights about writing this book while your heart wants to stand on the brakes.
Writing a book—fiction, non-fiction, memoir, personal story—is likely to be emotional labor. The work requires the writer to confront themselves more deeply than they probably would through the course of any other project. Writing with integrity—telling the truth—demands identifying and dissecting what you remember, crafting it into perceptible shape for the reader to experience. The unconscious may know what the conscious mind may not: the act of bringing a life-altering event to tangibility again may entail entanglement in messy territory and reliving hard events.
To some degree, every character in fiction rises from an inner persona or desire of the writer. Every plot arc does as well, the conflict and resolution rising and falling to explore and satisfy the gyrations of right, wrong, justice, the ways people are. Some fiction authors acknowledge this and are comfortable with it. Others know this and are wary yet resolute, driven more to share their story than paralyzed by what feels like stripping naked before the world. Still others become undone by the thought of such self-revelation, whether they realize this before getting started or in the middle, and so their work stops.
Libel and defamation
In addition to those conscious and unconscious wranglings, individuals writing their memories are also concerned about naming people and describing situations that may be recognized. Even if they have no axe to grind and no desire to be inflammatory, the specter of lawsuits can rightly give a responsible writer pause.
If the book is business non-fiction, the whole exercise is one of explaining and supporting their stance. This may require looking within for the reasons they chose this or that, examining the lessons they learned which validate their ideas. It’s hard to defend hunches sometimes, even when they do turn out nicely, and if you’re anything like me, remembering the details of what exactly tipped you to think this new way can be a lost cause. Highly technical material will have to stand up to public scrutiny from peers and competitors, so bringing a clear head to the task is critical.
The loneliness of writing a book can be formidable, the work of sitting alone with a keyboard or notepad for so many hours. Self-motivation and focus in such quietness can be daunting for externally attuned individuals. And then, it always takes longer than expected. Family members and other interests and obligations can become extremely attractive in the depths of these labors. Depending on your work-style and motivation needs, your commitment and approach to the project must be reviewed frequently if the book will see the satisfaction of the printed page.
Does one or two of these considerations resonate with you? Now that you’re forewarned, you can put strategies into place for the moment you tune into your self-talk and realize you’re undermining your own intentions. Set up your most effective motivators, notify your favorite encouragers that you might be needing a boost. Consult a lawyer to ensure that you don’t inadvertently set yourself up for charges of defamation. Fortify your inward concerns with the assurances that the internal work will be worth it.
Working through your material so meticulously brings intimate and gratifying benefits. For example, you might discover flaws in your process or understanding, but now you can make adjustments, and proceed from an improved position. You may come to understand yourself or another person in a completely different light, perhaps such a way that breaks open a better relationship or some other situation that had been impossible. If you are honest about the work going in and all the way through, the effort of writing a book should be transformative.
Most of the time, in this kind of adventure of creation, you have to jump in without having everything resolved ahead of time. Sometimes you jump in thinking things are well organized, but somewhere in the middle, it will all go sideways, off into some strange territory you don’t recognize or you had hoped to avoid. That’s just the nature of book writing, and most of life’s efforts, if you want to admit it. But you do it: you jump in only partially prepared.
And the end result will be better, so much better than you first thought it would be.