Writing a Book May Be Different from What You Expect
Late last year, as I was planning for the year to come, I began setting goals for 2018. Some were habits I wanted to create; others, things I wanted to accomplish.
But one goal stood out above and beyond the rest in terms of complexity, commitment, and ambition: write and publish my first book.
I had never written a book before, not did I consider myself much of a writer. My only related experience was a few blog posts for my creative agency and some articles on Medium that had earned a sum total of less than $100.
Writing a book seemed too ambitious.
But when I set goals for myself, I stop at nothing until I achieve them, so I got to work.
How I Got Here
I had the idea for my book, Money for Millennials, in summer of 2016. I graduated from college a year prior, and had seen choices that friends were making with money that I found to be unwise. I studied the state of finances for the typical American twenty-something, and I didn’t like what I found.
I hadn’t “arrived” yet financially, but I could see how choices I made in college and before set me up for success more so than my peers. Friends would come to me with questions about investing, or for financial advice, and I was happy to help – I majored in economics & business in college, and finance is a subject I love discussing.
I found that much of the financial advice out there for young people is bad, and the good advice usually comes from financial companies trying to sell you something.
I wanted to be different, to educate my peers in a simple, helpful way. I decided to write a book.
And yet, after a week or two of jotting down thoughts, a short attention span and procrastination got the best of me. I stopped writing and put the project on the back burner.
What I’ve Learned Along the Way
Fast forward to 2018, and here we are: I decided to completely write, finish, and publish my book by the end of the year. I knew it would be a massive undertaking to write a 200-or-so-page book, but I didn’t know what else to expect.
Along the way, I learned many lessons: some about the art and act of writing, others personal. In no particular order, here are some of the salient points, should you ever wish to write a book in the future.
Writing a Book Isn’t Easy
A 50,000 word book (or a book of any length, for that matter) isn’t an easy undertaking. It takes countless hours of research, writing, editing, and banging your head against the wall. It has been said that a writer is “someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people,” and I think that rings true.
Anyone can write a book. I believe anyone can write a good book. But there’s a huge gap between the two. Writing a (good) book isn’t easy…
…But It Is Fairly Simple
One of the core concepts in my book is the power of compounding – small changes or increases that add up over time (in finance and investing, this usually comes through dividends and interest).
The same applies to learning a new language, forming a new habit, or writing a book. Nobody writes a book in a day. It takes time.
If you utilize first-principles thinking, a 50,000 word book is the same as writing 250 words per day for 200 days. That’s a 200-page book in under 7 months.
Writing a book seems incredibly hard. But writing 250 words a day is incredibly easy. Do it for enough days in a row, and soon enough you will have written a book.
It Takes Consistency
Establishing a writing habit is the most important thing you can do as a writer. Not only will practice and consistency make you a better writer, but the habit of writing each and every day will gradually chip away at your writing goals.
My dad asked me how on earth I pulled off writing an entire book in such a short amount of time.
The answer? I made a spreadsheet with a goal and a finite deadline- 50,000 words by July 6. I mapped out my writing progress each day. To help track my progress, I set up the spreadsheet’s cells to turn red if I wrote under 250 words per day, which was my writing goal. If I wrote more, the cell would turn green.
Here’s part of what that spreadsheet looked like, complete with daily writing totals, monthly averages, and auto-adjusting goals:
Your Inner Writer May Surprise You
I believe we all have things to share, and what better way than the written word? I thought writing 250 words a day was going to be a drag (and I’ll admit that some days were easier than others), but I was surprised at how many times I looked up from my computer 2 hours – and 2,500 words – later.
Look at that spreadsheet again. You’ll notice that I averaged 872 words per day in May, 636 words per day in June (I missed some days due to vacation), and 803 words per day in July. Averaged out, I wrote far more than my goal of 250 words per day.
When you commit to a product, it’s incredibly difficult to see it through to completion. If I were to focus on writing a 50,000 word book, the task would be too overwhelming, and I’d never finish. When you commit to the process, however, things get much easier. Rather than focusing on how much I had yet to write, I decided that I was going to write 250 words per day, no matter what.
There’s a Lot I Don’t Know About Writing a Book
Perhaps the biggest thing that I’ve learned about writing a book is how much I don’t know about writing a book.
Take this article with a grain of salt – I’m not a prolific author, nor has any of my writing graced the New York Times Bestseller list. I am only speaking from my experience.
I’m sure there’s plenty out there that I don’t know, many things I have not experienced.
You Need Feedback
If you want your book to have any shot at success, you need to share your work with others who will give you their honest, unvarnished opinion of your work. Constructive criticism, while never easy to absorb, is incredibly important to writing something that people will actually want to read.
When you’re writing, you often can’t see the forest for the trees – it’s hard to get outside of yourself and know if you’re making any sense.
Having good sounding boards who will give you honest feedback is a crucial part of writing a book worth reading. You need feedback.
You Will Make Mistakes
Mistakes are par for the course when it comes to an endeavor as large as writing a book. You will make mistakes.
I’m sure I’ve made mistakes along the way. I’m new at this, so I don’t even know what my mistakes are yet. That’s ok – I’m learning.
There are three types of facts: known knowns (what you know for sure), known unknowns (what you know you do not know), and unknown unknowns (that which you do not know and are unaware of).
Unknown unknowns are the most dangerous type, as they can come out of nowhere.
Just stay humble and seek to learn at every opportunity, and you’ll soon turn the unknown unknowns into knowledge.
The Hardest Part is Getting Started
At the risk of sounding cliché, the resistance – a term coined by Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art – is real. The enemy within isn’t to be trifled with.
Your inner critic will tell you that you can’t write a book, that you have nothing to say. Keeping your thoughts and your art inside of you is much easier.
If you finish your book, Impostor Syndrome will kick in and get you to believe that your accomplishments don’t mean anything, that you aren’t a real writer.
These voices are loud, but they aren’t true. If you have a book within you, you need to get it out and into the world. You have valuable things to share, and the world needs to hear them.
The hardest part of writing a book is getting started. But the most important part of writing a book is getting started, too.
Is 2018 the year you finally publish that book you’ve been wanting to write?
I believe that you’ve got it in you. It’s not easy, but it is pretty simple. Keep your head down, write every day, stay humble, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
Just go write your book already.
About the Author
Crawford Ifland is the author of Money for Millennials, a guide to help young people manage their finances wisely and build wealth for the long run. Crawford started his first web design business from his college dorm room and was able to save the majority of his income, invest aggressively, and buy his first home at 23. Crawford and his wife live in sunny Santa Barbara, California.