In my last post, I talked about why project management is the most underrated side of writing a book. One of the things I mentioned (repeatedly) is that every book project encounters pitfalls. Most of these pitfalls are the same for every book – and they are dangers that new authors may not even exist. They float out there like icebergs ahead, ready to sink you with little notice.
Be prepared, as the Boy Scouts say. Here are a few of the icebergs looming in your future, and how to avoid them.
The Problem: This is the biggest iceberg out there though in most cases it’s a result of one of the other dangers listed below. Getting off-track can be as easy as failing to keep up with your writing schedule, or as complex as “getting stuck” – what some people call writer’s block.
The Fix: Depends on the root of the problem. If it is a writing schedule problem, perhaps you have to recommit to the book project or adjust your deadline (and expectations). If it’s one of the reasons listed below, read on to find out what you can do next.
Underestimating the Work
The Problem: Writing a book is a lot of work. “Yes,” you can say and nod your head, “it is.” But until you’re in the thick of it, you may not fully understand just how monumental the task can be. Under normal circumstances, that would be fine – you’ll find out as you go. The problem is, underestimating the enormity could ultimately send your book off-track.
The Fix: The easy answer is, “Don’t underestimate the time and effort you’ll need.” In practice though, this doesn’t really work. The best approach is to realize from the start that there will be challenges. Knowing that ahead of time will at least help you to avoid losing confidence in yourself – or the book. Experienced writers understand that it is all part of the process.
Losing Your Confidence
The Problem: Every writer – even professional writers – can lose confidence at any given moment. You can look at a piece of writing one day and say it’s the best thing ever written, then look at it the next day and swear that it is the worst. This feeling comes and goes. For new authors, the peaks and particularly the valleys swing wildly up and down, and the swings can come frequently.
The Fix: Realize that whatever you are writing is not the best thing ever written and it is definitely not the worst. Then, forget about the writing altogether. Don’t judge it or pre-edit while you’re writing. Just write. Focus on keeping your writing goals (1,000 words per day, etc.) and tell your story. Even if this doesn’t make you feel any better about your writing – it should, but sometimes it doesn’t – don’t let it stop you from finishing your book. It won’t ever be as bad as you think it is… and you’ll be able to fix it in editing.
Losing the Thread of Your Story
The Problem: This is an interesting one. One day you can be trucking along, getting your words down and in general be quite happy with them. Then, you don’t know what comes next. Or you start questioning the way you are telling your story. Sometimes, you just stop and wonder why you’re even writing this book in the first place. This can freeze new authors in their tracks – and send the book off the rails.
The Fix: Go back and review your outline. (Don’t have an outline? Well there’s your problem…! Take some time to develop one.) Adjust the outline if you’re seeing problems in the way you’ve organized the book.
Sometimes though, the best fix is a planned break from you book. Step away from the keyboard for hours, days, weeks (depending on the size of the problem) and let the problem turn over in your head. Do all the things that help spur creativity: take a walk, take a shower, take some tea. When the solution presents itself, be ready to get back at it.
The Muddled Middle
The Problem: This is related to “Losing the Thread” above, but it is a more common and more specific problem. Losing the thread can be part of it. Often, writers have a clear idea about the beginning and the end, but telling the middle part of the story can be tricky sometimes. There can be other issues as well. Sometimes the writing becomes rote – it can feel like you’re struggling just to get through it. Your enthusiasm wanes, your writing becomes flat, and you just want it to be done.
The Fix: Again, the fix depends on the source of the problem. Review your outline, take a break, get a coffee. You can shake it up a bit by adjusting where you are writing – get out of the office and into a coffee shop, for example. (If you already write in a coffee shop, go to another coffee shop or a library or somewhere else different.) Yes, there will be lots of distractions, and chances are you will get less writing done per hour as you look around at your new environment. But at least you’ll be getting some done, and leaving your normal writing spot will shake your writing up a bit, making it fresh and new.
You can also try imagining you’re writing Chapter 1 instead of Chapter 7. In other words, start your story over again, but with the middle chapter as your first. Note: you’re not actually moving it to the beginning. Pretending it’s now Chapter 1 can help you refocus and add immediacy to your writing.
The Problem: Again, this is a common problem even among professional writers. You stare at the same words on the same page for months, you’re going to get a little stir crazy. You might get to the point where you just can’t bear to look at it anymore.
The Fix: There is no easy fix for this, unfortunately. You can push through it and just get the words down, but this again can make your writing go a little flat. Take a break if your deadline allows it and do something else creative such as take pictures, throw pottery, or whatever else thrills you. If you plan to take a long break, set a deadline so that (a) your brain can rest and know when it needs to come back to your story and (b) there’s less risk of never coming back.
A Final Word
This blog post doesn’t cover all the icebergs floating out there, but these are some of the most common. In general, the idea is to know that there are icebergs out there, identify them when they loom on the horizon, and change course when necessary to avoid them.
Any icebergs of yours I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below! You can also contact me if you need help jumpstarting your book – hiring a professional ghostwriter is never a bad solution for any problems you encounter.
Author: Graham Strong
Graham Strong is a professional ghostwriter, freelance marketing writer, and freelance journalist. Since 1995, he has written – and ghostwritten – thousands of articles, brochures, web pages, ads, whitepapers, newsletters, annual reports, and more. Graham launched the Strong Ghostwriting website to highlight his book ghostwriting services to clients.
Contact Graham to find out how he can help you write your book.