I have now written more than one book, so hopefully have learned something about the process. Here at the ten things I wish I had known when I started. I hope they help any budding authors out there.
1) You will save more versions of word documents than you thought possible. You NEED a clear & logical system to save, order and back up files from day one. And never delete old versions. While working on draft 15, you’ll recall a line in draft 3 that didn’t work then but does now.
2) When you are given a deadline it always feels like the far distant future, and easily attainable. That is a mistake that breeds complacency. Plan your schedule backward from submission date, and you’ll find that in fact you are already behind.
3) ‘Writing’ is a misleading work. It encompasses several different jobs: researching, ordering, writing, editing, checking. The writing bit isn’t even half the process. Each aspect requires a quite different skill and head-space – find the right time and mindset for each task.
4) The most important element of writing (in my opinion) is in fact solving a series of logic problems about the order of ideas and themes. Spend more time and effort on getting this right. It really helps in the end.
5) If you can possibly manage it have at least a few days off – totally off – once you have some drafts together. Writing chapters becomes an obsession, and frazzles your brain. It prevents you critically reviewing your own material and seeing the bigger message. A break helps.
6) Everyone thinks they can write a book while doing other jobs. It’s harder than you think. The closer to deadline, the more all-encompassing it becomes. If possible, have time off other commitments toward the end and tell mates you won’t be going to the pub etc, because you won’t be.
7) If you are struggling with inspiration try reading and writing using different fonts, sizes and formats. I often write sections as text messages or emails. For some reason, a new format sometimes stimulates more and different ideas.
8) The more feedback the better – don’t be too precious to share early drafts. If possible do a couple of talks too. People’s responses will be very valuable. Just the idea that someone else will read your words will force you into some discipline.
9) Do not leave all your footnotes or reference checking until the end. I do this every time and hate myself. You really do not want to be dealing with this when you have 48 hours to deadline.
10) Do not decide if you enjoy being a writer until one year after it’s published. You’re not just an author: you’re a salesperson for your ideas. The speaking, debates, feedback and fun is part of the job. Be sure to enjoy that stuff, as you’ve been lonely slaving away for it!
Bonus: your so-called friends will take longer than you’d like to review your chapter drafts. Be nice to them and give them plenty of time. They are just as busy as you. It’s easy to think that everyone believes your project is as important as you do. They don’t.
Bonus 2: if, like me, you find the artistic side of writing difficult, and that it arrives at random times, here’s a tip. When you think you’re ‘in the zone’ cancel everything and keep going. All night if needed. They are precious moments. You can achieve days of work in hours.
Bonus 3: forget the romantic idea of disappearing to a Portuguese villa and writing outside by a lake. You will need to be sitting in your front room with your creature comforts: coffee machine, printer, reliable wifi, familiar brands of crisps, music.