Life Lessons You Learn From Writing a Book
If you know me personally, you know I’m writing a book. If you don’t, hi. I’m writing a book.
I’ve been writing since I was a kid, with it starting out as weird stories about my cats going on adventures, and eventually evolving into ambitious novellas that I never finished. I have a problem with finishing things, so that bodes well for this website. Sorry if you come here one day and it’s missing. I have issues.
After my grandmother’s passing last year, I suddenly got a bug up my anus to finally finish a book. Not to make millions or to be world-renowned, but to be able to finish something for someone who always wanted to see my name on a cover somewhere. Also because I finally felt like it, which is important, too. I was certain that this would be like it was when I was a kid, that I’d just write and write and edit as I went, and I’d be done in a few months with something that just my friends would read. How hard could writing a book be, really, especially for someone who’s been writing all-day-erry-day for the last 20-some-odd years of her life?
HARD. IT’S HARD. VERY HARD. THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.
This has actually been a real-life journey, one that I’m not even done with yet (that’ll probably be around April 2020), and I’ve learned some pretty important things that I’m hoping will help you out today or tomorrow or sometime soon. They are as follows:
Listen to your gut
I’m starting out with the biggest one, because this has been a doozy.
I’m actually on my third draft of my book. Know why? Because the first and second drafts made me want to burn my house down. They were awful. They didn’t sound like me. I read through them for revisions and almost fell asleep on myself. So I wound up scrapping the whole thing — all 200 pages — and starting over from scratch.
Thing is, I should’ve known this would happen, because my gut was trying to tell me the whole time. Writing wasn’t fun; it was a chore. I slogged through writing each chapter like it was hurting me. Something was trying to warn me that I wasn’t doing it right, and I didn’t listen. Ultimately I wound up wasting two months of my time because of it, but at least it wasn’t a worse consequence. I should’ve taken the hint.
All of this to say that, if your gut is telling you to slow down, to stop, or to think, do that. No one knows you like you do, no matter how many times someone may tell you otherwise.
Have patience with yourself
I started out writing every day, whether I wanted to or not. It wasn’t a bad plan, necessarily, because it at least got my brain moving again, but the diarrhea that came out of my keyboard for a good 80% of that manuscript was embarrassing. Even on days where I had no inspiration, or days I was tired, or days I was distracted, I’d force myself to put words to pages. A good exercise to force me back into a habit, but not a very good way to churn out actual quality content.
I kept making the mistake that most of us do. We’re always trying to push things into our own personal timelines. We need to lose that baby weight by summer. The baby needs to be walking by such-and-such a time. Our actual abilities and the…y’know…actual passage of time doesn’t carry the same weight as the fact that Marilyn Monroe was a millionaire by our age (actually she was almost dead by my age, but my point still stands). We’re always trying to run things according to when we think they should be done, rather than understanding that they’ll happen according to when they’re ready to happen.
For example, now, if I’m not in the mood to write, I don’t. I give myself a day or two or three, and then I sit down and try again, and my brain is much more willing to work for me. Sure, some people can bang out a book in three months, but I can’t. And that’s fine. We work on our own timelines, people, and that’s fine.
You do you
My first draft sucked so much partially because I was afraid to talk like myself. I’m foul-mouthed (I clean it up for most of the articles here, but naturally I’m about a step down from Popeye), I’m straightforward, and I have a dark sense of humor. Sarcasm is the language I speak most fluently. I was certain that no one was going to like me if they had to listen to me sound like…well…me. So I tried to sound like other people. I tempered myself. I tried to avoid saying things that might upset others, though that in itself drove me crazy because I realized that people could get upset with literally anything. There were a ton of passages that I imagined pissing someone off, not because they were rude or nasty, but because someone saw something in it that matched their interpretation of things.
Then I read over everything and — most importantly in this case — I hated it. And I realized in that moment that, while we can’t control other people’s reactions, we can control our own. So why not at least make sure that our reactions are ones of satisfaction and happiness? If you’re happy with your actions, the people who agree and feel the same will find you. The people who don’t will also find you, but you can take their words with a grain of salt because they’re clearly not your people.
NEVER forget your “why”
Sounds trite, I know, but things get so insane most days that it’s easy to forget why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. And when you forget that, you start replacing your reason with other people’s reasons. And then you’re screwed.
A lot of people think I’m talking about remembering your kids when I say this, and I mean…yeah, they’re cute. They’re important. But if you want to keep doing something — anything — important to you, you have to be able to give yourself a motivation that isn’t your children. Reason being, your kids 1. Don’t really give a shit if you’re losing weight or writing a book or starting a business, and 2. We all work a lot harder if we’re doing something for ourselves. It’s human nature. Like, sure, my grandmother was the catalyst to me starting a book, but I’m doing this because I’ve always wanted to, and because I want to feel the accomplishment that comes with finishing something I’m proud of. My children are sweet, but they don’t have a whole lot to do with the decision.
Quitting smoking for your kids, for example, is conditional and all it’s going to take is one day of them exhausting you or pissing you off for you to be strongly tempted to buy another pack. Quitting for yourself means that you’ll maintain that abstinence, or you’ll at least keep trying, even when you’ve about had it with everyone and everything, because you won’t be able to escape your own disappointment and that’s scary.
Point being, if you remember what you’re doing things for — not whom, but why — you’ll feel a need to keep going, even when you have a day where you feel a little defeated.
I’m sure I’ll have more that I’ll learn over the next few months. After all, I still have more revising and reading and editing and more revising to do. I’m sure you can’t wait. But in the meantime, I wanted everyone reading this to remember that, like any artwork really, we’re always growing and changing and moving towards a final form. So if you’re not exactly who you want to be now, revise and rewrite.
There’s always tomorrow.
Arianna Bradford is a wife and mother of two young children. Her interests include reading, napping, and watching as many movies as possible. She’s also the founder of The NYAM Project and really hopes you like it.