Sounds so glamorous. I remember the first time I turned down an invitation to lunch with the words “Oh, I can’t… I’m writing today.”
“Really?” my friend Laurie replied, “what an awesome way to spend the day! I can’t wait to read your book!”
Nodding and smiling, I left her fantasy intact. I knew in my heart a “writing day” wasn’t just creativity flowing but sometimes meant hours of starting at the cursor blinking and trying to string some words together in a semblance of creativity, thought and inspiration. The myriad of other tasks on my to-do list wrestled with my discipline to actually write. It’s a sad state of affairs when cleaning the bathroom looks more enticing than squeezing out another paragraph from a very dry well.
The book was fantastic, but no one was going to read it. Not, at least, in its current state. The author had packed his* manuscript with helpful information and practical advice. The content and his message had real potential to help his audience. But only the most dedicated readers would push past the stale opening line.
Most chapters either dove right into the content with no introduction or started with a statement detailing what the chapter contained. “In this chapter we’re going to learn about….” A line like that makes a great note as you’re planning your writing. In fact, I encourage writers to identify what they’re going to include in each chapter when they outline their books. But when it comes to your hook—the words that will draw readers in and keep their noses in your book—“In this chapter,” isn’t effective; it’s boring.
Other common issues muddied what could have been a great reading experience but, since this is a blog post, let’s stick with one topic at a time. Here are three powerful ways you can get your readers’ attention.
Some people fear public speaking more than death. I guess that makes me the outlier.
I’m a high school Spanish teacher by day. On the weekends and during the summer, I speak at conferences and events. I work with teachers to challenge how they think about education and to encourage them to incorporate technology in their classrooms.
I love seeing teachers get excited about new practices that they can use with their students. It means the ideas from my sessions are spreading farther than I could take them myself. The reach of my conference sessions is limited, though. I wanted to spread the ideas that motivate me to as many teachers as possible. So, I sought advice from a fellow teacher and presenter. His suggestion: write a book.
I recently accomplished a life-long dream: I wrote and published a book. I have always heard that writing a book is more about who you become while writing the book than the book itself. I now believe that is true. I had started this book before—many times. This time, from start date through planning, outlining, and writing was just a few weeks. What made the difference this time—what did I have to do and believe to get this book out of my head and onto the page?
Have you ever read a book or heard a story that just had too many themes to follow? For example, I have a hard time with novels that have multiple families—each with people who have their own issues. It’s a challenge for me to keep the characters straight in my head, especially if the names are at all similar or difficult to remember.
How does an ant move a mountain?
When I read Dan Miller’s workbook, Write to the Bank, I thought he was grossly exaggerating when he said writing was 5% of the job. The first draft of my first book was almost finished. It had been no quick feat. Surely the bulk of the work would be done when it was complete.
While Dan was emphasizing the importance of promotion, I discovered writing and publishing a book involve many steps. For me, that included a lot of learning.
Learning by Doing
If you’re anything like me, writing about ideas comes easily, but coming up with topics or angles can be difficult. It always seems to start out well, but after several days, weeks, or even months after launching out into the world of writing regularly, coming up with new topics can become mentally draining.
I struggled with constantly coming up with blogging topics for several years. Far too often, the early mornings of my scheduled post day would find me pecking away at my keyboard, writing whatever was on my mind, primarily because I had no idea what to write about, what angle to take, or what problem to solve. I procrastinated on writing, and the blog suffered as a result. It was this way for me in 2011, 2012, and in 2013 I stopped writing the blog altogether—at least for that year.
At the beginning of 2014, I set an audacious goal to write two posts per week.
Start Writing. Now.
“How long does it take to write a book?”
That’s the most common question I hear at author visits. And the answer is: “It depends.” It depends on how much focus goes into the project and how much time is devoted to it. It can take a few weeks or a few years.
Here’s what I’ve learned firsthand and seen my clients realize, as well: Thinking and talking about writing a book is harder than actually writing a book.
How many times have you said, “I’m working on a book,” knowing full well that you haven’t put pen to paper in weeks? The phrase “a little less talk and a a lot more action” aptly applies to would-be authors. Don’t put it off any longer. Start writing. Now.
Prolific. What else would you call an author who publishes four to six novels annually?
I suppose you could also call Nora Roberts wealthy since her books consistently and almost instantly hit the New York Times bestsellers lists.
Tea at Ashford Castle in Cong is as beautiful as it is tasty.
I got to meet Nora (she called me Erin, so I guess we’re on a first-name basis) at Ashford Castle in Cong, Ireland, and was oddly star-struck. Odd because, although I’ve met quite a few celebrity-status authors, I felt absolutely giddy to have the opportunity to have afternoon tea with Nora…and a couple hundred other people. I was so excited, in fact, that my friend and I arrived early and snagged a seat at the front table. (Early is a big deal for me; just ask my husband.)
Afterwards, when her UK editor at Little Brown told me that Nora (aka J.D. Robb) publishes at least four books a year (she’s releasing a total of five in 2014), I almost choked. That’s a LOT of writing and a massive amount of discipline. There’s another descriptor to attribute to this impressive and totally approachable author.
Set a timer.
“Time stays long enough for those who use it.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci
If you find yourself watching the clock during your dedicated writing time for fear of missing other appointments, set a timer. Let that little time tracker free your mind from worrying about when you need to come out of hiding.