Five Lessons I Had to Learn to Write My Book

Blank white book w/pathI 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?

  1. Deciding on my key message.  I had collected 12 notebooks over the years on everything I believed and had learned about leadership, which is what I wanted my book to be about. That’s a big subject. In fact, when I checked there was 130,000 books on that subject just on Amazon alone. I thought I wanted to write a book that encompassed all of these lessons. I soon realized that I was making it too big—the book wasn’t about any one thing, unless it was called “be a better leader.”  I needed to have one overall message. How did I decide what the message was?  By keying in on my ideal reader.
  2. Deciding on my ideal reader. One of the hardest parts of writing a book is realizing we can’t be all things to all people—no matter how much we want to be. The most effective exercise I did was to hone my message to one person who was waiting for it—one person for whom I believed it would change their life. I spent some time picturing who this might be. I made that person real in my mind, and I wrote out their biography. Was it a man or a woman?  What does he/she do for a living? Is he/she married with children or single?  hat age? What are his/her habits? What does he/she struggle with? What did that person believe was their biggest problem? Specifically, what could I tell him or her that would solve that problem? This helped me structure the book into steps I believed would help him. Then I asked myself: What did I need him to believe at the end of the book, and what did I need him to believe at the end of each chapter? How could I bring him in a little at a time to get him to try my method? Doing this does not mean the book won’t appeal to many other people, but getting focused on my ideal reader made the writing process much clearer.
  3. Letting go of my stories where I failed. We have all had successes and failures that we want to use to help others. We want people to hear our stories and learn from our experiences. Sometimes telling these stories is especially difficult then they are failures. Having the courage to tell that story, and say, “I was wrong and this is what I learned” was the hardest part of my writing, but it’s what I believe will connect me with my readers.
  4. Writing from my heart. Many times as I was writing, I became concerned about the way it sounded;  I wanted my “expertness” coming through. I solved this problem every time by stopping, taking a deep breath, and dropping into my heart: How did I really want my reader to feel when he or she read this passage? That got me back onto the real reason for writing the book and what I should say.
  5. Letting go of my attachment to perfection. I don’t know about you, but I tend toward perfectionism. At some point, when I had said what I needed to say and had turned it over to the editor (I had a commitment to her for time), I had to let my book go. Was it good enough? Probably not, but I knew I could revise it another 25 times, and the time I spent wouldn’t make it 25 times better. Having a deadline made this easier, but I still found myself waking up at night, wondering if I could have said things better. I think it’s the fear of putting our stories and lessons into the world, knowing that they will be judged, and not always gently.

I believe we write because we have a calling to do so—we have a message that we want others to benefit from.  And if even one person can be changed or helped by that message, then it will be worth the process.

Share your comments: I’d love to hear what you have learned about yourself during your writing process.


Susan-C-Foster-Author-Photo-square[guestpost]Susan C. Foster is the author of It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best, which reached No. 1 on soon after release. She is a Master Certified Coach and unfailing optimist who believes everyone can be a great leader. Her website is[/guestpost]

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Tim Bishop - April 24, 2015

Susan, congratulations on your new book, on sharing your wisdom with the world! You’ve done something many others never will.
I appreciated your second point above, about honing who your target audience is. My wife, Debbie, and I are currently working on a book, and this was a strong point of feedback on an editorial evaluation, provided skillfully by none other than Erin Casey. Chiseling down to a more clearly defined audience has provided needed clarity for the writing. Thank you for reminding us of that important point.
Best wishes for success with the book.

Susan Sprason - April 24, 2015

Loved this blog. I’m an educator by trade with a passion for community arts to bring about social change. I haven’t yet released my first book, but I will some time this year hopefully. I think I’m a little scared! I write for kids. A councillor borrowed my first story and took it to school camp and much to my surprise it was a success! This is the first time I’ve commented on anyone’s blog and even mentioned what I’m doing…a step forwards perhaps!! Anyway, I really like what you wrote here, so I. Thought I’d take the time to let you know!

    Erin K Casey - April 24, 2015

    Hi Susan,
    Congratulations on your step forward!! I’m excited you stopped by the site and were encouraged by Susan Foster’s post. Take a look around and let us know how we can serve you.

Shannon Mullen - April 12, 2017

Susan- congrats on your first novel. Thanks for sharing your reflections. I can totally relate, especially with issues of letting go of perfectionism…it’s a constant battle for me! I recently finished my first novel & have done so many revisions/edits to the point that it was becoming ‘too perfect’ and was losing it’s ‘heart’. I realized that imperfection in writing can make it more relatable sometimes, as it helps the character’s voice feel more authentic.

I hadn’t heard this: “I have always heard that writing a book is more about who you become while writing the book than the book itself.” I totally agree! Thanks again!

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