When it comes to writing a first book, it’s natural to want to be like the writers we grew up admiring. We look up to the authors we read in school or the people behind our favorite books. We know we can’t “be” those people (“I’m no Hemingway, …”). But still. We can dream.
And that’s what gets us into trouble.
True or not, we have certain cultural ideas (“myths”) about how the greats put their book into the world.
Sometimes, myths can be helpful and inspiring: perhaps you create a writing group like your favorite author did. Maybe you always drink tea as you write because it feels writerly to you. But others of these myths—they don’t actually help.
And it’s not just that these myths aren’t applicable, they’re also holding us back. As we hang onto these cultural ideas about how the best writers write good books, we’re trying to fit ourselves into molds that don’t serve us as writers or serve our book ideas.
Simply put, these myths don’t produce good books.
We want the best books to be written, just like you. But in order for that to happen, we have to fight back some of these ideas.
Here are five of these myths, how they hold us back, and what to do to overcome them.
“A true writer waits for her muse.”
When it comes to writing (and procrastination), this is one of the most commonly cited myths. We hate to break it to you, but if you’re waiting for your muse to arrive, you’re likely not going to make much progress on your book. Our advice is to schedule your writing time, just like you would any important activity. You might find your muse arrives more often, this way.
In our estimation, the only qualification you need to call yourself a writer is to actually do the work of writing. It takes more practice than inspiration.
“A writer should be able to write without any help.”
The myth of the lonely writer (by herself in a cabin in the woods) creates a powerful image—one which oftentimes keeps writers from reaching out for help. Believing their book isn’t truly “good” or inspired if they ask for input, advice, or editing early on, writers miss out on feedback they need to create a work which communicates their message clearly.
You are, of course, the author. But you’re not the only mind on the project. The sooner you pull in supporting voices (of people you vet and trust), the better.
“A publisher discovers an unknown author, and pulls her out of obscurity into fame.”
While this might not be something you tell your friends, we find that authors have an underlying assumption that publishers stumble upon genius and that’s how good books make it big. If you’re hoping that a publisher discovers you, we have to let you down now. If you wait for someone to notice you, you’re not going to get anywhere.
The truth is, as an author, selling your book is your business and marketing yourself is part of the process. You market yourself to agents. You market yourself to publishers. You market yourself to an audience. Whether you traditionally publish or you self publish, you are responsible to get your book into the hands of your readers.
The good news is that fame is not a measurement of impact. Our advice is to start connecting with the right people—the people whose lives will be impacted through your book. Find your people, and your words will make a huge difference.
“A writer keeps her book a secret until it’s published.”
There’s an idea out there that it’s really important to keep your book idea a secret, not only from competition but also from the public. Writers don’t want any of their ideas to be stolen (more on that in the next myth).
Here’s an argument for testing out the content for your book before it’s published: the people who make up your audience might have some helpful ideas and feedback. If you really want to reach a certain population, you have to know them well. And, now more than ever, you have access to them. You can get to know them, get a feel for what they want, what’s holding them back, their desires, fears—or even just casually what they think about your book topic. The information you have on them, the better you will be able to write to them.
“A great book is an absolutely novel idea on a subject that no one else is writing on.”
When writers find out that other people are working on (or have published) books very similar to their own, it can cause near panic. Authors feel a pressure to get their work out first or defend an idea as their own.
It’s actually a great thing if the topic you’re writing about is currently trending: that means you’re taking part in a conversation. People want to hear more about the topic. People are buying books on the topic.
And the best news is that this conversation needs your voice.
Of course, protecting one’s intellectual property is important. And there are (a few) cases out there in which people’s book ideas get swiped (it’s not common, but it happens). But it’s actually pretty difficult to steal another person’s idea. Why? Because only you can speak with your voice. You are the only person with your experience and perspective.
If we buy into these myths, we’ll end up paralyzed in our writing process, unable to reach out for feedback or help.
We won’t reach the people whose lives we have the real chance to influence. We’ll lose out on the opportunity to refine our ideas and produce our best work.
The good news is that by recognizing these myths, we have the chance to intentionally move in the opposite direction.
A good book is in you. Now, do the work and get the help and feedback to write it.