by Brian Klems (@BrianKlems)
When writing my book, Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters, I ran into a lot of roadblocks. I’d like to place the blame elsewhere, but the truth is, they were my fault (Okay, I’ll place part of the blame on TBS for airing all those reruns of “Scrubs” — seriously, I just can’t get enough of that show).
Most of the roadblocks, though, were from avoidable mistakes I made during the writing process. Thankfully, now I know better.
To help you out, I’ve pulled together the five things you shouldn’t do when writing a book. These are tips that I wish someone else would have told me before I started writing Oh Boy. To save you a lot of time, do not:
1. Tell Anyone The Plot of Your BookWhen you’re writing a book, occasionally someone — like a family member, friend or that loaded guy sitting next to you at the bar — will con you into talking about your book while you’re writing it. Wrong move. They will offer unsolicited pieces of advice like, “You should name your main character Booger.”
While most are honestly trying to be helpful, the majority of them — who have never written a book — will likely be offering bad advice. Best to stay hush-hush about it until it’s finished and you can have it edited or work-shopped by other writers.
2. Get Attached to Any Part of Your BookAs writers, we often fall in love with our own writing and plot points. This happens to me all the time. I write an awesome first paragraph and continue writing a chapter. As I go along, it’s clear that the chapter has taken a decidedly different turn and that first paragraph doesn’t quite fit. But I love that first paragraph. So I spend countless hours rewriting the rest of the chapter, even though deep down I know the only real solution is to cut that first graph.
It’s brutally painful, but not cutting it is a mistake rookie writers make. And if you want to publish your book, you’ll cut anything that doesn’t quite fit — even if it’s a part you love. [Like this idea? Tweet it!]
3. Set Unreasonable GoalsI believe in goals, so no matter what you are writing — a novel, nonfiction book, memoir, poetry chapbook, an article on how to write a blog (which I did) — you need to set some. That being said, don’t set goals that are nearly impossible to reach. Unreasonable goals will only cause you to get mad at yourself and will, in fact, slow your process down rather than speed it up — after all, if you feel like you’re letting yourself down, you’ll be less motivated to write.
I like to set time goals as opposed to word-count goals. For example, if you only have 30 minutes a day to write, just sit down and write as many words as you can in that 30 minutes. Some days you may only walk away with a couple hundred. Others you may knock out a thousand or two. But if you walk away with any words, you’ll feel more confident knowing you worked as hard as you could that day to get that many words out.
And eventually, they will add up.
4. Only Save Your Book in One PlaceLike every writer, I have a very love-hate relationship with computers — as in, I love them when they are helping me work more efficiently and I hate them when … well … nearly all the rest of the time. It’s not intuitive to me to continually hit “save” when writing, especially when I’m in the zone. So when I forget to save (which happens all the time) and my computer crashes (which seems to happen every time I’m finally satisfied with my work), I lose everything.
I finally started writing using Google Docs, where it not only automatically saves your work but it saves it online, so you can access it from any computer you want. After writing the first few chapters of Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl in Word and losing nearly 50% of my writing, I fell in love with Google Docs because they took away the unnecessary stress of worrying about my computer crashing. Now my computer could reboot all it wanted and I’d still have all those wonderful words I worked so hard to write.
5. Take the Fun Out of WritingToo often writing a book turns into a chore. That can happen for many reasons — stressed over a self-imposed deadline, trouble defining a character, dealing with writer’s block, afraid that the book just isn’t good enough so far, etc.
I once got stuck on one sentence — one sentence – because I didn’t think it was “funny enough” and used it as an excuse to stop writing for days. That’s a true story.
And now, looking back, I see how absurd that is.
The important thing to do is forget all of that — all the worries and stresses and self-induced headaches. Just focus on the reason you wanted to write a book in the first place: Because you’re a storyteller and you have a story to tell. Remind yourself of that every day and you’ll have fewer roadblocks to finishing your book.
What mistakes have you made — and learned from — when writing a book?
Brian A. Klems is the online editor for Writer’s Digest magazine and author of Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters (Adams 2013).
He’s also the editor of The Writer’s Dig and hosts the popular parenting blog, TheLifeOfDad.com.
You can follow him on Twitter @BrianKlems.