I remember when I wrote my first book. A friend told me I should do it, he was more financially successful than I was, and so I figured I may as well just do what he said. It was a daunting idea, but I thought that since so many other people had written books, I could probably handle it, too.
Back then I had a funny compact computer that had a seven inch screen, and a proportionately tiny keyboard. I sat down in front of it, and started typing. Next thing I knew, it was time to go to bed. I was so focused that I had forgotten to eat dinner.
I woke up the next morning and kept writing, and again it was late before I knew it. But I had run through my ad-hoc outline. The book was done, just one day after I started it.
Sure, I had to spend a week editing it, rearranging it and formatting it, but that part's easy. You know the hard part is done, so the rest is light and fun.
I had no idea that writing a book was so easy. I'd never done the math and realized that at 100 words per minute, you could technically write an entire book in five hours.
I wanted my next book to be a real masterpiece, so I took forever on it. I got into a cycle of never really being satisfied with it, and felt like I was trying to write a book in someone else's style. It came out well in the end, but I think I spun my wheels way more than I should have.
I wrote my third book on a plane, on a single roundtrip flight from SFO to NYC. It was a short but useful book. It was fun racing the clock, and made the flight go by really quickly.
My fourth book was written without me even noticing. I did it on a cruise ship, but I swear I don't have a single recollection of writing on that boat. I remember all sorts of other stuff we got into, but I couldn't tell you what the desk or chair looked like where I wrote it.
That book was easy. It was about habits, and I'd spent a couple years just obsessing about habits. More than writing, it just felt like releasing a valve in my brain and letting it all pour out.
I'm finishing up my fifth book now, so it's the freshest in my mind. It reminds me of all sorts of thought patterns that I forgot that I had when I wrote my other books.
I know how good all my other books are. I think that the reviews are pretty fair for most of them, and that the aggregate star ratings are correct. But as I write this book, I have no idea how good it is. It could be one star or five, and I couldn't tell you which. I'll know once I edit it down and organize it, and I'll work my hardest to get it to a five, but it's impossible to tell as I write.
When I first started writing it two weeks ago, it was a little bit daunting. It felt a little bit like climbing a mountain I've already climbed a few times. Okay, let's drag ourselves up this thing once more...
As I knocked out the chapters, though, I got into to the groove of it. Even just being a tenth of the way through gave me a glimpse of what the final product might be like, and got excited about getting it done.
I set a daily word count of 2500 words. No matter what, I wouldn't allow myself to go to sleep if I didn't hit my word count. Most days I went over by a couple hundred words, but there were a couple days I struggled to finish. Having a word count took a lot of stress out of the process, though. Just write your words and you'll have a book eventually, I told myself.
Then, all of a sudden, the book was done. I still have to edit and rearrange, and I'll surely have to rewrite some parts of it and add chapters, but the hard part is done. I'm coasting down the mountain now, and it feels great.
I can't wait to get this book in people's hands. I think it's going to help a lot of people, and hopefully be pretty interesting to read. It feels good to get a project off the books, and for the royalties to start trickling in.
The truth is, it's not really all that hard to write a book. You just set a word count, put that many words on paper, ignore the doubts in your mind, and pretty soon you have a book. It might not be that good, but you could easily write a book.
And you might be surprised at how good it comes out, too. My third book, the one written on a plane, was poorly written. It's the only book where I feel like the negative reviews are completely justified and correct. But it's also saved some people a whole lot of time, and gotten good reviews. Even if you're not a writer, you could definitely write a book that's better than that one.
I think the reason many people who want to write books don't is because they psyche themselves out. I almost did it myself on my second book, so I know how easy it can be. There's this fantasy of writing the greatest masterpiece ever, and that pressure makes it impossible to write even a decent book. The only way you finish is by giving up because of the pressure, and then submitting to the idea of writing a decent book.
It's a strange mental journey. At first it seems nearly impossible, then it feels like a chore, then it feels inevitable, and then it feels amazing. Altogether, it's a pretty decent mountain to climb.
Photo is me singing Jump by Kriss Kross at Karaoke night on the ship. Usually I'd try to finish writing by dinnertime. I sang Ice Ice Baby after that and got Diane, a nice senior from the crowd, to sing the chorus. Photo by Kai Zau.
Editing for the new book begins today!
I've been on the same line of thinking for about the past two weeks too. My first book was 20,000 words of word vomit aboutmeditation that happened in three days, number two was a one month blog to book endeavor about Chinese which I improved over a year. Now I'm working on a fantasy novel (20,000 words already) and the prospect of writing a 60,000 word manuscript isn't even daunting anymore. Lots of people see book writing (novels especially) as this huge, emotional journey. Fortunately it isn't, or every undertaking would be exhausting D:
It's funny, all my life writing a book seemed like it would be a daunting task, and then suddenly I'm writing one and it feels too easy. As if something is wrong because it was supposed to be this epic challenge. I guess we'll see...
Guess what? I've got a new book out. I hate all the launching and promotion sort of stuff, and I'm not sure it actually helped my last book, so I'm going to do things the old-fashioned way and just quietly announce it here.
A little over a year ago I wrote a story about visiting a tea shop in Amsterdam. There was no moral to the story and no lesson, it was just an attempt to capture a really nice day that I had and an interesting person that I met. People loved the story, which made me think that maybe I should write a book full of travel stories.
So I did. The Amsterdam story is the only one I copied from the blog. The rest I wrote from scratch, and most of them have never even been mentioned on the blog, so they'll be new to you. Leo proofread the book for me and thought that the Amanda story was one of the least interesting, so if you like that one, you'll probably love the book.
I had a lot of fun writing the book and felt good making a tribute to all of the people who have contributed to my travels over the past eight or so years. All of my favorite memories while traveling are because of the amazing people I've met, and most of those memories are captured in these stories.
I didn't know how to make soup. I knew how to open a can or say "Yes, I'd like soup with my meal" but I didn't know how to really make soup. Now I do.
Thanks to some help from my wife's uncle I made six quarts of soup. The soup is tasty but more delicious is the knowledge. I've gone from being given a fish to a fishing pole.
The steps for making the soup included chopping vegetables, something I do all the time but also included new tasks like making beans from a bag and using a ham hock for the broth. I didn't know how to do either of things. Now I do.
I love trying, making, and sometimes failing with new food and of all the new-ish foods I've cooked recently, this is the one that's been the most rewarding because it reminds me the most about writing.
I'm writing a book. It might not be any good. It might not sell any copies. It might be a waste of time and money. I'm still doing it.