Lessons Learned on Finishing My First Book
holistic health writing
- Writing is a process. The first draft hardly deserves the name, and no matter how refined the final product looks, it was a mess when it was started. So don't worry if you sit down to write something and it looks horrible at first. Keep editing, refining, revisioning, and polishing.
- The hard part is behind the words on the page. If you care enough to write something long, it will be readable. It's pretty easy to put words to paper and make sure you write clearly, especially with the benefit of editing and friends to look over your work. The hard part is making the book valuable and useful. Do your research, get to know the people you are writing for, and ask them directly what they want. Stay on topic, and don't try to bite off more than you can chew. Only write what you know.
- Don't write for everyone. Don't try to appeal to everyone. If you do, you cannot be honest and authentic, and then nobody will want to read you.
- It's more work than you think. But once you get past the tipping point, it takes on a life of its own and drives you forward.
- Promotion is about being useful. You must be authentic, but you must also go above and beyond to contribute a lot of information, insight, and value to the community you are a part of. Only then will people be willing to support you.
The Long Road to Now
“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” - E.L. Doctorow
When I set out to write the Warrior Spirit Principles of Holistic Health, I didn't plan on writing a book. A friend from college asked for some workout advice, and I wrote an e-mail response of about 2000 words. Most of it was expressing frustration at the fitness industry misleading my friends about their own health.
So, clearly I had some things I wanted to say and needed to compose my thoughts for something a bit more formal . At first, I envisioned a short booklet, but once I started writing, it became clear that it would have to be a much longer work in order to do justice to my message.
So, naturally, I put it off, and when I moved to Korea, everything was forgotten.
Living in Korea, there wasn't much I could dedicate my life to. While teaching is certainly a noble profession, a Korean language academy teacher is just a drone, and I found myself just making a living for the first time in my life, not aspiring to anything more. For those who know me, that is not a place I like to be.
However, the constraints of working turned out to be useful; back home, living with my parents and working part-time, I had the freedom to get excited about everything, with the result that I didn't actually accomplish anything. With very little time in Korea outside of work, I had to pick one thing. So I picked this book. After reading Chris Guillebeau's $100 Start-up, I had a plan and I asked my friends what they wanted to learn about fitness to make sure it would be of value.
Every morning from 10am-12pm, I went down to the cafe under my apartment to write. No matter what, I sat in front of my computer for 2 hours every day. The result was an incoherent mass of text that failed to clearly answer any of my friends questions.
All that work had apparently been useless, and I was discouraged, but with my deadline set, I reoriented myself. I wrote an outline and filled it in. This way, what I wrote was part of some larger structure, not just my rantings. Sometimes I was able to just copy and paste the material from the original draft, but I wrote a lot of new stuff.
Based on the ideas in $100 Start-up, I realized I needed to spread the word. For me, that was the hardest part of the whole idea of 'writing a book'. I was more than happy to just put it up, announce it on Facebook, and be done with it. But after so much effort, I felt like I'd be letting the book itself down, like having a kid and neglecting to give it the best chance in life. So, reluctantly, I asked a friend with some serious social media chops to help me out.
She gave me a plan which I followed to the letter, and taught me that I had to be helpful to be noticed. Amazingly, people started to talk to me, read my blog, and join the mailing list for the book. I met some amazing people in the evolutionary health community.
Now I was scared
“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.” -John Jakes
Before, the book would have gone up with zero expectations. Now, I knew people were really going to read it. I also knew I couldn't turn back without letting a lot of people and myself down.
Those last few weeks were exhausting and terrifying. I was up late almost every single night making last minute edits, communicating with a newfound online community, and writing guest posts.
One thing about sending a message is that it forces you to really refine and focus what you are trying to say. I had strong views on fitness, but I had never bothered to figure out how to best convey them. Nothing about what I said was unique to me. As the deadline I'd set myself approached, I worried that the book lacked sincerity, and I went over it again and again, cutting out anything I thought was just me parroting other people, reinforcing my message, and eliminating anything that I thought was self-glorifying. I wanted this book to be helpful to other people, not just me reminiscing about my life. My editorial girlfriend was ruthless about phrasing and integrity, and she proofread the entire thing twice, in addition to my own proofing.
All that continued up until about 10 minutes before the book was uploaded.
Afterwards, we went out for Mexican food and ordered the biggest plate of sizzling fajitas on the menu. Halfway through dinner, I realized the e-mail link was broken and had to rush out to fix it...so it goes. The adventure continues.
You can download the Warrior Spirit Principles of Holistic Health for free or a donation of your choice.