maybe you should write a book

It’s an expression we’ve all heard and probably have said more than a few times. First comes a long string of annoying circumstances or stubborn challenges, repeated frustrations or just plain foolishness. Then the punchline: “Oh, I could write a book.”

So, maybe you should. In fact, why not?

Here’s what I think: Sometimes our deepest desires reveal themselves in the things we say offhandedly. It’s like a life goal that plays peek-a-boo with your consciousness by popping out in that casual remark or even a cliché: “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would totally quit my job and [fill in the blank].”

If writing a book is one of “those” things you hint, dream, muse, or talk about, maybe it’s time to take this seriously. And what better time than now, as one year comes to a close and another is about to begin?

As an author of seven books (and counting) including a New York Times bestseller and two mystery novels, I love giving aspiring writers advice to pursue their dreams. In fact, this is a topic I’m going to be writing about a lot – so here’s my initial advice how to turn that dream of writing a book into an action plan.

There Is Room for You and Your Dream

It happened many years ago when I walked into a bookstore in downtown Chicago. Normally, I love browsing the shelves, but this time seeing all those books triggered complete panic. How could there be room for one more book, especially one from me? It took quite a bit of deep breathing to get me through it. Flash forward to another bookstore, just a couple of weeks ago.

Among all the many titles on display were my novels – right there under the “featured author” sign. Yes, there has been a lot of redirect and rewrite along my journey, but that could only happen because I believed there was room for me and my dream.

Your dream may be to write your memoir, chronicling the events of your life. You may want to share your expertise in a how-to. Or, like me, fiction may call to you. Whatever your dream, there is room in this world for you to pursue it.

The Strategy of Short(Er)

I wrote essays before I tackled my first nonfiction book. I published short stories before I launched my novel. Starting out writing a book can be daunting, while an essay or short story is often more manageable. This approach to writing can be both satisfying and strategic.

First, there was the “I did it factor” – having a creative piece accepted for publication, which had nothing to do with my day job as a journalist and a consultant. Second, those shorter pieces became publishing credits that helped me attract the attention of agents and editors.

Even though I am now writing mystery novels, I still enjoy writing short stories (which I publish on my website, along with works of other writers – maybe you one day). Shorter pieces allow me to express and experiment, while delivering a great deal of satisfaction.

Find Your Mission – And Your Message

Over the past 25 years, I’ve written nonfiction and fiction, self-help and leadership, and now mysteries with a literary twist. While I’m proud of all my works, fiction was always my real story. To own that dream I had to define and embrace my mission: to explore the intersection between the ordinary and the extraordinary – those moments when we’re pulled out of the circumstances of daily life into something much bigger and transformative.

In my Ohnita Harbor series, my protagonist, Gabriela, is thrust out of her well-ordered world as a librarian as she authenticates artifacts, which coincidentally puts her in the crosshairs of small-town murder. She becomes more than she believed herself to be – braver, stronger, resilient, resourceful. And that’s a message for all of us, including on the writer’s journey.

Start… And Find the Joy

I was asked in a TV interview recently for my advice for “someone who has a dream and may be struggling with getting started or continuing.” Those are the two big sticking points! Starting means leaping the gap between the idea in your head and those first words on the page (or brushstrokes on the canvas, notes on the piano, etc.). It’s the blank page syndrome.

My advice is to put something down – even if it’s a one-sentence declaration of what you’re going to write. Once your fingers start moving on the keyboard, your creativity is likely to engage. Keeping going becomes the next challenge for many reasons. Maybe it’s not progressing as well as you’d hoped. Or life (read: distraction) gets in the way.

Your writing is a new healthy habit – just like exercising or meditating. Invest the time and the energy to keep it up because of what it does for you. Hard work? Yes. Frustrating? Inevitably. But there is joy in giving voice to your stories.

No Judgment, No Comparison

So, there I was, talking to a group of enthusiastic readers about my second novel, The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm. And in that crowd was a best-selling author whose success eclipses mine. And I felt… jealous. I hate admitting this. It’s petty, small-minded – but oh so human.

Every creative pursuit involves some sort of performance, whether it’s shared with a group of friends or the whole wide world. External measures of others’ opinions can matter more than what we believe or experience when we’re creating.

Even more insidious, our relative ranking in those external measures – who’s doing better than we are – can demoralize us. In “The Unbearable Envy of the Published Author,” novelist Lynn Steger Strong describes keeping tabs on the success of another author, whom she did not know and whose work she admired.

Finally, she broke herself out of that trap with a potent realization about “external markers of success or failure: I write for reasons that have nothing to do with them.” I’m tucking away that piece of advice so those pangs of envy don’t become pains that keep me from pursuing what I love.

The next time you tell yourself, “Oh, I could write a book,” maybe it’s time to consider whether that’s exactly what you should do.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you considered writing a book? Has that thought intimidated you? What about starting small(er)? Would a short story or essay sound doable?