Would you like to write a book? I sometimes get asked for tips on this so I thought I’d blog a few thoughts for you. The finding a publisher part is not so hard once you have a good manuscript ready, and sometimes not even that much – a good outline will sometimes be enough to get a foot in the door. So let’s focus on the idea and how to get going. I’ll share with you what has worked for me, and hopefully that will help. I’ll also recommend some good books that have writing tips and exercises that can help you to break through creative blocks.
Know you are enough
The first blockage for many of us is believing in ourselves. We think “who am I to write a book?” but seriously, who are you not to? What you have to say and share is just as valuable as anyone else. Others might know more, or have different experiences, but they will never have your own experiences. Speak as yourself. You might like to do some research, certainly, but every book doesn’t need to be an encyclopedia. Start with what you know now and find a way to believe that it can be enough. If you are writing a non-fiction and don’t feel you are an expert, that’s ok – write as a curious beginner on a journey of personal discovery. If you are writing a novel and are not sure you have dialogue worked out yet – just start; you will learn so much through just doing it. Make your daily affirmation “I am enough”.
Commit to five minutes
Choose how often you want to write. It might be daily, weekly or perhaps, like me, you just do it once all the other tasks are at a certain level of completion. Then, even if you don’t feel like writing for a long time, commit to writing something for five minutes. You might decide to work on your project, or you might like to try a writing exercise. These exercises are always worthwhile and never a waste of time because they teach us to spread our writing skill and try new things. Then, set a timer and write for five minutes. That might be enough, however if you’re like me, it’s quite likely that in doing that five minutes you will start to feel more motivated to write more. So, commit to five minutes and see where it takes you.
Choose your topic
My best advise on this is to keep it fairly simple and stick to what you know best. What is your own personal expertise? What do you have the most experience in that you would like to share? If you want to write a fantasy novel about horses, do you know enough about horses to do so? What do you know well? What can you describe in detail? What can you explain or demonstrate to others? Or, if there is something you want to write about that you don’t know about yet, what is your plan to research it – writing you plan for research could be a good place to start in itself – but when it comes to the writing, start with what you know best and work from there.
Who are you talking to?
Working out what we want to write is very important, but so is who we are talking about it to. Particularly in non-fiction, but this can be relevant in fiction too. In non-fiction we consider who our audience is, what they already know, and what we would like them to learn through reading the book. That might include hearing about our experiences and stories as well as sharing facts and information. In non-fiction it could be deciding if your first person narrative is a journal, a letter or a story told in conversation, or perhaps it’s a third person in a formal style, or a poetic descriptive voice. Work out not only what you want to say, but who you are saying it to, and how you want to say it. If you’re not sure, exercises to practice these forms and sytles can be really helpful. You might also consider writing in a number of different styles. In my books I like to switch between sharing information in a fairly formal style, and sharing personal stories in a style that seems almost like fiction. In my first book, Australian Druidry, many of these parts were fiction, though based on real experiences.
When I realised how to do this it changed everything for me and made writing so much easier. Once you have the big idea in mind for what your book is about, summarise it into a short question, like an essay question. So, for Australian Druidry, my question was “How can we adapt Druidry as a nature-based spiritual practice to the Australian landscape?” and my question for Belonging to the Earth was “How is the nature spirituality community responding to the climate crisis?” Luckily for me, the question for Belonging to the Earth was actually given to me by my publisher as it was a part of a series of books called Earth Spirit that all address this question in different ways. You might find your question is easy to work out, or it might take a few tries. Open a document and write it out in as many ways as you can, then narrow it down to what is most important. Make it no more than one short sentence.
Once you have that, you can start working out how you are going to approach the question. I do this by creating a contents list for the book. The titles of the contents list will probably change as you write the chapters, but at this point they can stand for the topics of each chapter. Then, under each of these headings, you can expand on each idea and how you will approach it. You can even write an essay question for each chapter. This way you begin seeing the whole of the text right from the beginning, and writing becomes a matter of expanding on each part. You might find some chapters need to be split into a number of topics or subheadings. If you have a word processing program, make use of the heading styles and the navigation pane so that you can find chapters easily and see the whole document at once.
So, you have your idea, you have your structure laid out and you are committing to that five minutes a day. Now you need to be ready to catch Awen when it passes through. You might be on a walk, in the shower, in the supermarket, or driving your car when it happens – these are such common times, but really it can happen anytime. Awen (a Welsh word that literally means “sacred breath” which is used in Druidry to refer to the creative spirit or flow states of inspiration) happens upon us when we least expect it and we need to make sure we catch it before it flows off somewhere else! So carry a notebook, or use the notes app on your phone to jot down ideas when they come to you. You can also use the voice recorder if that suits you better. Try to catch the idea while its fresh in your mind. Having a writing schedule can help us, but often creativity is unpredictable and we need to be ready to catch it when we can.
Let it settle
Once you have your text at a stage you are fairly satisfied with. Perhaps you’ve reach a good word count or feel you have filled out as many chapters as are needed to answer that first question, it’s time to edit. But if you can, I would suggest letting it settle before you do. Just don’t look at it for a few days. For me it is usually a few weeks. I find it hard to edit as the text is too jumbled in my mind. It helps me to leave it for a while and then come back to it fresh. I see it in new ways and my edits help it to become clearer as I am reading it more like someone who is new to the text.
Get it proofread
Don’t expect your publisher to do much in this sense. Get others to check it for you. Choose people with different outlooks or skills who will notice different things. Some might notice spelling or punctuation mistakes, some might point out political or philosophical problems, others might be more aware of clarity or sentence length, some might be good at fact checking. Of course, you should be editing for all of these yourself first, but fresh eyes on the text will help you to iron out any problems you have missed and make the text as readable as possible.
I went with a publishing house rather than self-publishing. I know a lot of people self-publish these days, and you might find that is for you, but for myself, I enjoy not having to do all the distribution and promotion of the books. It’s also great to be in a publishing house with other authors who share ideas and work on projects together. I am with Moon Books. I don’t get paid upfront. I get paid royalties as a book sells and I can buy wholesale copies to sell myself at a good price. We have an author forum on Facebook and it’s a great community.
Manuscripts can be sent to publishers via their websites, but they don’t always need to be perfect! It’s possible if you have it finished, they might still want you to change some things anyway and you have to be ready for that too, which can mean editing all over again. When I applied with my first manuscript for Australian Druidry, I didn’t even have a title. I had written about 15000 words as a kind of skeleton structure for something about nature spirituality in Australia but I hadn’t worked out who my audience was. I didn’t know if it should be about Druidry, or Paganism, or nature spirituality more generally. They helped me to find my audience and gave me a word count to aim for in expanding it. I took about a year to get it finished after that. There are so many ways to get there. Talking to a publisher once you have an idea is really great. Just give it a go, and as Elizabeth Gilbert says in her wonderful book “Big Magic”, “if they say ‘no’, you say ‘next’”.
My favourite block breakers
There are so many ways to break a blockage. An important one is waiting and not beating yourself up. Just do something else for awhile. When the time is right, it will happen. Aside from that, I like the following:
- Meditate for 10 minutes. Just sit still and shut your eyes. You will be astounded at how many ideas come at your when you are trying to meditate! Work with it, not against it. When they come, start writing.
- Journal a lot. I have been keeping a journal since I was 12. I love them. I write in them often. They are for no-one else. I talk about what is happening in my day, what I want to do, what I am struggling with etc. It helps me to clear my mind of chatter.
- Go for a walk, preferably in nature or through a park. Take a little notebook or your phone to record things – but maybe put it on airplane mode so you don’t get lost in the infinite scroll.
- Go to a class at your community college on writing. Being around others who are also writers in itself is inspiring and motivating. The class doesn’t even have to be exactly what you are writing about. A shift of topic can be refreshing to your creativity.
- Buy some books on writing that have exercises to try. Use these in your five minute sessions. See below.
- Write a blog! It’s a nice way to practice sharing short pieces of writing and they don’t have to be perfect.
References and resources
I don’t have a lot of these kinds of books and other resources. Do check out what is out there. At a writing group I used to attend we often used story prompt cards by Caitin and John Matthews. I’m sure there are more of this kind of thing out there!
The Little Red Writing Book by Mark Tredinnick – This has lots of writing exercises. Mark is a wonderful writer with a beautiful poetic, friendly style. This is a great choice if you want some activities to try in your five minute sessions.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – She wrote ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ too. This one is mainly about finding the confidence to believe in yourself as a writer and breakthrough those blockages. It’s beautifully written and wonderfully inspiring.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – This is a classic. It’s a bit dated in some of its language, but the core ideas there are really worthwhile. The exercises ask a lot of questions that help you to break through blockages and find what you really want to do with your art. It encourages daily journaling, walking and taking yourself out on an artist date among many questions about your hopes, dreams and desires.
I hope you enjoyed this little blog! Thanks to Alex who I met at the NFF for inspiring me to write this one. I hope you all have a wonderful time exploring your creativity through writing. Do you have five minutes now? Go on, write something 😊
If you would like to read Australian Druidry or Belonging to the Earth, they can be purchased via my jewelry website Forest Spirit Jewelry.