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Lessons I Learned from My First Published Book

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If there is one lesson from the last decade that should have been obvious to me (but wasn’t) it is what a difference a decade makes. Sometimes I feel like time is flying so fast, and not much is changing (apart from the heights of my nephew and Godchildren) but in hindsight, a lot has happened in the past ten years, many of them, things that I never imagined.

And one of the things I was most proud of was ending the decade as a published author. Taking that journey taught me so many things about myself (some good, some bad and some ugly) and some of them definitely ranked as some of the lessons of a decade. So to wrap up my lessons learned in a decade mini-series, I am going to shine a light on some of the lessons I learned through publishing my book and lastly from making writing a part of my daily life. 

I have written about some of the lessons when I wrote about finishing what I started on my personal blog. Today I am going to share some of the larger lessons I learned overall, while I speak a bit about the journey. So many people have asked me this in various formats, that I want to talk a bit more about my personal experience today – and hopefully, you will hear something in this for yourself.

I should say that prior to starting writing this book, I had never heard much about self-publishing and indeed I had no idea what I was going to do when I had written the book, but I just knew that I needed to start writing, and this brings me to lesson number 1.

  • It starts with writing. This may sound like a simple lesson, but sometimes those are the hardest to learn. In fact, every day I speak to people who want to start writing projects – blogs, write a book, short story or poem, even social media posts – and many of them are worried about hosting, fonts and cover design, algorithms – before they have written a word. I definitely went through this stage before starting this blog, and I am very familiar with it. I know that for me, what I thought was resistance to tech was actually a resistance to writing, born out of fear. Fear that my words would not be good enough, fear about “not being a good writer” or memories of “being bad at English” when at school, fear about not knowing enough to write a whole book, or not being expert enough. Or fears about “who would want to read my story?” and “what if no-one reads it at all” or “what if everyone hates it?”. For me I had many of these fears. But I also knew that if I was going to overcome any of those fears, I would first have to write. I started with a blog, and I had written several posts before clicked publish, several more before I shared any, and several more still before I was ready to write the book. (I talk more about that in a post here – lowering the stakes). But the lesson to me was clear – I needed to start writing. For me the process of writing didn’t necessarily make the fear go away, but instead it made me aware that it was fear causing the resistance, and not a lack of talent or people to read my story, or being bad at tech, and once I knew that, I was able to keep myself writing – with a little help from my friends. Which brings me to my next lesson.
  • Keep good company. I always had an image of writing as a solitary experience – sitting alone in front of my typewriter (yes – that is how long I have been thinking about it!) with a glass of scotch (or apple juice!!). But I have repeatedly found that writing is a team sport, and it has been most invaluable to me to have my support around me. Having other writers to cheer me on and friends to encourage me were two of the biggest ways that I was able to overcome the fear and write anyway. And teaming up with professionals as I went through the self-publishing process kept me sane and on track. I don’t think I would have completed the book without the support. And if you are thinking of writing then the best suggestion I can give is – ask for help, and ask someone who would be supportive and who would help you move forward in your writing. (I have a free Facebook community that does just that – click here to join me!) And speaking of moving forward, this brings me to lesson number three.
  • Don’t look back. This took practice. I had to learn to write forward – and not to look back. Not to edit myself as I wrote, and not to re-read what I wrote. Whenever I looked back, I get caught up in wrong grammar, in second guessing myself, and in criticizing my writing trying to make it perfect. I had to continuously remind myself to move forward – and I had to remember that it wasn’t going to be perfect (especially a first draft) and that it would all come together in the end, and if I try to second guess before that happens, I would never make it to the end. I had to keep moving forward regardless of the “advice” that I was getting from others to “know my target audience, and what her shoe size was before I wrote a word” because in truth – that was not how my process worked. This brings me to the next lesson.
  • Know what you need (and what you don’t) and don’t let anyone tell you different. Different people have different ways of approaching a project like this. Some people need to know the ins and outs of the project from start to finish in order to get anything done. And I am usually that person when I am doing other things, but I learned that when I am writing, I need to step forward into the dark, without necessarily knowing the next step. As I moved through the self-publishing process, I realized that knowing everything that needed to be done would have been too overwhelming for me, and I don’t know if I would have been able to write while thinking about trim size and font and how big I wanted the margins. For me this was a lesson in trusting in what I knew I needed and sticking to my guns. There were people who told me that I shouldn’t even start the book before I decided who my audience was and what my “Beyond the book” plan would be. But I just needed to write and step into the dark, and trust that it would come together – as it did – in ways that I could not even imagine. The truth is if I had spent too much time overthinking, I would not have finished the book, or experienced so much of the magic that occurred as I published and the right people showed up at the right time. Even though I am not normally the “trust and believe” person, I found that was exactly the strategy I needed to complete this project. It reminded me that as people, we may need to take different approaches in different areas of our lives. It reminded me that there is no one way. This brings me to my next lesson.
  • There is no wrong way to write a book. There is so much advice out there about writing and publishing a book, and most of those people who give it are right about how it worked for them. I had to learn that there was no wrong choice, and it was about what was right for me. Many people I have spoken to have different processes, but this is a case where all roads can lead home if you let them. I had to learn to let go of what I thought it should be like and let the book be exactly what it wanted to be, and in doing so, I was eventually able to finish it. This brings me to my last lesson.
  • I can do it. The biggest lesson I learned was that I can finish a book. And that was possibly the most valuable lesson of all. It was the confidence I needed to ignore the voices that tell me I can’t do it, and which still surface as I write. And that knowledge that I could finish a book – if I did it my way – was what I needed as I moved forward, and finished a few books since then. Even though I have not gone through the process of self-publishing again, I know that I can do that too (even if I don’t want to do it again for the moment). Instead, I have had the pleasure of understanding my own process, and now I try to encourage other writers as they embark on their journeys. (And if you want to know about the next book I wrote – click here!)

This is only half the story. My final lesson from the last decade will also be lessons I learned about writing, and these are more about the writing itself, and what I learned as I make it a part of my daily life.

In the meantime, I have stepped into a new decade feeling called to support others who are sharing their story, as well as to write and share more widely, and I have been doing just that. In February, I decided to share my first novel Lessons in Love – daily through email. If you didn’t sign up for it, email me at 39andcountingblog@gmail.com.

If you want to start writing then I am here for that and ready to support you. This next decade will start as the last one ended – with my hands on a keyboard, waiting for new words to fill the page. I am so glad you have been with me so far and look forward to continuing this journey with you.

And as always, I send you big love from a small island.

PS The above photo was sent to me by my fantastic editor Kris Emery as she placed my book on her shelf with some of the other books she worked on. I was so pleased when I saw this!!

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