by Niall Doherty

Officially, my book — Disrupting the Rabblement — launched today. You can grab a copy on Amazon.

*happy dance*

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but requesting people to read the book for several weeks now, so I’ll cut the self-promotion short and spend the rest of this post sharing a few lessons learned.

First though, I should note that this post is about how to actually write a book, not about getting a book published, or about becoming a bestselling author. Self-publishing is easy nowadays, and I doubt I’ll be achieving bestseller status any time soon, so not much point in me offering advice on either of those topics.

Besides, before you get to thinking about self-publishing and bestseller lists, you need to actually write a book. That’s something I now have experience with, so I’ll share what I hope will be a few helpful tips.

Joseph Epstein famously wrote back in 2002 that “81 percent of Americans feel they have a book in them — and that they should write it.” I suspect that number hasn’t changed much in the last decade, and that the feeling isn’t unique to Americans. Of course, the percentage of people who actually go ahead and write a book is miniscule by comparison.

Think of your five closest friends. Assume four of them want to write a book. Now consider how many of them actually have.

For most of us, the answer to that mental exercise is a big fat zero.

So, how do you avoid seeing your writing dream ending up on the scrapheap like most everyone else’s? Here’s what worked for me…

1. Write

Writers write. Simple as. If you want to write a book but you’re not writing regularly — every day, ideally — you’re kidding yourself.

And when I say write, I’m not just talking about producing content for your book. I’m talking about practice (what up, Bubbachuck!). You should be working consistently on your writing skills long before you ever sit down to tackle a big book-writing project.

I never set out to be a writer, but I’ve been practicing my writing for the past fifteen years or so. As a teenager I kept a regular diary, then I spent most of my twenties writing about basketball, and over the previous three years I’ve written and published 340+ articles on this site. Without all that practice, writing my book would have been much tougher than it actually proved to be.

I realize of course that this advice is obvious. Most of us fail to heed it not because we’re idiots, but because we regularly succumb to that pesky internal resistance. Two highly recommended reads to help you slay that dragon:

2. Publish

Don’t just write, publish!

Putting your writing out there in front of people is terrifying initially, but it’s also the absolute best way to get feedback and thereby improve.

The easiest way to do this is to start a blog. You can set one up for free in five minutes, commit to publishing something once a week, spread the word via your social networks, and then experiment to see what resonates with people.

I first started writing online back in 2003. My writing sucked for a long time, but eventually I figured a few things out and now I don’t suck so much.

3. Build a small army of fans

Yet another reason to start a blog.

More than 800 people on my mailing list downloaded my book (to read, presumably) before the official launch today. This small army has provided excellent feedback, much of which I incorporated to improve the book, and a bunch of them were kind enough to go on Amazon and tell the world that my writing won’t make your eyes bleed.

Alternatively, I could have never started a blog and worked for three years to build a sizable audience. Instead, I could have tried to write a book with no idea if the content would resonate with anyone, and then tried to convince people overnight that some stranger’s ramblings were worth reading.

But I doubt that would have worked so well.

4. Don’t be a perfectionist

In the words of Sebastian Marshall

“Want to write a great book? Free yourself to write a bad book first.”

I had to overcome my perfectionist tendancies to get my book out there. I don’t think it’s bad by any means, but in the early going I wasn’t sure it would turn out well. I had to just say to hell with it and push on, accepting that it might suck.

5. Ship

Assuming you’ve been practicing your writing skills for a while now and have built up your small army of fans, go ahead and set a deadline for finishing your book, or at least the first draft. If public accountability works for you, utilize that.

Your deadline should be tight enough that you feel some constant pressure, but not too much. You don’t want to burn out or keep having to push back your deadline. Motivation killers, right there.

A good way to come up with a realistic deadline is to think about how much time you can commit to writing over a specific time period. Maybe you feel confident that you can crank out one solid chapter a week, and your outline calls for a dozen chapters. Great, now give yourself three months and get to work.

What say you?

Have you written a book? Any tips you’d add?

Or maybe you have some additional questions about the whole book-writing process. Let me know via the comments. I can’t pretend to be an expert, but I’ll do my best to share whatever might help.