Right after I celebrated having an acquisitions editor express interest in my book, friends started congratulating me in sort of an odd way.
“You are SO lucky to be able to write a book and get interest right away.”
“Aren’t you lucky to get interest in your first book so fast!”
“I could write a book too, but I don’t have time.”
“I’ve written a book, but it’s not ready to go out yet.”
“Ive been working on my book for years. I’m just not as lucky as you.”
You, too, can do exactly what I did, and I’m going to tell you how I did it, step by step. No secrets. No holding back. First, truth in disclosure: I do not yet have a contract. I had an acquisitions editor express interest. There is still the giant leap to acceptance. More about that part later. First, the step by step.
1. Write every day for 50 years. I wrote my first book when I was seven years old, in a spiral notebook. (It didn’t get published.) I’ve been writing almost every day since.
2. Take on different writing assignments. I wrote my first published book when I was 30. It was a “book for hire” deal. I hated it. It wasn’t my idea, it was me writing about someone else’s idea for pay. Since that time, I’ve written for ad agencies, PR firms, financial institutions, insurance companies, huge manufacturing companies, small struggling businesses. I’ve worked at a newspaper, at a magazine, at an editorial think tank. I’ve written for people I agreed with and people I despised. On topics I loved and topics so boring, watching the barometer drop was more interesting. But I wrote. Now, fast-forward to this book.
3. Find a topic that fascinates, mesmerizes and fires you up. Mine was One Sentence Journaling. (Here’s an article I wrote about it last March.) I have notes that go back six years, but I organized and taught the course four years ago. Each time I taught it, I took notes, listened to comments and changed the course to see if it improved.
4. Do the same thing with two more topics: find topic you really like, develop a course, teach it, listen to feedback, change parts of it until you feel it is a good course that people will pay to attend. (This helps you gauge interest in the material.)
5. Once you’ve taught it in person, teach it online, to make sure you have written exercises that are clear and make sense. Teaching a class online takes about 8 x the length of time it takes to teach the class in prep, set-up, running and comments.
6. Examine the classes and discover a new path to the same information. This is called discovering another perspective. Not everyone learns the same way. You are broadening your audience. As you teach other classes, see what people wish they could develop their creativity to do, what they are missing in their lives, how they can make meaning. Take lots of notes. Be willing to be confused and not know what to do next.
7. Stay open to new ideas. Mine hit me during morning walking meditation. It was a good idea but it doesn’t hang together with the rest of the material. Be willing to spend months trying out ideas, messing up, failing, starting over, trying, polishing, until one day you are too exhausted to care anymore. You put the idea aside. The next day, in the shower, you have an idea. It fits! You work another three months fitting it into the writing portion.
8. Blend the new ideas and put them in front of your audience. In my case, that was the beginning of raw-art journaling. Blend the new approach with the old, turning it into the same step, so people who learned visually, auditorially (by hearing), and kinesthetically (by moving), could learn. Create a ton of examples. Create a website. Listen to comments from people who like and don’t like your website. Think them through. Be willing to be wrong, to fail again.
9. Develop a class that combines the final version of your idea. Teach this class and all the variations 10 times, each time making changes that improve the class. Listen to feedback, criticism, questions, and people who tell you it’s weird. Ignore the last one. Note on teaching: It will not make you rich. Do not teach to make money. Teach to try out your ideas, to spread your discoveries, to get better teaching. Teaching is not about you, it’s about the participants.
10. Gather up all your notes and create an outline for a book. Do this while running your own business, because no one pays you for this stage. Work on the outline until it looks like information people would pay to play with.
You now have reached the stage where you can write a book proposal. At this point, I’ve spend 50 years writing almost every day, and six years in some stage of book development. I haven’t started writing the book yet, although every shred of it has been taught and evaluated.
Tomorrow: How to write a book proposal and find a publisher.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She has a website for writers who want to keep an art journal, and a website for her business training. Both have coaching sections.