Writing

4 Things Every Writer Thinks While Working on a Book

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Editor's Note:

Jon Acuff is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, including his latest, Do Over. Follow him on Twitter @JonAcuff and read more at Acuff.me.

I turned in my sixth book to my editor two weeks ago. I thought that at this point I would be over the rambling fears that seem to plague every young writer. I’m not young anymore. I’m forty-one, which I’m pretty sure Jay-Z says is the new thirty-one.

But even so, I still find myself thinking the same four things every writer thinks when they work on a new project.

Someone smarter has already written this exact book.
One day, while standing in a massive used bookstore in Nashville, my dad said to me, “Boy, it’s not easy being a writer. Look at all these books that absolutely no one wants.” Then he played the sad trumpet sound. Not really, but he did say that and he’s right. There have been a lot of books written – millions – and that number only grows each year as self-publishing gets easier. When you sit down to write, you will fear that someone has already written your book. They haven’t, I promise.

No one on the planet will buy this book.
Your mom is going to buy your book, so right out of the gate, this thought isn’t true. Unless the book is about what a terrible mom you had and then your best friend will. Or your spouse or your mailman. The point is that someone will be interested in your book. Every book has an audience. The size of it depends on a million factors, but it’s almost impossible to sell zero copies of a book.

This is the worst book ever written.
We writers tend to float between two very different thoughts: ‘This is the worst book ever written’ and ‘This is the best book ever written.’ Often, we have these same two thoughts in the very same minute. Your book is not the worst ever written. If you don’t believe me, just go to a bookstore some afternoon. The shelves are littered with terrible books and it can actually be a very encouraging experience to remember that. A lot of great comedians got their start because they went to an open mic night and saw how unfunny people were. They said to themselves, “I can do better than that.” So can you.

This project will never be finished.
Do you know how long it takes to finish a book? Longer than you want. Part of the reason is that in the middle of your project you’ll run into some annoying writer at a dinner party who says that the words come to him easily. “Writing for me is like sprinting through a field of flowers. It fills me with light and joy!” I hate that guy. In the middle of any book it feels like quicksand. It’s always difficult. For me, for you, for every writer. Even when you write sentences that don’t have verbs.

The crazy thing about all of those thoughts and any other you have while writing your book is that you’ll think you’re the only one who has them. That’s the big trick. We think it’s just us.

It’s not.

Every writer has these same thoughts.

They’re not true.

Don’t listen to them. Write your book. Live your story. Have fun along the way.

That’s the only way to put your work out into the world.