• Writing Your First Book: 5 Common Misconceptions

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 14 comments

    writing your first bookSo you’ve decided it’s time to start writing your first book. You’ve got a story to share with the world and a tall cup of coffee to keep you sharp while you do it.

    You’ve never written a book before, but you’re not worried. You got good grades in high school English and enjoyed writing in college. Often when you read, you think, I can do better than that. You can write a book, you figure. How hard can it be?

    Fast forward a month. You’re stalled, frustrated, on the verge of giving up. You’ve tried and tried to make steady progress, to translate your ideas clearly from your head to the page, but it’s just not working. This book-writing thing is shaping up to be a lot harder than you thought it would be.

    It feels impossible, like traveling through a long, dark tunnel with no end in sight.

    Writing your first book is not impossible, but without the right approach, it can feel that way.

    It’s a challenge for which you need to prepare. You wouldn’t dive into the deep end without first learning to dog paddle, would you? Writing your first book is no different. Smart writers prepare themselves for the realities to come before embarking on an unfamiliar process.

    Prepare by setting yourself up for success, by honestly examining your expectations and correcting your misconceptions about writing your first book.

    Here are five of the most common of those misconceptions.


    The misconception: I must have the whole book planned out before I start.

    The reality: Writing is a process of discovery. In many cases, you won’t know exactly what you want to say until you say it. That’s not a problem; it’s just the nature of the beast. So don’t hold out for a set-in-stone plan from the outset. There’s no such thing. Instead, make a loose plan and be prepared for it to change. It inevitably will.

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    The misconception: I don’t need a writing schedule.

    The reality: You absolutely do. Telling yourself that you’ll write when you have a few extra minutes or when the mood strikes is the kiss of death for a book project. It’s a surefire way to not move forward. Our days are busy, so if you hope to make steady progress, you’ll need to identify specific times that are dedicated to writing. For help with carving out writing time from your busy schedule, download this free Time Management Questionnaire.

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    The misconception: My writing will come out perfectly the first time.

    The reality: This is an easy mistake to make. We read published books and believe that the impressive prose we find inside simply poured from the writer’s pen, polished and ready for our eyes. The truth is that the easier a piece of writing is to read, the harder it was for the writer to write. You can bet she drafted, revised, and edited extensively — and got lots of help along the way — in order to get her writing to its published state. It’s trite, but it’s true: writing is revising.

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    The misconception: I can edit myself.

    The reality: You can . . . to a point. It’s reasonable to expect that you can read your own writing and identify opportunities for improvement, but there is a point at which you’re so close to the work that you become blind to its merits and its faults. At that point, you’ll want to hand that manuscript over to someone else, ideally a professional editor, for the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes.

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    The misconception: Writing a book will be fast and easy.

    The reality: Any way you slice it, writing a book is a big investment of time and effort. Unforeseen obstacles along the way make additional demands. It’s not fast and it’s not easy, but it is incredibly rewarding, not in spite of but because of its challenges.

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    As you begin the journey of writing your first book, keep these common misconceptions in mind, and reflect on your own personal expectations that may not be listed here. Armed with the knowledge of what’s to come and actionable tools for how to handle it, you’ll avoid false starts, wasted time, endless frustration, and, worst-case scenario, giving up entirely. Facing necessary challenges along the way is not a tragedy; not sharing your important story with the world is.

    Set yourself up for book-writing success. Be smart. Be prepared.

    Discussion: What are some common misconceptions about book-writing that you’ve come across, and what is your response to them? Do you dispute anything on our list?


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services.

    Justine Duhr, ownerWriteByNight owner Justine Duhr is an award-winning writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Anomalous Press, Whiskey Island, Fringe Magazine, The Review Review, and other publications. She holds an MFA in creative writing and has provided writing instruction at Vassar College and Emerson College.

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    Betty G.

    Or even slow and easy. Everyone seems to think it’s
    something simple that everyone can do. It’s not. Anyone
    Who wants to publish a book can now publish a book,
    but not everyone who wants to write one can write one.

    Justine Duhr

    Thanks for weighing in, Betty. Certainly not everyone who wants to write a book will, which I think is more about sticktoitiveness than skill, talent, or know-how. I believe anyone *can*, though. Just be prepared to do the work!


    Writing a first book …or any book, requires time, time, time. Be prepared to commit the time.
    It’s work and requires real determination. There is no short cut, but professional advice can help immensely.

    Justine Duhr

    Well said, Gene!


    It’s encouraging just knowing misconceptions regarding writing a first story! Thank you for sharing, and enjoy reading your emails! Write-on :)

    Justine Duhr

    You are very welcome, Linda. I’m so glad you feel encouraged.

    Yi Shun Lai

    Great post, Justine; great tips. That whole writing schedule thing…it’s so easy to set a schedule and then just …close your eyes to it. Do you have tips for sticking to a schedule?

    Justine Duhr

    That’s a great question, Yi Shun. There’s a lot of advice out there about creating a writing schedule, but not nearly as much about sticking to it. The key is to integrate a writing habit solidly into your daily life. The process is the same for any activity out of which you want to make a habit: decide when and how you’ll do it, then do it . . . or more accurately, try to do it, and keep trying day in and day out. Eventually, the trying becomes doing. Okay, enough abstraction! Here are a few practical tips you… Read more »

    Yi Shun Lai

    Great tips, Justine! And yes, I think a blog post really is in order! Thanks!

    Yi Shun Lai

    Actually–here are two action items that have worked for me in the past: short timers and accountability partners, whether virtual or IRL.

    Justine Duhr

    Yes! And writing coaches!

    […] the comments section of a recent post, “Writing Your First Book: 5 Common Misconceptions,” Justine and Yi Shun Lai had a back and forth about setting a writing schedule and then — […]

    Marc Severson

    Having completed three novels and self published them as e-books and print-on-demand I can say that all five of the above are completely true! I would only add from my experiences number six: “There will be plenty of support for you on Amazon’s self publishing sites.” No, there won’t. I was appalled at the answers I got from the people I talked to until I finally climbed the ladder and got someone who was a supervisor. Her name was Chloe and only after I talked to her was I able to resolve the issues.

    Justine Duhr

    Thanks so much for sharing, Marc. Have you connected with other writers who have had similar experiences? I’d be interested to know how widespread the problem is — and it is indeed a problem.

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