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Say what! How many drafts of my book must I write?

I have just finished writing my 11th book in 15 years (three are my own books and the other eight I ghostwrote for clients over the last few years). You'd think that there are some shortcuts I had learned, or that it would faster? It's not. Sure, I have some tricks up my sleeve (and I can type fast). But crafting a story that is worthy of readers? That is the deep, hard work of a writer. No real shortcuts.

That's why so many writers give up before the job is done. They expect a sprint and what really happens is more like a leisurely hike - and one that takes far longer than you ever imagined. A hike that has many stops along the way. I find that slow and deliberate pace that a book demands a quiet antidote to the frantic rush of productivity most pursuits demand of us.

I have learned these four essential lessons about writing if you want a book published. ​


1. Finishing is the hard part

Still midway through the book? Or stuck on your first version? Or it’s still sitting unfinished. Oh boy does it take a lot of real grit to finish a book. Starting is the fun bit. I start with great enthusiasm and a spring in my step. Its really fun getting all the information into the right place and doing the interviews and research. The second draft is technical – now it about getting it right. Then third draft comes and some of the fun has gone, this is editing and improving. By the fourth draft I have seen those same words many times and I want to run far away from them. I never want to see this book again. Then I tell myself ‘I will stop here… it is good enough just like this’. But I know it is not. Most often it is not honestly ‘good enough’ until I hit the 7th draft. That’s the point when- as I feel as if I may just burn the book, burn the house, quit my job and run away to Casablanca – I know I am done. Sure it can still always be better. They always can.Just Finish

You are only finished when you have written the best possible version you can, and you have got all your pitch material together. You can’t stop until you get there or you will never get the book published.

2. All books take time.

On all my mentorships I tell you this upfront - but it is still hard to imagine just how long the writing journey really is. On the fastest track you will find it takes a year to get your book from an idea and onto the shelves. It most often takes far longer. We like to push you to write the first draft in four months. But that is just the first draft. It took John Grisham three years to write his first book A Time to Kill and another year to find a publisher. His second book took two years to write. One of the fastest books I have worked on was written in five months, took three months to find a publisher and will spend another five month in production. Distribution will take another month. As a writer that means…. don’t rush. Your book is a big deal and will sit on the shelf for a long time (hopefully). You need to get it right. Forget shortcuts or hacks. Take the long path. Wait until you know it is right, and the time is right for you.

3. Don’t focus on being unique, just bring your own edge.

Storytelling is an art form that needs many voices from many storytellers. We are the artists who record our time and generation. Each storyteller has their own voice, their own take on the world and their own generation they are speaking to. It does not matter how advanced your plot, or how brilliant your coaching concept is, how revolutionary your eating plan is - you are not doing this to conquer the world. People who resonate with it will read your book. The others will pass it by. Write for people who believe in what you have to say. It is enough.

4. The magic is in the editing.

Don’t get me wrong – the entire process of creating a book out of your thoughts and ideas is pure magic. If you are writing a novel you need to harness that as you write draft one. But the real magic wand comes out when you do your 3rd draft, 4th draft and 7th draft. This links to my first point above. I do at least seven drafts. So many books I get as an agent have not done enough work to really and truly craft the book. J.K. Rowling said that she rewrote the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book over 20 times. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald did up 20 drafts of ALL OR MOST of everything they did.

"Books get written when they are ready. It can take a year, or thirty, to get to that point. But when your story is ready to be told, nothing will stop you telling it." Sarah Bullen agent

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