Five Things No One Tells You Before You Start Writing


If you’re a parent, or perhaps you have relatives or friends who are parents, do you ever wonder why no one warns about what parenting entails? If they did, the human race would eventually die off. Simple as that. Deceptive, yes. Helpful, no.

The same may be true of the craft we enjoy–writing. Have you noticed how many things you never knew about writing before you started writing?  There are many, but for purposes of saving time and getting back to our beloved craft, I’ll limit this list to five points.

1. Writing is a solitary activity.

Did anyone tell you this? No? I didn’t think so. No one told me either. I’m not certain why I didn’t realize it myself. Perhaps I had visions of writers gathering in coffee houses or quiet tiny cafes as Hemingway did in his day. But that is not the case. If I’m writing, I’m usually in a “room of her own” with the door closed to keep out the dancing cat who prefers to tap on the keyboard. Or I’m in a room at a local writing house and there alone.

But no one told me it would be like this!

“Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he’s there, he’s not really there.” ― Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy

2.  How long it takes to write a book.

No, not a single soul took the time to say, “You know this could take years.” Yes, there are those who have devoted years, sometimes a decade or more, to completing a novel or memoir. It may take you or me that long. We must be committed and/or dedicated to the task at hand to complete this work we’ve started now. It means writing every day, day in and day out.

But no one told me I might spend the rest of my life writing my memoir when I retired in 2006 and undertook this project!

3. It always takes more than one draft.

Who knew? You want to write a book so you sit down and you write. You finish the first draft and think you’re done and ready for an editor. But wait! That’s just your first draft. There’s more!

Many writers tried to tell us this but unfortunately we didn’t find their books until after we started our first project or we chose to ignore their sage wisdom:

The first draft of anything is shit. ~Ernest Hemingway

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

If it sounds like writing, then rewrite it. ~ Elmore Leonard

If we aspire to come close to any of these illustrious writers, we need to heed their warnings and remember that a first draft isn’t a finished manuscript.

4.  How many drafts you will write, revise, and edit before your manuscript is ready for a professional edit.

Yes, those quoted above tried to tell us there would be multiple drafts. After completing your first draft set it aside for a couple of days. Then go back and read it. Next step is edit, revise, repeat–several times. Whether you print it out or do this on your computer screen matters not. The words are the same. Just edit, revise and repeat. It’s somewhat like doing the laundry–killing your darlings and then cleaning up afterward.

In the days before computers, imagine the numbers of trees killed in an attempt by an author to write one book. Or think what recycling would be like if we were still using typewriters and sheet after sheet of paper. It would be an enormous task to dispose of all that paper today and continue to do our “greenest” to keep the environment healthy. Multiply the number of authors writing today by the number of pages in the average manuscript, and you’re talking billions and billions of reams of paper. At least today, we can do most of that before printing out a copy of our manuscript.

5. You need to build a platform.

No one mentioned carpentry, did they? Nope, never. I don’t care for carpentry. With a hammer and nails, I generally hurt myself. But that’s not what “build a platform” means.

In reality, building a platform is like branding a product you’re going to sell. In this case, you and your book are your product. It involves time spent on social media connecting with other writers and readers, blogging, networking, and more. But you say you just want to write. Well, that’s what most writers want to do. If you want to sell your book, it’s going to take some extra effort out there in the big wide world of social media, or as it’s called in the writing business building a platform.

A platform is a “stage” that gives you and your message leverage and visibility. ~ Jeff Goins, Why Building Your Own Platform Is Essential

There are many other things I learned after the fact. But none of them nor these five above will keep me from enjoying the writing life.

To write each day is pure joy. To find a reader who on reading my words experiences my joy, now that is bliss.

What about your writing life? What things have you learned that you didn’t know before you started writing? Join in a discussion below.

And keep writing!

16 thoughts on “Five Things No One Tells You Before You Start Writing

  1. I love this, Sherrey. If I’d read this a few years ago, maybe I wouldn’t be here now. How true, all of what you’ve listed. But you are so right in that there is joy to be found after all. And that is reason enough to continue with all the days holing up alone, rewriting, and socialmedia networking. Thanks for being out there.

    1. I know, Robin! If someone had just shared these thoughts with me several years ago, I’d definitely be farther along with my book. But you have to remember the joy, right? Thanks for visiting with me.

  2. I’m going to share this post with someone who just told me her “dirty secret” was that she wants to write. You’ve told the truth, Sherrey, and your commitment to your readers, and even more, to yourself, impresses me.This post reminds me of the gargoyles on cathedrals — put there, some say, to warn the casual seekers that the spiritual life can be a dangerous thing. 🙂

  3. Thank you, Sherrey. I hired a Book Development Editor when I had what I thought was a draft (it was really a bunch of short stories), so I was warned. I resisted social media for a long time, but shouldn’t have since I enjoy it. All good points. I was amazed at the number of drafts I wrote–and amazed that each one made the book so much better. Ten drafts? Twenty? I lost count. It was important to take in what readers, especially expert editors said, and notice where I got defensive. I could say no to a suggestion, but that defensive feeling was a clue that the comment hit close to home and needed to be explored.
    The solitary part is a curse and a blessing. A curse because I tend to spend too much time alone. A blessing because I live alone after losing my partner and because I have severe hearing loss. No hearing aids make up for the real thing, so parties, music, plays, and many of the things we do with friends are out for me. So quiet evenings with friends and lots of writing time.

    1. Hello, Elaine! I appreciate your input here. I feel as if I’m facing a daunting phase with beta readers, editors, proofreaders, etc. It’s good to read what others have experienced, especially the part about suggestions and feelings about our manuscripts.
      The solitary part for me is a part of family since I was a child. My father’s upbringing in an orphanage made him a solitary soul. Then, even though I was sandwiched between brothers, the older was 14 when I was born and the younger was born when I was eight. So, I was a solitary child for the most part. My second husband, bless his soul, understands my solitariness, and yet we each find ways to pull each other out to do things. You see his solitary in nature. In fact, we enjoy our hermit-like existence. But tonight we flew the coop and went to Dairy Queen for ice cream cones!
      Think of you in your aloneness and wishing we lived closer to one another. Perhaps we could become a little less solitary together.

  4. Sherrey, you certainly nailed all the main points that I too learned the long, hard way–by doing and redoing multiple times. Anything as worthwhile as a book is going to be hard work and perseverance is the key. Wishing you all you need to persevere in the journey. I know it will be well-worth all your efforts!

    1. And, Kathy, there are so many others that could be mentioned. But why overwhelm those just starting out! We knew going in it would be hard work and require perseverance to the end. Thanks for your continuing encouragement and support.

  5. Great tips, Sherrey 🙂 I didn’t know Hemingway said that about first drafts…and second drafts for me sometimes…it is so true. I pray you continue to persevere with your writing 🙂

    1. Hi, Dolly! Thanks for coming by. I’ve always thought someone else said it too, but every source I turned to for this noted Hemingway. Seconds, thirds, fourths! Sometimes you wonder when you’re going to hit on the one that seems just right.

  6. It’s true – all of it. I thought Anne Lamott originated the idea of the shitty first draft. Now I see it was Hemingway. I like Sharon’s point of hopping around to different projects. Right now Project A for me is memoir draft, Project B is blog posting, and Project C, a presentation during the Writers’ Festival at Florida State College, where I spent 21 years teaching. There’s a possibility of a D too if plans for ghost-writing a story pan out.
    Here’s to hop-scotch!

    1. I love hopscotch! And you’ll note I shared with Sharon how I hop around to different projects around the house even, as well as my writing. You and I share Projects A and B in the same priority. I’m joining a new writing group which may entail a Project C, but no ghosts on the horizon. Will be interested to learn more about that if it comes to pass.

  7. Powerful and important tips Sherrey. I’d like to add an alternative perspective on the writing every day advice that you barely hint at. I find that when I get stuck on writing project A, if I set it aside and work on project B, perhaps even project C, by the time I go back to project A, I have lots of new ideas and fresh perspectives and the writing goes better. BTW, project B and/or C may not involve writing at all. I’ve been chipping away at one longer story for many years now and may need a few more to gain insight into both perspective and the best way to frame the story. I keep learning new things that make it better. No amount of constant writing will hurry that.
    While I am a firm believer that writing millions of words, thousands of pages, with awareness and continual effort to learn and grow is essential to excellent writing, personally I do not subscribe to the theory that you MUST write EVERY DAY.
    Just one woman’s perspective, but truly, unless we find our own path that fits our thinking and lifestyle, we’ll never stick with it or thrive as writers.

    1. I like your perspective, Sharon. Often I do the same thing. For me, it even occurs in working on quilts, reading, knitting, etc. Perhaps I get bored with what I’m doing so I pick up something else. Do the same with writing. Thank you for leaving your thoughts here. I hope others read it to gain your insight into the world of writing.

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