“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”–John Wayne
I accomplish the most when I’m scared.
Like the time I got my Scuba Diving Certification in Thailand, conquering my life-long fear of water.
Or retiring from my job at 31 to travel the world, shedding the “computer engineer” identity I’d built up for the past 14 years.
And now, sending our first draft to our Penguin editor.
For every single one of those experiences, I felt the fear but did it anyway, proving the saying “bliss is on the other side of fear”.
After 9 months inside the writing cave, I’m happy to report, our first draft of “Quit Like a Millionaire” is now complete and sent off!
“Hope you don’t hate it!” is the quote we wrote in the e-mail to our editor. And I’m only half-joking. There’s just as much chance that we’ll have to rewrite big swaths of it as it sailing through with flying colors—though it did help that we got her blessing for the first 1/3 of the book—chapter by chapter— before writing the rest of it.
Now that the first draft is out, does that mean we can sit back relax and waiting for the royalties to roll in?
Anyone who thinks you can strike it big and become a millionaire by writing a book needs a reality check.
If you take the expected money you’ll earn from the book, subtract taxes, and divide by the sheer number of hours you spend slaving away on it, you’re probably better off working at McDonalds.
Writing a book isn’t just about putting words down on paper. It’s about editing, editing, and more editing. In fact, don’t be surprised if you have to re-write entire sections of your book—multiple times. Plus, book promotion, marketing, book lay-out, cover selection, etc, etc the list goes on. It takes a Herculean amount of work to get a book out, and unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, the amount of money you make from writing will barely cover your grocery bills.
We knew all this going in. After all, we’ve already experienced the joy of having our faces dragged across the floor and drowning in our failures when we wrote novels for 7 years prior to retiring. And even after being published by Scholastic, the earnings from that book can’t even cover our rent.
But we did it anyway.
Because we can’t NOT write.
It’s who we are.
Writers write. Rejection, heartbreak, and humiliation be damned. Writers are a rare breed. I like to joke with best-selling author and Godfather of FI, JLCollins, that writers are the worst kind of masochists because we’re addicted to pain.
We park our butts into chairs for hours on end, bleeding on to the page. Then we humiliate ourselves by putting all of our blood, sweat, and tears out there for you to see.
It’s pain, hard work, humiliation, and the longest slog of your life…but also, elation, pride, and an incredible sense of accomplishment. Kind of like having a baby (or so I’ve been told).
And no matter what happens, even though we’ve submitted the first draft, I know we still have a hundred more steps before this book baby is out in the world.
I thought that since we’ve already published a book before, this would become second nature, but I still wake up in the middle of the night panicking about it not being good enough. Then all the negative voices in my head scream at me to throw the whole thing out and start over.
This is when it’s a good idea to remind myself of the hundreds of steps we took to get here, take a deep breath, and tell myself it’s going to be okay.
So we’ve dedicated the last year of our lives to birthing this book baby, and no matter what happens, I’m happy that we did it, because like I said, I can’t not write.
For those of you who’ve ever wondered what it’s like to write a book, here’s a behind the scenes look at how a book is made:
Step 1: Brainstorm (aka “Let Out the Crazy”)
Before we started writing 10 years ago, I thought authors were magical beings who came up with original ideas that flowed directly onto the paper, each word more perfect than the last. And without any editing, their masterpiece would be sent off into the world to earn millions in royalties.
HA! So naïve.
Then, through experience, I’ve learned that writing is all about re-writing. No one writes perfect first drafts.
We all start out with a jumble of ideas. Some are diamonds that still need a ton of polishing, but most are rocks. But before we can sift through it, we need to brain dump our ideas onto the page.
The important thing is not to stifle your creativity at this point by editing too much or overthinking. Just let it flow. Get as many ideas down as quickly as possible.
That’s why, when we started this book, I set a timer and wrote down as many ideas as I could. This is what resulted:
Step 2: Categorize (aka “Corral the Crazy”)
Now, I know this mess looks incomprehensible, so I sat back and put on my sorting hat to figure out how to categorize it.
I transferred the ideas onto cue cards and categorized them by color (eg “investing” = yellow, “travel” = blue, “housing” = red, etc).
Step 3: Add Structure (aka “Add a Shelf”)
Now that I had the pieces of the book content, I had to organized them onto a shelf. That’s how you make them flow.
To build the shelf, or structure, I took the overall storyline and broke it down into sections.
I knew we were going to teach FI and investing concepts through the story of how I became a millionaire by the lessons learned during the 3 stages of the socioeconomic ladder— poverty, middle-class, rich.
That gave me a 3-act structure (a crucial element used in storytelling):
Act 1: Poverty (aka “Survival”)
Act 2: Middle Class (aka “Struggle”)
Act 3: Becoming Rich (aka “Rebellion”)
From there I took the colored cue cards and added the concepts that belonged in each section (depending on where in my life I learned about that concept).
Then using post-its, I wrote down specific examples or stories that would illustrate a certain concept. These examples were added onto the concepts to prove them out.
This is what I ended up with:
Step 4: Outline
At this point, the basic outline of the book is starting to take shape, so it was time to create a detailed 30-page outline.
I knew the book needed to be around 70,000 words, and I wanted around 3000 words per chapter (around 10-12 pages), so that meant 23 chapters.
I wrote down a title for each chapter and a detailed blurb describing what we were going to cover (taken from the cue cards and post-ids in the previous step)
Step 5: Vet Outline
One of the most important lessons I learned from fiction is to vet a detailed outline before writing the book. This will save you MONTHS— yes MONTHS of work—because it only takes minutes to change an outline but months to re-write entire chapters.
Luckily at this point, we had already signed a literary agent who’s a veteran at vetting outlines. She gave us a super helpful pointer about a chapter in the middle that needed to be moved to the beginning. It took us less than an hour to update the outline, but then we realized this would change the chapter before and after. We also needed to change the 2nd chapter so that it flowed from the first. These changes would’ve been PAINFUL had we written the entire thing, but it was quick and painless to adjust in the outline.
When we sat back to look at the revised outline, it flowed much better, thanks to our literary agent.
If you don’t have a literary agent, I have to stress the importance of critique partners (or “CPs”)—fellow writers (who aren’t friends or family) willing to give you brutally honest feedback. They will save you months of work. Armed with your detailed outline, which has been vetted by your literary agent or CP, you’re finally ready to start writing.
Step 6: Divide and Conquer
With a blueprint for the book, we now knew the direction to go. Only problem is, just like building a house, it’s freaking difficult to actually BUILD the damned thing without getting overwhelmed.
So what do you do when you have a seemingly impossible task? Divide and conquer, of course.
Within each chapter, we split off the sections, attached deadlines to each task and got to work. At this point, we calculated that if we each write a chapter every week or 2, adding in time for re-writing, editing, and research, we’d be done in 9 months.
Step 7: Write like the wind!
We started sending a chapter at a time to our editor, around every week or two. And after she read 6 chapters, she said we were good to go for the rest, so we went full speed ahead.
Fast forward 9 months…
We stumbled out of the writing cave, hissing at the harsh sunlight, but relieved to be done!
For those of you planning to embark on this book birthing journey, I have 2 tools to recommend:
Scrivener helped me overcome this monumental task of book writing by breaking it down piecemeal.
A lot of my author friends raved about it in the past, but I wasn’t sold on Scrivener at first. Why should I spend 40 USD on software when I already have Word installed on my computer?
But luckily, Scrivener had a one month free trial so I thought “what the hell?”
And as soon as I started using it, my productivity soared! Sitting down and typing tens of thousands of words wasn’t as daunting now that I could compartmentalize the tasks. Scrivener does a great job of hiding details, so you can spotlight sections of your chapter to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed.
As a result, I was able to split out each chapter of 3000 words into 6 sections with 500 words each. I could then just concentrate on finishing one small section at a time. Afterwards, it was easy to move them around (by drag and drop) without having to worry about making everything perfect the first time. Scrivener also gave me a sense of accomplishment by showing my progress toward each 500-word milestone. As a result, I was able to reach my 3000 chapter word count without breaking a sweat. Then rinse and repeat.
If you’re interested in Scrivener, here’s an affiliate link (use the coupon word “LEARNSCRIVENER” to get 20% off):
Asana is a free project management software that helps you stay organized and sane during the long writing process. We used this to assign tasks to ourselves and set timelines so it would e-mail us reminders when tasks were due.
My favourite part is when you get to check off tasks, and if you check off enough of them you get this unicorn that flies across your screen. So fun! And did I mention it’s free?
So, there you have it. Writing a book is the one of the hardest, most painful slogs you’ll ever go through. You’ll have to push through a ton of self-doubt, fear, and loathing to put that book baby out into the world. But it doesn’t matter, because if you’re a writer you can’t not do it. Writers gotta write.
And after a year of work (including the book proposal), we’re finally at the point where we’ve finished the draft, gone through several editing cycles with our editor, and are now on the verge of pushing it into production at Penguin.
*phew*. Was it painful? Yes.
Was it worth it? Only time will tell.
What do you think? Do you want to write a book? What are your thoughts about the process?
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