What I learnt spending a year writing a book
1 | Just get started. Just write. The more you write, the more you write (this repetition is intended - the more you write, the more you will actually write). The more you write, the more you think, your mind expands, creativity kicks in. Done repeatedly, you literally become a master at producing words.
2 | Just let it flow. Don’t worry about editing, grammar, structure. Perfection kills flow. Flow is key. Flow trumps everything else. Without flow you have nothing. It is more important to encourage flow than perfection or art. It is easier to edit and perfect your writing later than to have nothing to work with. It is easier to trim down than to add on.
My first draft for Crazy Cycling Chick was a chaotic mix of thoughts, reflections, observations, ideas and points. I dumped them all in one document. It was messy to read when I was done with my first draft. There were more scribbles and doodles than there were structured and meaningful sentence. It wasn’t a ready book.
Lesson learnt: Open two documents - one to write in, one to journal in. As you write, put salient points in the main document, and everything else in your journal. You want to separate them so that when you have your first draft in your main document, it reads more like a draft than a brain dump.
One word of caution though: Don’t throw brain dumps out of the window. Brain dumps are good - they encourage flow. Your flow might be interrupted if you have to switch between two documents. I have no problem switching between two documents because I have enough practice to quickly determine which thought/sentence should go into which document. For beginners, I would much rather you get started quickly and encourage flow than to have a clearly segmented document.
3 | Produce more than you consume. Spend more time writing than reading or researching. To put it simply, read a little, write a lot. Read 10%, write 90%. Research 10%, write 90%. When you write you’re producing craft, when you read you’re consuming materials. Production is what gets you a book at the end of the day, not consuming.
4 | Don’t compare. Reading a lot of what others have written might create room for comparison, low self esteem or doubt if you feel that others have done and accomplished much and you are barely getting started. When comparing ourselves with others, always know that we each begin at different starting blocks. Someone who is ahead of us right now might have had a longer head start which stretches back to before we were born - and he has had his fair share of challenges, trials, mistakes, failures and lessons learnt. Even if the person whom you are comparing yourself with is younger than you and seem like an overnight success (say, he has a top of the charts best seller book), you don’t know his journey ahead - he has a long way ahead of him and who’s to tell if his success continues or halts.
5 | Keep moving along. As you write you will encounter periods where you are stuck for lack of ideas, uninspired or unmotivated to keep going. At times like this, tell yourself it’s ok, it’s part of the journey - after all, it ain’t sunshine and roses every day - there will be good and bad days, sunny and rainy days. You know the saying: What goes up must come down. Just recognize that this is a part and parcel of the writing life. When you do get to this point, take a short break and do something else, something fun, and get back to writing a few days later. Take longer if you need, but not too long. You don’t want to get complacent, or worse, lazy. You want to keep your engine hot and running. Go do something else, and come right back to where you left off. I typically set myself a week to refresh and reset. Then I’m back to my laptop and furiously typing away.
6 | Take chances. While I was revising the final manuscript, I started brainstorming potential titles for the book. For a period of eight months I thought day and night about titles. They included:
Angie Across America - no points for creativity, is there? Well, the rationale for this was that I’ve already build a brand name, i.e. Angie Across America and I could continue building on this brand.
I’m Only Mortal - I wanted to bring across the message that I’m just an ordinary girl attempting a big dream, and that I’m no super hero.
The Power of a Dream - it all started with a dream. I moved from Singapore to California and thought, here I was in America, what better time than now to cycle across America?
Against All Odds - now this is cliche. Too many resources out there have this as a title, although this title does speak volumes. It’s self evident - against the odds, triumph was achieved. My story was one of such improbable triumph, but this title is so overused, so stale that I ditched it.
I thought hard, made long lists, asked friends for suggestions, added and scratched, and still… no title. Well, there are lots of scrappy ones, but no good titles.
Finally an editor friend of mine, Theresa, suggested Crazy Cycling Chick. I was highly skeptical at first, for a few reasons:
The title sounds too comical - my underlying narrative throughout the book is rather serious as I detail a lot of the process, considerations and logistics of the cross country ride and highly personal stories of individuals I met.
The title sounds too niche - the book isn’t just about a cycling adventure - it is that and so much more. Cycling was a means, a vehicle to carry the narrative. The ultimate vision of the book is to encourage readers to take a step of faith and pursue their dreams, whatever that may be. Your dream may or may not be related to sports - it could be a dream concerning your personal life, your career, family or community. It could be anything. I want somebody to read my book and think about their personal limits that they want to break in their lives - perhaps to do something they’ve always dreamed of doing but not daring to for fear of failure or lack of financial resources or time or self believe. This could mean to run a marathon, race an Ironman triathlon, compete in the American Ninja, travel around the world, swim across the English Channel, make it to the national basketball team, or start an online business, buy over an existing retail business, pursue an idea that’s been burning in your heart, reach out to investors for funding, be featured on Shark Tank.
The title might only appeal to women - I thought men might allow their egos to hamper them from picking up my book and thus losing a large group of potential readers - What is this, a book about a chick? What do chicks know about cycling anyway?
It took some convincing before I finally caved (thank you, Theresa!) - alright, I said, let’s go with Crazy Cycling Chick. It definitely sounds better and catchier than Angie Across America - Who is Angie, and why do I care that she travelled across America? Thousands of people travel cross country, don’t they? I was trying to put myself in someone’s head and imagining the conversation they would have in their head when they come across my book in a bookstore.
The title finalized, the manuscript complete, I reached out to book publishers in February 2016, got accepted by Marshall and Cavendish, the largest publisher in Singapore and Southeast Asia, and within six months, my books hit bookstores nationwide in late August 2016.
And the rest, like they say, is history. Although for me, history is just about to begin. It’s November right now, three months after my book was released, and word of its existence is just beginning to spread.
In keeping true to my own advice especially with the fifth point above, I’m moving along and working on my second and third books. Writing is the best way I serve my community. If you’re an aspiring writer or have at one point or another penned several words and given up, I hope this post encouraged you to keep going.
If you enjoyed reading this, please leave a comment below and let me know - this would encourage me to keep writing good stuff. Also, if you enjoyed reading this, subscribe to my newsletter so you can stay up to date with awesome stuff (on all things pertaining to life - not just cycling!) I share with my readers.