For a runner, nothing is more exhilarating than coming to the finish line after giving it your all in a road race. That same feeling overwhelmed me when the brown UPS truck showed up a few days ago with six cartons of my new book, Prism of Value: Connect, Convince and Influence When It Matters Most, which officially debuts this week. I had spent more than a year getting up before the sun, struggling to pull this book out of my head. Seeing it in print was the culmination of years of skill-gathering, countless sleepless hours, buckets of sweat and, yes, even tears.
Writing a book, I thought, would be easy. I write speeches, op-eds, news articles, and corporate strategies for a living. With nearly a decade of blog posts to draw on, content was not going to be a problem, I thought. I was wrong. Like running, writing can be frustrating, as well as exhilarating. One day you are building strong writing muscles; the next day they hurt. Some days the writing feels effortless; others, you feel weighed down by thousands of pounds of words that clog your brain.
Writing is like getting in shape athletically and in doing so there are powerful lessons.
Clarify your purpose.
Just like training for a race, you have to have a clear reason for what you want to accomplish and why. A runner needs answers to questions that will affect how and when you train. Do you want to run a marathon or a 5K? Are you running for a cause, to check something off your bucket list, or for self-improvement? Asking similar questions when you write is essential. Who do I want to reach and why? What can I tell my audience that will make their lives better? What do I want to happen as a result? As a runner, you can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you want to go. As a writer, you can ease the struggles when you know your goal.
Set realistic goals.
Start small. I had set a goal to write a book in three months, with a chapter or two each day. When that time had passed and I had only a few chapters to show for it, I wanted to give up. As with any kind of athletic training, you have to commit to goals you can actually meet. What got me back on track was setting a target of writing 600 words a day, five days a week as a minimum. Some days I wrote more, but never less. And that target let me stretch myself—and keep going through countless rewrites and improvements.
Unless you are a naturally gifted athlete, you are not going to suddenly get out and run a marathon. You have to train. That is equally true in writing. You must write every day—even if the words don’t come at first. If you write something that you find you don’t like, at least you’ve gotten that junk out of your system.
Get a coach or an accountability partner.
On a cold wintry day, it’s hard to pound the pavement before the sun comes up. But if you know that you have a running buddy who will be disappointed if you don’t make it, you are more likely to show up. Writing is an especially solitary endeavor. A coach or a partner who will ask where your daily words are helps. It is also valuable to have someone read what you write and offer constructive feedback. It’s hard to evaluate your own work. My coaches were invaluable.
Don’t judge your work too harshly.
We are our own worst enemies. When I was training for a half marathon, there were times I told myself I couldn’t do it and on those days I could barely run a few miles. As I was writing the book, I would often dismiss what I had written or chew over every word until there really wasn’t much left. The important thing in writing is to get the ideas out of your head. Putting them on paper or on the screen makes them real. They might be raw and unformed, but once they can be seen, you can mold and shape them. If you kill them too early, you have nothing.
Have the Courage to Change Course
Sometimes a training regimen isn’t moving you forward. At those times, you have to have the fortitude to make a change. In my case, I had spent more than a year writing the book. I had lots of words, but I knew something wasn’t right. I sent the manuscript to a developmental editor, who basically told me that for a book about communicating value, there wasn’t a lot of value in what I had written. She said it more gently. As much as I didn’t want to hear this, I knew she was right. I scrapped much of what I had and rewrote the book in three months.
The book that’s now in my hand is like a finish line that’s been crossed. So I’ll take a victory lap. I’ll also move ahead with fulfilling what started it all—to take the thoughts in my head and help improve the professional and personal lives of my readers. With luck, I’ll be ready soon to envision the next finish line on the horizon. And I’ll put the lessons learned about purpose, consistency, partnership, judgment, and courage back to work at the keyboard once again.