Please Don’t Write a Book This Year (and What You Should Do Instead)

How’s your new year going? Sadly, by today, most people have already broken their resolutions. Isn’t that crazy? Well, maybe not, and here’s why.

Please Don’t Write a Book This Year (and What You Should Do Instead)

I’ve always been terrible at setting goals, especially writing goals. For years, I’d set them, claiming this time was going to be different. This year was going to be my year, the year that I’d finally write a book. And for years, I was disappointed.

Finally, I stopped trying to write a book. Instead, I did something different — a few things, actually — and they made all the difference.

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re great at setting writing goals but terrible at achieving them. If so, keep reading, because what I’m going to share next will help you avoid a lot of pain and frustration.

Why most goals fail before they start

Most goals get broken not because we lack the discipline to achieve them, but because we often don’t set the right kind of goals. As an example, let’s take a goal that many people set every year, one I’m well acquainted with and one you may have entertained yourself: writing a book.

Do you know what it takes to write a book? It took me several years of failing before learning how to actually do it. As it turns, out you can’t just up and write a book. Not really. You can write a word, a sentence, maybe even a paragraph. But that’s it. Not a whole book. Never a whole book. Not all at once.

You can’t write a book. You can only write a word, a sentence, a paragraph.

Jeff Goins

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This is all anyone ever writes — a little bit at a time. As Hemingway once remarked on his writing process during those early days in Paris as a fledgling writer:

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.

Eventually, those sentences become paragraphs and those paragraphs become pages until what you are writing becomes something bigger than your latest thought, something we eventually call a book. But nobody ever sits down to write a book. It doesn’t work that way.

So setting out to write a book is a bad goal. That would be like saying “I’m going to lose thirty pounds” or “I want to pay off $100,000 in debt.” Of course, these are good things to say and great aspirations to have, but such changes don’t happen overnight. They aren’t good goals, because they’re just another example of measuring the results instead of measuring the process.

You have probably done this. I certainly have. And let me tell you this: we fail because the way we set the goal was doomed from the start. So what does it take to actually accomplish your goals as a writer — whether that means writing a book, selling a certain number of copies, or simply becoming better at the craft?

It takes a few things. Let’s explore them together.

1. Write at least 500 words a day

All any of us can do is begin, and the way we begin matters a lot. This doesn’t mean we’re powerless — quite the opposite, in fact — but we must understand what we can and cannot control in the creative process.

None of us has the ability to sit down and tackle a major project like a book all at once. What we do have the power to do is create daily habits that eventually allow us to accomplish our bigger goals. In other words, the work you do every day matters far more than what you do on the “big” day (e.g. finishing that book manuscript, publishing the book, etc.).

The work you do every day matters far more than what you do on the big day.

Jeff Goins

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I’ve written before on the importance of habits, so I won’t belabor the point here. Let me just say this, though: If you want to write a book, the best way to set yourself up for success with that goal is to start by writing a least 500 words every day.

If you can write more than that, great. But the goal is to meet a minimum word count every day that adds up to something substantial over time. This was how I completed four traditionally published books, meeting the publisher’s deadline each time, and how I was able to publish a bestselling self-published book that sold over 10,000 copies in the first few months. It wasn’t by setting out to “write a book.” It was by first establishing a daily writing ritual.

Meeting a daily word count takes away all your excuses and puts you back in the driver’s seat.

Recommended resource: If you need some help writing 500 words a day, please check out my 31-day writing challenge and free online writing group.

2. Find a community to hold you accountable

If you’re going to succeed at writing a book, you can’t go it alone. This is ironic, because most of the work of a writer is done in solitude. But the truth is, as I like to say, every story of success is really a story of community. You need help.

Sometimes, we ask our fellow writing friends to hold us accountable. But this almost never works, and the reason for this is that no one can hold you accountable. Not really. Only you can do that.

I’ve had writing coaches and accountability partners and all that. None of them worked in helping me actually write my first book. You know why? Not because these people weren’t helpful or intelligent — they were — but because I wasn’t committed. I thought someone else could make me do the work, and I was wrong.

I tried doing it on my own, and that didn’t work either. I was stuck.

It wasn’t until I turned to community that things began to change. After establishing daily writing habits, I committed to the writing process and joined a community of writers who could help me when I got stuck, encourage me when I needed it, and call me out when I stalled.

If you are a part of a writing group, you won’t need someone to hold you accountable. You will hold yourself accountable.

Every story of success is really a story of community.

Jeff Goins

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That’s why I started the My 500 Words daily writing challenge and group. It’s the best way I’ve found to get my writing done every single day. This is so much better than simply setting out to “write a book” without any transparency or visibility into the process. When I include others in the process, it makes me take the work more seriously.

Every story of success is really a story of community.

3. Follow a proven process

If you’ve never written a book, then how would you know how to write one?

This is the dilemma facing many first-time authors. You’ve never written a book, and yet you set out to accomplish something you’ve never done without the slightest idea or experience of how to do it.

Of course, you’ve read books, so there’s that. But that’s like saying just because you can drive a car that you can fix your own engine. I’m not saying that you couldn’t do that eventually; you just need some training.

The best way to do this is to follow a proven process, to learn from someone who’s already done it. That’s why I share my methodology in the Write a Bestseller program, which is an online course I teach on the 10 steps to write a book that you can be proud of and have confidence will sell.

Of course, you don’t have to sign up for that. You can read my article on how to write a book or study the 5-draft method I created and be on your way. But if you’d like some more help and to join a small writing community of aspiring authors who finally want to complete their book, we’d love to have you. (You can learn more about the course here.)

Warning: This won’t make you happy

So, it’s settled. Setting out to write a book is just a bad goal. That’s not how writing works. Not only that, but accomplishing such a goal won’t actually make you happy. I know, because I’ve written five books and each time I finished one, there was this surprising feeling of emptiness lingering behind.

Do you know what fills that void? Not launching a book or hitting the bestsellers list or any of that. The only thing that brings a writer satisfaction is starting the next book.

The only thing that brings a writer satisfaction is starting the next book.

Jeff Goins

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Recently, I wrote about starting my next book, and the truth is that was an entirely selfish decision. I am at my best when I’m working on a project, usually a book. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi calls this state of working on challenging projects that you are also good at “flow.”

When we are doing hard work that requires us to raise the bar for what we’re capable of, we are operating at our peak, creative states. And that brings us the greatest feelings of joy and accomplishment.

Not long ago, I was sharing with a friend how I’d forgotten I published a new book last year. It made me sad. My friend replied, “Well, that makes sense. That book was a slog, and it took a lot longer than you thought. So by the time it was done, you were kind of over it. The end was anticlimactic.”

That’s true, not just of that book but of most creative projects. The end for me is not the most exciting part. It’s just the final punctuation — the period, or maybe even an comma. It’s an important part but only in that it’s an excuse to start the next one.

What are you writing this year? What is your best advice for new writers? Share in the comments.

15 thoughts on “Please Don’t Write a Book This Year (and What You Should Do Instead)

  1. This year, I am working on two books. One is non-fiction, it’s about how I changed my way of living, from being a negative, anxious, and miserable person for the first 30 something years of my life, and learned how it seriously impacted my health, mentally and physically. The second is fiction. When I encounter writer’s block on my fiction novel, I switch over to the non-fiction. My thought process behind this is, I always have access to my research, my own thoughts of what I went through and what I have to offer others in their struggles and journey to a better life, so the writing on the non-fiction project usually doesn’t stall. Writing anything usually brings back the “muse” for the fiction novel, so I can switch back to it when I’m ready.
    I am really enjoying following you through your newsletter and webpage. I appreciate how much you give and share. Thank you, Jeff.

  2. Great post! Very important in goal setting, Make sure goals are focused on how vs the what.
    An additional thought on the happiness section: I don’t think any writer’s sole goal should be “I want to write a book.” I think a more fulfilling, exciting, and and purpose driven vision is one of mastering, affecting change, influencing, or being known as something. For a long time my thought process was “I want to write a book”, but I have since changed it to “I want to be a master storyteller”. This view has changed my productivity and writing immensely. A goal like this takes into account, the networking, the learning, the practice, and the necessary “failures” that go into mastering and being known as something. The “writing a book” is a natural part of this vision because that’s what storytellers do – write words and tell stories! This mindset is a freeing one when the books are done or a rejection is given. If you’ve put all your stock in writing a book and a publisher rejects it, it can be devastating –
    you’ve failed your goal! Sure you’ll try again, but this continual beatdown could be unnecessarily harmful to one’s state of mind. But if your goal is to “be a master storyteller” or “a great writer whose words teach and affect change”- suddenly rejections are a chance to to learn and grow, and think “ok, how can I do it better?” Still rejection, but a much healthier and satisfying mindset – not only have you not failed, but you’ve won! and one step closer to realizing your vision as a writer. Just another thought on keeping happy.

  3. This is the best article I ever read this year so far! Honestly…one of the first things I decided this year was exactly that: not publishing any book at all. I left that goal for 2019. I decided to take this year to meet writers, go to writing conferences, post short stories and poems in my blog and catch up with writing posts in Twitter. I also decided to take the time to read other author’s posts since I found out I learn more than ever. I repeat: This is the best article I have read this year!

  4. Love the article, Jeff.

    I’ve been reading your books and posts over the years, and I have to say that the 500 words a day tip was a game changer. I wake in the morning and write at least 500 words; it has improved, not only my writing but how I approach developing healthy habits in all areas of my life.

    I’m happy to report that I’ve begun to share excerpts of the book I’m writing and was recently approached to share my story, live in person, with a group that works to support those suffering with mental illnesses like addiction and depression.

    If I hadn’t followed the guides, steps, and tips you provided, I’m not sure I would be typing all this out. I’m looking forward to watching the journey unfold.

    Thanks for all the help!

  5. Zapisao sam samo najljepše doživljaje ,događaje koje sam dobio samim ukazanjem Majke Božje njene velike Milosti i nedohvatljive snage za ljudski um ne dohvatljivo. Sve drugo je samo u meni i svu Milost samo jednostavno dijelim svim potrebitim ljudima cijelog Svijeta. Da napišem knjigu kojoj nema kraja još nisam dobio odgovor je ona bi bila pomalo čudna za čovjeka jer nikada neče upoznati sve te Milosti i dobrote i velike snage protiv kojih čovjek nemože. Sve se ostvariva baš kako je zapisano i kako ja znam unaprjed. A knjigu vijerojatno neču do kraja nikada ni zapisati jer mnogi bi to željeli odmah iskoristiti u svoju novčanu dobit i bogatstvo. No na žalos njihovu ja to ikada neču dozvoliti a ako i ikada nešto i dalje zapišem poklonit ču pravoj osobi koja če to znati čuvati. Amen.

  6. Jeff, you make what sounds daunting very accessible and easy to learn. I wish I’d known all that’s in this article a year ago. I dove in head first writing the book I’ve wanted to write for a long time last year. I completed it, but I’ve learned a lot since then, mainly from you. Now I’m convinced the book I wrote would’ve been so much more engaging if I’d played with my voice, writing something every day, before trying to be serious. You’ve convinced me to do a do-over– to take one chapter at a time and play with it. Thank you.

  7. This year my goal is writing 500 words daily. It’s really hard. Whenever I write I feel how terrible my writing is, it really makes me fell down . I start underestimating myself . Bt settling down our inner criticis is very important. And that’s what I am trying to do.

  8. Good morning from the Philippines!

    Jeff, once again you’ve nailed your post! Informative but not too much, light but with all a person really needs… And, for those who need more? You have that covered for them as well. You are one of a few authors I will point others to when they need to know more of their craft.

    In response to today’s subject, I can’t do what you ask. You see, I need to do 2000 words minimum a day over 5 days of the week. Of the two remaining days? One is for my own blogs and guest blogs. The last day of the week is for family but, since I’m still out of bed at 4 am, I fill my time (until anyone wakes) by going over my work from the past week. And I usually end up writing more! So I guess I could say I’m doing 2,000 a day?

    I have to ask… Writing this probably took you an hour or two… All the other things you do probably fill in another 8 to 12 hours of your day… And you’re writing your books at the same time… And a family man..? The question remains… When do you sleep? Hehe! Ok, seriously, how many words a day do you think you write? It would be here interesting to see how your days go..! Thanks, Jeff!

  9. I’ll write my first book when I’m ready. I have a lot of ideas, even a couple of plots. But I still can’t write something everyday. I started blogging on a regular basis, and I’m struggling sticking to the habit. When I’m ok with that, I’ll put writing a book on the top of my priorities.

    Great article !!!

  10. I am not sure what I am going to write, I do not know what kind of writer I will become. However, I do know there are books in my horizon.

  11. Hey Jeff, awesome blog btw. I am curious how do you embed the little Tweet Blocks in your posts? Is there a plugin or addon that you use? Thanks!

  12. Thank you for this post. This I must say is one of the most difficult parts – to be consistent and write on a regular basis. This is how we develop our discipline and this requires a lot of efforts.

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