So you want to write a book? Two tips. Just two.

Since publishing my book Joyful Momentum: Growing and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups with Ave Maria Press, a lot of people have approached me with their book ideas and have asked about how to write a book, how to have a book published, and how to approach writing amid life’s competing priorities. I’m glad to have these conversations, and I’m learning as I go.  

Thank you for reaching out to me and trusting me with your ideas.  It feels pretty sacred to be able to talk through some absolutely beautiful book ideas – from memoir to children’s book, religious to non-religious.  I know what it feels like to have a conviction in the pit of your stomach to share your words and thoughts with the world.  And I know how vulnerable it feels to share those thoughts with another person.  

When I was finally ready to write Joyful Momentum, I was going to write it whether a publisher was interested in it or not.  In fact, before I pitched the book idea to my wonderful editor, I had already written three chapters and had been spending my days off writing in a cubicle at the public library until it was time to pick my son up from school. 

I was leafing through my journal from several years ago today and came across a page where I was wrestling with whether to write Joyful Momentum. I’m usually a paragraph journaler, but on this day, I wrote two numbered lines. 

1. Circumstances are never going to be perfect for writing.

2. Ora et labora. There is a reason that prayer comes first.

If you want to write, those are my two tips.

Circumstances are never going to be perfect for writing. 

When I first started writing Joyful Momentum, I had visions of writing with a cute computer, likely a rose gold colored MacBook Air because they are adorable.  I imagined writing in a posh little coffee shop at a leisurely pace, and wearing a fashionable outfit that included a chartreuse headband holding my curls out of my face, a navy blue and white polka dot sweater, coral lipstick, and Kendra Scott earrings.  And I contemplated sipping foamy lattes sprinkled with nutmeg from a porcelain mug that would make a perfect clinking sound when replaced on the saucer.  I see you rolling your eyes. But it’s my daydream; I get to daydream whatever I want.

In reality, I wrote on an old Acer laptop with a cracked screen.  I spent hours typing at my dining room table or at the public library. There were no cute outfits, and definitely no lipstick.  On fancy days, I sported tinted chapstick.  I wrote in my favorite 20-year old College of William and Mary sweatshirt.  It’s faded, has frayed cuffs, and more than one food stain, but it’s the coziest article of clothing in my closet.  I sipped McDonald’s coffee out of a styrofoam to-go cup with “caution contents hot” printed across the rim.  I often rose at 4am to get two hours of writing finished before starting my family’s work and school day and set an ambitious goal of finishing a chapter every three weeks to meet my deadline.  

Far from an idyllic daydream, those early morning writing sessions while the house slept, or Saturdays at the public library, were my perfect writing circumstances because that’s when I got the job done.  

If you want to write a book, make room for writing exactly where you are.  Don’t wait for the “perfect” circumstance because the perfect circumstance for writing a book is just that – writing it.  Even if you write for only 20 minutes a day, you’ll be making progress. 

Ora et Labora. There’s a reason that prayer comes first. 

The Benedictine motto is “ora et labora” – pray and work. I’m a mom, a wife, a lawyer, an over-volunteerer, a writer, a hiker, a baker.  I’m a lot of things, and one of the threads through all of my various roles in life, is that I’m a diligent worker – perhaps even an over-worker.  I labora my heart out! 

However, writing Catholic things is more than just work.  Whether you’re writing articles, books, or blogs, Catholic writing is sharing the Gospel.  There are many alluring distractions in this Catholic writing world, and the only way to stay focused on writing what you are uniquely called to write is to ora and labora.  Ora first, then labora.  This way your work is prayerful.  

Don’t skip out on the prayer just because you want to jam out a few more sentences.  In the end, you’ll find yourself frustrated and writing in circles. Trust me on this point.             

As I reviewed my old journal, I did not remember writing those numbered thoughts. However, based on the date and context, I do remember that I made that entry while standing against a pillar in the bustling Southwest terminal at LAX, waiting to board a flight to BWI. I wrote because I had a few spare minutes even though I was surrounded by distractions. I certainly did not imagine expanding on those thoughts years later, but writing them down created the opportunity to share them today. 

If you want to write, start writing.  Like mastering a workout routine or learning to play an instrument, writing a book takes time.  It’s hard, and it’s rarely pretty.  But if you start with prayer and put some words down on paper, you’re on your way.  If you want to talk about your ideas, I’m happy to listen.      

3 thoughts on “So you want to write a book? Two tips. Just two.”

  1. Super agree with you on #1. I wrote my entire first novel longhand just to spite my preference for a very specific laptop at the time. I just wanted to prove myself that writing was writing, and I needed to focus on the act, not the peripherals.

    Thanks for sharing Elizabeth!

  2. I re-read this today and had to tell you that this post helped me finish writing my dissertation! There were so many days I didn’t want to do it and I remembered your two tips and I plugged away at it and now I’m done! I wrote…just something, sometimes words, sometimes phrases and sentences, sometimes just my feelings about world hunger. I prayed and wrote and it worked! Thank you so much for sharing, Elizabeth! And I could totally picture you in a chartreuse headband with a cute laptop! 😉

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