10 Lessons from Writing a Book

On a casual evening in July 2019, I announced publicly that I was going to write a book. When I made the announcement, I had not written a single word or a sentence for the book. Heck, I didn’t even have a clue about the book’s title, the cover, the table of contents or the topic I was going to write about. But, the announcement was the push I needed to get me to write. Prior to that, I was just thinking too much, executing too little; gloating too much, writing too little. After the declaration, as I received emails and messages from my blog readers with their suggestions and expectations, the alarm bells started ringing. I had no choice but to write.

From that day on, it took me around six months to research, draft, edit, polish, and publish the book. The journey was an emotional roller-coaster. There were days when I relished writing pages on end. Then, there were others when I was downright miserable and did nothing other than stare at the flickering white computer screen. Fortunately, I ploughed on and finished writing it. This whole experience gave me a unique insight into the mindset necessary to execute a creative project. I wish to share my learnings here:

1. Books are the best way to package ideas

With the rise of the internet and video distribution, people projected the end of books. But I find that books are incredibly efficient in packaging ideas and reaching people, a feat that Instagram or Snapchat or YouTube may never accomplish. People forget images, but they remember stories, and stories are often told best through writing. So, if you want your ideas to reach people, write. Initially, the goal need not be as grand as writing a book. If books seem tough, begin by writing essays. If essays seem difficult, write blog posts. If blog posts feel daunting, write tweets and publish them consistently. Once you become good at any of them, scale-up. 

2. Writing a book takes more time than you assume 

Because of their very nature, creative projects don’t have a specific set of rote tasks that you can robotically tick off every day. When I started, I had no idea how the final book would shape up. At times, I came up with some new ideas to add to the content than I initially imagined. So, I added more chapters as I progressed. Other times, I didn’t like how a section panned out, which led me to strike it out entirely and start anew. This constant addition, deletion and refinement is a time-guzzler and is probably inevitable in any creative process. 

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”— George Orwell

3. Public accountability is powerful

When you make your goals public, it becomes a dominant force in making you live up to your promise. I used this hack twice in the course of the project. First, when I announced that I was working on a book even before writing a single word. Second, when I made known the launch date of the book despite only 85% of the book being done. Committing to a deadline improved my focus and urgency, pushing me to complete the task in time. Without such external control, I would have just fiddled with the text endlessly and obsessed over minor details with no marginal benefit.

4. Don’t edit while you write 

As Hemingway once put it, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Finish the first draft quickly, no matter how awful it reads. Why? Because it acts as a basic outline which makes the writing process so much simpler as you can now rewrite every sentence for clarity and coherence. Think of this blogpost itself. The one you are reading is a far cry from the one I began with. Having the words in your brain is no good. You have to get them out on screen or paper for you to improve them. So, as you start ideating on a book or a blog post, focus on quantity rather than quality. Just let the words out on paper and edit later. Good writing is rewriting.

5. Doing is the best form of learning

No matter how much you read about the process of writing a book (like this article), it cannot possibly account for what you will go through when you write a book. I realised that the most reliable way to learn a skill is to practice it. This principle applies to other pursuits, too. If you want to learn to program, pick a project and code; if you want to learn public speaking, start speaking at college and family gatherings; if you’re going to improve your writing, write blog posts and publish. Start, get stuck, solve, improve, and iterate. Learning happens through deliberate practice, not passive reading. 

6. You have to fight resistance

In the book The War of Art, the author describes the word resistance as an invisible force that stands between us and our goals. In other words, it’s the static friction we all confront before we begin. It stops poets from writing poems, authors from writing prose and musicians from making music. This force was a scourge I had to fight every day. On days when I didn’t want to write, I made it a point to write anyway. I wrote crappy paragraphs and crappy pages until they became less crappy. At first, I thought that with time, it would go away. It did not. With time, I just became better at overcoming it. I knew that starting is the most challenging part, so I would always try to reduce the initial static friction as much as possible. I wrote the book on an app called Scrivener. It has a nice UI that indexes all the chapters and lets you jump to any section and start writing. Every day, I would just go through the index and pick the chapter I felt like writing on. The point is to do everything to reduce the friction between you and that initial step.

7. Most ideas come to you after you begin writing 

Two years of blogging taught me this critical lesson. Our brains are so impulsive, jumping from thought to thought that sustained thinking is possible only when we let it out on paper and elaborate on the subject. Writing is a process that lets you find out what you think. No one starts with the exact words and the final outline of an article. Most of it would have come during the process. Initially, the book was supposed to be divided into fifteen chapters. As I wrote them, I added more content taking the chapter count to 25. But finally, 22 made sense. The point is, unless I started writing, I would have never been able to refine the way the book eventually turned out. Don’t let initial lack of ideas stop you from writing. Choose a topic and write anyway. 

8. Carve your niche

When you are figuring out the topic to write on, a common mistake is to choose a topic based on how likely it is to become a bestseller. Such a benchmark is so fuzzy and daunting that, to please everyone, you will end up compromising on the quality. A better yardstick would be to write on a topic that you are utterly convinced about. While brainstorming on the subject of my book, many themes came to mind: polity, history, economy, governance, CSAT etc. But I realised such books are abundant already. So, I asked myself what is that one book I wished existed during my preparation. And, I immediately knew the answer: a book that taught me how to write good essays and answers.

9. You’ll never be happy with the final product 

As you enter the final stage of writing, you will never be fully satisfied or content with what you created. There is always scope for editing. There is always room for rewriting. There is always a margin for improvement. Towards the end, I was obsessing over minor details so much that I could have easily taken another two months and not launch the book at all. But, one day, I snapped and announced the final launch date. That taught me a critical lesson. A better metric to gauge whether the project is done is to ask yourself if the final project is 90% good. If it’s yes, then it’s time to launch it. Striving for that last 10% is just placating your ego.    

Credit: https://tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/102479069106

10. Write the book you’ll be proud of 

Director of Star Wars, George Lucas was so convinced the movie would flop that on the day it was released, he went on holiday to Hawaii instead of attending the premiere. But the film went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time. If we feel that a popular book or a movie or a song was destined for success, remember that it’s just hindsight bias. The point is, no one knows what takes off. Just write the book you wish to read. Write the book you’ll be proud of, no matter how your readers perceive it.

Writing a book is a miserable and tedious process. But the sense of accomplishment you feel once you finish the project is remarkable. And that’s not even the best part. On a random day when you are going about your ordinary, daily routine, you receive an email from a reader thanking you for your work. That feeling is priceless. 


Note: My book, Fundamentals of Essay and Answer Writing is a comprehensive guide that helps you write better Essays and Answers in the UPSC Mains Exam. You can get the book here.

PS: If you want to stay updated with my blog posts and would like to get them in your email inbox, please sign up here.

32 thoughts on “10 Lessons from Writing a Book

  1. ajay sidh

    Thanks anudeep,i want to prepare for upsc and i know for sure that in this journey,your book and blogs will surely help to improve my endeavours,because my writing habit totally sucks!

    Reply
  2. Arjun

    i love u sir jii…!

    Reply
  3. DrishtiVerma

    Thank you sir for sharing some insights from your writing experience. Your efforts to teach others through your blogs is really commendable!!

    Reply
  4. Aditya Tulsyan

    Beautifully written, what excites me most about your blogs are the words you choose to express you thoughts in a subtle way.

    Reply
  5. Deepak Maskare

    Thanks for this. It is helpful.

    Reply
  6. Sheetal

    Thank You for going through all the pain for the book for us… The way you have elaborated upon each and every small thins which makes all the difference in writing answers is unparalleled.. Hitting the hammer on exactly what doubts goes inside the mind of aspirants..you nailed it Sir!!
    Before reading the book…I was like, during answer writing, “chaaro taraf kohraa hi kohraa hai” 😀 but now, I know that the small things are the main things… gangadhar hi shaktimann hai! 😀
    Thank you! #Gratitude

    Reply
    1. Sheetal

      *small things

      Reply
  7. Syed Sartaj

    Thank You Sir .
    Will utilise your book to its full extent .

    Reply
  8. Niks

    Anudeep sir has the clarity which appeals the fellow aspirants not to give up on hardships which seem unsurmountable sometimes!
    Truely inspirational!

    Reply
  9. Suchita

    Thank u sir for this enlighting write up on three fronts- one, how to express one’s thought.secondly, how to write a book(as i hv many future projects in my mind) and lastly, how to score well in upsc through constant practising n overcoming inertia.
    Sir i also need ur permission to use ur graphs in my anwer writing😊. A big thank u Sir..kindly keep guiding us.

    Reply
  10. SHAYAN DAS

    Your words reflect truth. Putting down thoughts on paper is more challenging than we think it is. This is indeed tedious. But as you said, a writer feels satisfied the moment his write up attains the final shape and the moment notifications start popping up on phone screen with positive feedbacks from the readers.
    Your write up was truly inspiring!

    Reply
  11. Preet Kaur

    You are my inspiration in the gloomy days of preparation and your book is the best source for how to write answers. You are like the light in this Journey.
    Regards!

    Reply
  12. Shubham

    As i am Hindi poet i experienced most of the topic you mentioned over here, It is very motivating….Thank you very much :))

    Reply
  13. Manoj kumar Gelle

    Thank you Sir
    Manoj from Korutla

    Reply
  14. Nana

    Sir, I have written two books that I am proud of. But as an introvert with friends who have no idea of books, I don’t have any clue on how to get published. I am financially weak and on this one app, I have posted my books for free where international readers are loving it. Their comments make me confident enough to get published and earn for my hardwork. But I need guidance. I don’t know which publisher to approach and which one is safe. Does it cost some amount or not? Please help.

    Reply
    1. KARTIKAY

      Firstly, Be confident. you have written a book that is always worthy!! So, Email the publishers and get in touch with them.. Explain and get the contract. You should be rewarded in the process. money should not be the issue

      Reply
  15. Sujanbano chandpasha hannure

    Thank you sir for your amazing guidance for us yes I will consider all the points when I am going to write a book, this all the point are really important while we are going to write a book so. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. .. 👍😊🙏🙏🙏

    Reply
  16. Minaj

    It’s really good to know ur thoughts about writing. Tq sir for being an inspiration for us.

    Reply
  17. Prabha

    Great articulation!

    Reply
  18. Ruchita Singh

    This is really too good to understand the process of writing the books.

    Reply
  19. Sri

    Thank you sir.i always keep watching your interviews.the line you said-i m not a looser.lets give a final shot always pushing me forward in preparing upsc.your efforts now are so thankfull sir.
    Regards
    Srinithi from tamilnadu

    Reply
  20. Vijay

    Hi Anudeep can you please tell me from where do you get such a long term motivation to finish any work you start.

    Reply
  21. Anonymous

    Always a joy to read what you have written sir. Great post. Loved reading it. Thanks for writing. Keep writing

    Reply
  22. Aman Maurya

    Thanks ANUDEEP sir for such a good writeup. keep writing this blog and be connected to us

    Reply
  23. sai chand pasula

    Thank you anna for sharing the wisdom . Hardest thing is to learn lessons in the time of difficulties but reading those lessons when someone writes it is easy .thank you for writing for us.
    Regards
    Sai

    Reply
  24. Vidya Sagar

    I think that book is ‘The art of war’.

    Reply
  25. jyoti

    Sir, i have a question regarding the current affairs. I wanted to know that of how many months current affairs we need to prepare for the exam both pre and mains.

    Reply
  26. Anu

    I hate you

    Reply
  27. Devi Varaprasad

    Sir, first of all kudos to you for sharing your experience and guiding many aspirants like me……but as far as I had seen your articles you didn’t mentioned about test series …..so could you please provide your insights on when to appear for test series for prelims and mains ?? And which are the best ??

    Reply
  28. Rahul suthar

    Lovely blog Sir, It is very very helpful.

    Reply
  29. Anonymous

    Lots of love you sirrr, this lessons are soothing ..

    Reply
  30. Anonymous

    I had gone through many documents/blogs for guidance, reading yours is feeling like I am getting blessings from my elder brother. Now I have no doubts, my confidence is at the pinnacle. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. Lots of respect and love Sir.

    Reply

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