A few years ago, my best friend (unintentionally) made me feel a bit anxious. We were talking about interpersonal psychology, social skills, and the key to a healthy friendship, when he turned to me and said, “You know too much about this to just keep it to yourself. You should write a book.”
Who, me? No way.
I’m a small potatoes farm boy, and I grew up in a town where it was a major feat to graduate high school, let alone college. Despite the fact that I was in a doctoral program, the idea of adding my name to the shelf felt too far from my core identity. Books were written by inspiring, knowledgeable, and wise people — not people like me.
And yet, my friend’s words stuck with me.
In the fall of 2018, I finally did it. I published my first book, and The Friendship Formula was released into the world. I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement as my message of belonging and connection began to spread to readers from all over the world — and it all started with a gentle motivational push.
My hope in writing this article is that you, too, will be made to feel a bit anxious — in a good way, of course, so that your fingertips are spurred into writing fantastic content.
Two Words: Reach and Impact
I love seeing new and creative guest posts from Time2Track, and I am continually inspired by the content provided here. Each of you brings a unique perspective and a wealth of knowledge from the mental health world — and for a good reason!
Mental health professionals spend an incredible amount of time studying and practicing in their journey to become competent, credentialed, and effective clinicians, teachers, and researchers. In graduate school alone, you are likely putting in thousands of hours of study and practicum time per year, not including homework, dissertation, and other responsibilities.
You have invested a great deal into your education in pursuit of your passion — helping people, finding answers, and making the world a better place. And, I believe that you can do those things by taking my friend’s advice — and writing that book.
I can list all sorts of reasons why writing a book could benefit you. As I mentioned in my APA webinar on Writing for the Web, publishing a book can be an excellent way to build your online presence. Similarly, the practice of creating enough content to fill a book will enhance your overall writing skill.
And yet, the most important reasons can be captured in two words: reach and impact.
Someone out there needs to know what you know, to hear what you have to say. When you provide an awesome session of therapy or teach a class of eager learners, you are impacting the lives of others. But your impact is limited by time and place — you will only be able to reach so many people in your workday. When you publish an article in a journal, your impact might be significant within certain branches of the scientific and professional community — but your reach is limited to those who have educational and practical access to your findings. But when you publish a book, you provide a timeless resource for the world to see.
So, how do you do it?
How to Write Your Book
The fact is, it takes time and effort to produce something worthwhile. Many of you are busy students, scholars, and clinicians, and your spare time is limited. And so, I’ll borrow from the wisdom of Dr. Viktor Frankl in saying that if you know your “why,” you can figure out any “how.”
For me, the “why” was easy. I knew what it was like to be friendless. I knew the pain of having no one show up at your party, of sitting alone at the lunch table, of yearning for connection. I also knew that I was not alone in the loneliness. A study from 2015 published in Perspectives on Psychological Science estimated that 45% of people in the United States experience intense feelings of social disconnection and isolation. So, my “why” became my mission: to bring an end to the loneliness epidemic, one friendship at a time.
If you know why this book matters to you, if you know why you want to share your knowledge, research, and opinions, then the how will start to come together. Once you capture that “why,” you can use these tips to help you succeed on your writing journey:
TIP #1 – Block out the Time.
Set a dedicated slot in your day where you will always sit down and write. This time is now sacred. Even if it’s only 5-10 minutes, you need to set aside time for those ideas to transfer to the page. If you simply don’t have the time, this might be the wrong season to get started — and that’s okay! But I believe that, if your “why” is strong enough, you will find the time to follow it.
TIP #2 – Set a Daily Word Count Goal.
If setting aside a particular time to write is challenging, and you’d prefer to squeeze in little bursts of creation throughout your day, try setting a daily word count goal. Most books have at least 40,000 words, which means if you can crank out about 1000 words per day, you’ll have a book in less than two months. Most word processors (such as Microsoft Word) have a word counter if you’d like to be precise, but you can also just try to fill a certain amount of the page.
TIP #3 – Start with a Sample Chapter.
Crafting the perfect introduction to your book can be challenging, and so you might feel discouraged if you try to start there. Instead, try writing chapters that would fit more towards the middle of the book. This will be particularly useful if you have an idea or two to write about that may not stretch the length of a full book, thus allowing you to see how those might fit into the larger story.
TIP #4 – Feed Your Book with Feedback.
If you know your audience demographic, you can do a bit of market testing with them to see what they think. The Friendship Formula was written for teens and adults who struggle with friendship, and so I sent book excerpts and early drafts to people in my network who fit some of those markers. You should also talk to your friends, teachers, and colleagues about your ideas, and try to glean any insights or reactions they might have to your content.
TIP #5 – Read, Listen, and be Inspired.
If your “why” is the fuel that drives your content writing motor, you can think of “inspiration” as the oil that keeps the gears moving smoothly. Dive into some of the content other people have prepared on your subject through podcasts, books, blog posts, and conference talks. Be open and curious, always searching for sources of creativity and new perspectives.
TIP #6 – Take the Leap.
When I first started my career as a professional writer, I experienced intense anxiety about putting something out there on the internet. To me, it felt so very visible, permanent, and open to criticism. This is something all but the most narcissistic of us experience; I think because we fear being evaluated or criticized. If this is where your hang-up is, then I will encourage you to take Dr. Steven Hays’s advice and live your life according to your values. If your value is to follow your “why,” write that book, and share your message with the world, then you must ask yourself what you are willing to endure in that pursuit.
Don’t wait. No one needs to give you permission to get started.
My hope for and challenge to you is that you will finally take the leap, set a goal, and write that book. And when you do, let me know. I want to be one of the first to review your work.
I believe that all of us have ideas worth sharing.
I believe you know too much to keep it all to yourself.
And I believe you can write that book.
To learn more about self-publishing, sign up for these upcoming APA webinars hosted by Time2Track authors Kyler Shumway and Daniel Wendler:
Supercharge Your Presence: Self-Publishing: How to Get Started
Supercharge Your Presence: Self-Publishing: How to Write Your First Book
Supercharge Your Presence: Self-Publishing: Marketing Your Book
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227-237.
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