1. Listen to your heart, not your head
If you have something to say, say it. If your heart is telling you to write something, write it. Writing is about empowering yourself to overcome yourself. Do not listen to the inner-critic in your head that everyday says, “This sucks—you suck.” Do not worry about whether you are going to get published. Do not let manic OCD get the best of you as if you were Hannah in Girls. Adam (Poswolsky) will not come running through the streets of Brooklyn, sweating with his shirt off, to save you. Get your words down on the page.
2. Ignore your haters
Haters will give you fifteen reasons for why you can’t write something, and will try to keep you from reaching your dreams because they are too scared to try to reach theirs. Haters don’t write, but they keep writers from writing. Before I even had an outline, a good friend questioned my ability to write a book, and nearly put an end to my project, simply by hating.
Every word, every paragraph you write, is an act in defeating your haters. Six weeks and 120 pages later, who’s hating now?
3. Find your creative zone
Every writer, every artist, needs to find their creative zone of genius. For some, it may be a co-working space where you can’t go to bathroom without hearing the words “design innovation,” or a café made of reclaimed wood, filled with hipsters wearing $200 skinny jeans and black leather jackets, Instagramming their lattes.
My creative zone is the 4th floor of the UCSF library, where no cell phone conversations are allowed. I sit next to a window that on sunny days, overlooks all of Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge, and write uninterrupted from 11am to 7pm. Some writers like to surround themselves with other writers, I prefer to surround myself with medical students who are using four different colors of highlighters to study the pyloric sphincter, and give me dirty looks whenever I make noise by having a bite of my tamari roasted almonds. Silence—for me—is words on the page.
4. Avoid, avoid, avoid
Writing takes time, you have to schedule blocks for writing, and most importantly, you have stop doing other things. I’ve been able to make progress on my first draft because I avoided the following: spending too much time at home (I never get anything done at home—I just end up washing the dishes), meeting up with people for coffee, and saying yes to favors or side projects when I want to say no.
5. Embrace imperfection
A first draft is a first draft. Writing is a process. There is nothing more toxic to that process that the cursor slowly flashing in front you on a blank page. A blank page is not failure, a blank page is nothing—you can’t learn from a blank page—you can’t make a blank page better. The best thing I did was not to delete anything while I was writing my first draft. If something sounded weird or I was struggling with a section, I would type, “This is total shit, need to fix this somehow, YABBA HABBA IT’S FRIGHT NIGHT,” and keep writing.
Deleting your words only slows down the creative process. Keep writing new material until you can’t stop. Accept, know, embrace, that a good portion of what you write will be shit. It will be shit, yay! Some shit is better than no shit at all. You have to write a first draft before you can write a second or a third or a fourth.
6. Put yourself out there
The only thing scarier than writing a book is telling everyone you know that you’re writing a book. At that point, there’s no turning back—you’ve set a deadline—a deadline holds you accountable, you are actually writing a book now, as in today.
In the end, writing is about getting vulnerable—it’s about putting yourself out there to be judged and criticized, and knowing (actually, hoping) that some people are going to despise what you write. Writing is realizing that you’re not perfect, that no writer is perfect, that this book will be your first and not your best, but also not your last.