5 Lessons I Learned from Writing My First Book

Guest Post by Lucinda Whitney


Lucinda Whitney was born and raised in Portugal, where she received a master’s degree from the University of Minho in Braga in Portuguese/English teaching. She’s a cancer survivor, and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Salt Lake Temple Square Visitors Center mission in Utah.

She lives in northern Utah with her husband and four children. When she’s not reading and writing, she can be found with a pair of knitting needles in winter, or tending her herb garden in the summer. She also works part-time as a substitute teacher.

Visit her website at www.lucindawhitney.com


My first book, The Secret Life of Daydreams, is coming out on January 5th, 2016. I started this project on November 1st, 2012 for NaNoWriMo. It’s been the proverbial journey, to say the least, and I have learned a few valuable lessons along the way.
1— I didn’t really know anything.
I thought I knew a lot about novels and romance and what makes a good book because I’ve been a reader all my life. And while that’s true to an extent, I really had no idea what I was doing when I started writing. This was my first attempt at fiction writing (I had written poetry in high school and university, but nothing else). I didn’t have a plan, and I didn’t know about drafting or plotting or character arcs, or just about anything else. I just didn’t have a clue. I’m surprised I was able to complete NaNo that November and then went on to finish my first draft by the following February.
2— Everything took longer than I thought.
This is connected to the first one. Because I had no clue what I was doing, I had to take the time to learn. I had to learn how to write first and then how to tell a good romance story. This involved a lot of reading, and researching, and beta reading, and writing, and sending it off to others for beta-reading, and to editors, and writing contests, etc. The lesson here for me was that it took a lot longer that I had anticipated. It didn’t help that I kept comparing myself to other writers I knew. Once I learned how to focus on my own writing and journey, it became easier to accept that it would take as long as I needed it to take to make my writing and story the best I could.
3— I made a flexible plan.
Once I decided to self-publish my novel (which will be for another blog post), I came to realize the benefits of having a publishing plan. Making goals helped me achieve several milestones along the way, but I also learned to allow for flexibility. I came close to publishing my book twice, once in the summer of 2013 (but I sent it out to a publisher instead), and then again about a year later (when I sent my manuscript to a professional editor). I was not ready either time, and thankfully I trusted my instincts to wait. I am a critical reader, and I have been reading romance all my life, and this helped me see and I accept that my story was not good enough yet. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m glad I waited.
4— I learned to be humble and accept critiques.
Remember how I thought I knew everything? Yeah, I really didn’t (I still don’t). Learning humility was hard. This came about through the critiques of beta-readers and the feedback from contests, and editors, etc. Feedback is invaluable. It’s worth more than gold. There is no way to learn to write better and tell good stories unless you open yourself up to rejection and critiques. It took me a while to learn this properly. I knew the benefits and I took the steps of sending my work out to others, but I held back from really understanding it for a long time. Once I did, it opened something inside my writer-self and it helped me move on. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your beta readers and editors suggest, but when the majority keep saying the same, it’s time to accept something is not working (this happened to me when I entered several first chapter contests and almost all the judges mentioned the same problems).
5— If it was worth doing, I wanted to do it right.
This is something I’ve always believed in. I didn’t want to cut corners. I didn’t want to save as much money as possible. The decision to self-publish was not a monetary one, but rather the choice for a path that enabled me to do things the way I wanted (the title of my choice, a beautiful cover chosen by me, the price I think is fair for my ebook, etc). The more I learned about self-publishing, the more I knew I wanted to hire professionals for cover, editing, formatting, marketing, etc. I wanted to be taken seriously and as a professional, and trying to save money by doing my own editing was not for me. When I calculated my budget, I was severely short so I took a part-time job as a guest teacher to fund the publishing of my book (I have an educator license in UT but I don’t want to work full-time. I need the time to write, after all 😉 ). This is what has worked for me so far. Little by little, I have been able to pay for professional editors, cover designer, and paperback formatter, as well as a marketing service. I’m not saying I’m doing everything right, but I’m doing what is right for me and my book.

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.