4 simple tips to know before you write your first book

This past weekend I spent some time in Charlotte at the She Speaks Conference, a training conference for writers and speakers in ministry. I co-led a session about writing with my editor, Andrea Doering. Before the conference, a friend asked me “Is there anything you wish you knew before writing your first book?” I planned to answer that question at the end of our workshop but we ran out of time.

There are a thousand things I wish I knew before I wrote my first book, but I’ve picked four to share here.

write your first book

simple tips to know before your write your first book:

1. Your writing will never be 100% ready.

I was reminded of this while reading Bossypants by Tina Fey. She said this is something she learned from Lorne Michaels while working at Saturday Night Live. He said, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.”

After writing on a blog for many years, I always knew this about writing in general, but I didn’t realize how much it would apply to book writing, too. I always thought once you write a book, it won’t be published and sold until it was pretty much perfected. It’s true, it goes through many drafts, a whole team of editors, not to mention the countless writing and re-writing on the author’s part.

You will work hard and do your very best and strive for excellence. But there is a point where you have to agree that you have done all you can do even if there is still room to grow.

You have to release it and move on. I didn’t realize how hard this would be when I started, but now I understand it’s part of the process.


2. Book writing is more like a plane than a helicopter.

For me, blog writing is a lot like a helicopter. I have learned to write in faster spurts, to move quickly from a blank screen to a finished blog post with a beginning, middle, and ending. If I have an hour, I can sit and nearly finish a post (many people can write posts much more quickly than that, but an hour is about what it takes me. This post, for example, has taken me 2 hours. Blerg.)

When I started writing my first book, I approached it the same way – Oh, you’re taking the kids to the park for an hour? I’ll just work on my book! 

I would sit down in the small crack of time I had and try to work on the book, becoming quickly frustrated when I would still be struggling to get started as they walked through the door after their outing.

I have had to learn that book writing feels more like riding in an airplane than a helicopter. I need a long runway to get in the headspace to work on the book and I also need a long runway to come back down. This is probably not true for everyone, but it is for me.

Because of that, I schedule my time accordingly. I choose certain days during the week or the month that are assigned for book writing days – these are the days when I know I’ll have a minimum of three consecutive hours to work. I save the cracks of time to work on other kinds of writing, like articles or blog posts.

3. It’s okay to use your name in your blog title. 

When I started this blog, I didn’t plan to write books. I just wanted to write. Now that I have books, it has been a bit confusing for people sometimes that my blog is Chatting at the Sky rather than just my name. I’ve heard Ann Voskamp say similar things about her blog, A Holy Experience. But we’ve learned to make it work.

One way around this is I also own emilypfreeman.com so if you go there, you’ll find a landing page that will bring you here. But if I had it to do over again, I would probably have used my name from the beginning in conjunction with Chatting at the Sky. It isn’t ego-centric to do this – it just makes it easier for people to find you. I still love the title, Chatting at the Sky, but I also have plans to incorporate my name more into the front page of the blog for people who are new.

Here are some authors who do this well: Nish Weiseth, Shauna Niequist, Holley Gerth, and Ally Vesterfelt.

4. If you publish a book, you don’t have to become a speaker.

I’m ducking now to avoid all the darts the marketing geniuses are aiming my way.

One of the reasons I was terrified to write books at the beginning was because I assumed I had to become A Very Polished Professional Speaker and that just isn’t me. I thought maybe my publisher would require me to speak a certain number of times a year or something. They do not.

I am a homebody and I have three young kids still at home. I don’t like to fly and I get twirly in crowds of people. A Very Polished Professional Speaker I am not.

It’s true, speaking is a great way to get your message out, to meet people, and to sell books. But it isn’t the only way. I am learning to enjoy speaking more and more as opportunities come up, but I feel released from the pressure to do it a certain way.

I have a lot to learn, but I’m learning at my own pace and giving myself the freedom to try things and learn as I go.

This fall, for example, I have committed to seven different events between August and November. Here is a partial list of my fall schedule with a few events I’ve yet to announce. This is more speaking than I’ve ever done in that span of time. I didn’t start out speaking very much. It has grown over time, as it fits with my family and our season of life.

With John being home now and my next book releasing, we figured this is a good time to commit to say yes to more events than usual. Maybe we’ll never do it that way again, I don’t know.

Don’t let your fear of speaking keep you from writing. Go in with your eyes open, but don’t let it paralyze you. Write what you feel called to write and don’t worry yet about all that might come along with it.

There are many more things I could share here, but for now I’ll stop at four. If you are interested in learning more about publishing, might I suggest the Re:Write conference in Austin? My agent Esther Fedorkevich started this conference to connect writers with people, resources, and knowledge to help grow their careers.

That's me with Esther and my sister, The Nester. Esther represents both of us - she's the best in the business!
Me with Esther (left) and my sister. Esther represents both of us – she’s a genius at what she does.

I’m excited to join her in Austin in October. If you register for Re:Write, you can use this promo code for $100 off your ticket: FREEMAN2013. Space is limited to 150 to keep the setting intimate. And if you attend the conference using this promo code, you’ll receive an invitation to a small gathering just for us while we’re there.

If you are interested in learning more about my own personal publishing story, I recently shared it with Tsh on the Simple Mom podcast. I’m no expert, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned along the way.


    • says


      Yes – number 4 was for you even though I wrote it before our conversation. But it’s a common fear, I think, for people who want to publish their books.

      Here’s to not throwing up!

  1. says

    Thank you for this, Emily. I love the lack of hype, and the sweetness about this post. This post and these words don’t overwhelm me or make me feel small and silly for wanting to write a book.

    • says

      I’m so glad, Cara. I know everyone doesn’t write to be published, but for those who are interested in that, these are some things that have been helpful for me to remember. I’m glad to know they are helpful for you as well.

  2. says

    Number two speaks to me so much. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach when it comes to how long it will take me to write, as if I can create masterpieces in super choppy, timed moments. I never can. I’d be so interested to hear some day about how you have developed more discipline and rhythm as a writer. Thank you for this!

  3. says

    This post is gold. And yes, it’s exactly what I wanted to know. {Do you even know how important I feel right now, having you write a post “for me?”} : ) My husband and I are still navigating through the whole using my name in my blog thing so I love that you provide some examples of this.

  4. says

    Thank you for this incredibly helpful post! Although I just finished my first book, I found your words so affirming to what I experienced while writing. The airplane/helicopter reference was brilliant! It makes so much sense! I also love the insight you brought up about not having your name in the blog title. I am glad to know you feel that there are ways around that. What a great suggestion to have a website with your name that directs readers to “Chatting at the Sky.” I am so grateful that you took time to share your perspective! I am going to look at your schedule to see if you are going to be anywhere near me. It would be a treat to see you speak your wisdom!

  5. says

    Ah Emily – Austin is only about 45 minutes from my house. It is so tempting – but I can’t ever think of myself as a “real” writer or my little (unfinished) book anything that is worthy of publishing. It will be fun to think of you so close by!

  6. says

    Sweet Emily. One of my sweetest memories of She Speaks this year was getting the opportunity to talk to you! Were these the last few notes you were going to add to the talk or are those yet to come??

    This post is awesome. So freeing! Let me ask you this… how on earth do you continue to write effective blog posts while writing a book!?? I need a clone of myself to do both! :)

  7. says

    So good. Just what I needed to read tonight. I am *almost* ready to submit my first author/illustrator picture book to an agent. Perfection is holding me back. Tonight I’m thinking — maybe it’s 11:30 and time to let it be what it is, right this moment.

  8. Ginger says

    “Write what you feel called to write and don’t worry yet about all that might come along with it.”

    Needed this! I keep feeling the tug to write, and recently started delving a bit more. All the “what-ifs”, “why-me’s”, and “then-what’s” have been streaming through my thoughts. LOVED this post.

  9. says

    “Don’t let your fear of speaking keep you from writing. Go in with your eyes open, but don’t let it paralyze you. Write what you feel called to write and don’t worry yet about all that might come along with it.” Oh, Emily, you really do know, don’t you? I stall because of this very thing. Thank you for saying it. It helps : )

  10. says

    I relate most to your airplane analogy. For me, writing is never efficient. I got my editorial letter for my next novel a week and a half ago, and the approach I’m taking to do my work probably isn’t logical. It certainly isn’t convenient or the most time efficient. But it’s the best way for me to truly unearth the story, discover my characters, and learn more deeply how to write (because this I’ll never fully wrestle to the ground).

  11. says

    These tips are great! I especially feel you on number 2. That’s a great analogy. I always need room for take off and landing when I’m working on my book. It’s like running a marathon, rather than a sprint. I totally get it.

    Btw, I’m going to Re:Write as well! I’ve already purchased my ticket but would love to say hi while I’m there.

  12. says

    It was wonderful to meet you face to face at She Speaks… and you are actually a FABULOUS speaker! I really enjoyed your workshop and what you had to say. Very sincere and helpful. Those are the two things I value in a speaker! We are on the same wagon this year, as I’ll be at Re-Write also. It was my first writer’s conf. last year and I loved it. Keep up the amazing work – you are making a difference!

  13. says

    I love this post. Such great wisdom, given so freely. I love how you share from your experience. I love #1. I appreciate #3 for the opposite reason – we named our blog with our family name before I knew strangers would write blogs for people unrelated to them… I tried to start a new blog without our name and I could never find my voice there. I’m not writing a book (yet?) but I do love your words here for all of us that write.

  14. says

    Numbers 3 and 4 are such an encouragement! Thanks for sharing these!

    I stopped by SheSpeaks this weekend to see Holley Gerth. I wish I would have run into you while I was there! Hopefully @ Allume!

  15. Amy Petersen says

    in the next month (once the kids bustle onto school), i’ll be pushing off from the safe shore and voyaging into such unknown waters of the great writing adventure. each point resonated (esp #3) and answered a question bouncing within my heart. thank you for going before and turning to share and encourage as i’m coming along…

  16. Vicki Scheib says

    Emily, I’m in the midst of writing my own first book proposal and these are very helpful tips! Thanks for posting them. And, thank you for leading the way. :-)

  17. says

    So sad I didn’t get to come to She Speaks this year because this year I decided that I would “wave my hands like I just don’t care” and speak to you and {even} hug your neck. I have your talk from 2012 on my Iphone and it is one of my faves to listen to while I run. It is both inspiring and calm all at the same time. It makes me want to write and yet, makes me want to truly live.
    Thank you, Emily, for the gift you are to all of us.

  18. says

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. #1 and #2 really spoke a lot to me as I am attempting to write a deeply personal testimony into a book. I enjoy your blog!! :)

  19. says

    Thank you Emily for the great information. I have a desire to write and time seems to be my worst enemy in this endeavor. Your tips are really helpful for me and has given me a step in a new direction. Point 1 and 2 were especially helpful. I can talk anyone ears off who if willing to listen so getting up in front of people isn’t hard, unless I’m standing next to my pastor on stage in front of 1200 people and then suddenly my tongue gets tied up for some reason. I have also been thinking about changing my blog to my name so those points were good too. Thanks so much!

  20. Ac says

    So you’re saying it’s okay that since having children I don’t like flying and prefer to be at home? I’ve been thinking I needed to work harder to “buck up” and get over it. Maybe it’s okay that I’ve changed. :-)

  21. says

    The helicopter vs. airplane concept is fascinating! I knew I didn’t have time to write a book at this point in my life, but that confirms it. :)

    And I loved your thoughts about using your name on your blog. I just wrote a post on personal branding over at the Allume blog, and I can’t believe I missed seeing this post and quoting you there. Looking forward to sharing this post. Thank you!

  22. says

    Thanks yet again, Emily, for a beautifully written yet informative post. I started blogging 18 mths ago for the same reason as you – simply to write, to let my until recently unrealised passion to write start to blossom. I’d love to do more with it, and many people have told me I should (writing in parenting mags for ex), but don’t know how to even start finding people who’ll publish articles and I most certainly know I’m way off a book just yet. I’d simply love to come to something like Re:Write but living 20 miles north of central London kinda prohibits that :-). If you know of anything similar in UK (by Christians or not) let me know! PS I simply love your blog. You ooze grace, beauty and truth and serve it up into a lovely healthy but tasty offering (now there’s a quote you can use!) S

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