Get a free video course on Writing and Mindset Click hereJoin my author mailing list

I need help!

I want to write a book but

We all need help

We all need help sometimes, especially if we’re new at something. The trouble is, if we’re beginners, it might also be difficult to work out where to go for help. For that particular thing – writing a book in this case – you’re also a ‘seeking help’ beginner. What’s more, it follows that you may not know which questions to ask.

I was like this when I left my full-time Creative Writing lecturing job in 2017 and started to learn about running a freelance business. After all, making a living from writing and a writing-related portfolio of tutoring and editing (what I’m doing now) is a kind of freelance business. Some people are suspicious of this idea – because it involves treating your writing as a ‘product’ to be bought and sold – but why not treat writing like any other kind of job? So I set about learning business skills and at first it was hard to know where to get help and what questions to ask.

How have you got help before?

If you’re serious about getting help with your book, then it’s useful to ask yourself how you’ve got help before – for something you’re now familiar with. When you had X challenge / dilemma or when you were a beginner at X skill / interest, what was helpful and what wasn’t? Here are some of the things that have helped me over the last five years as I learnt the basics of freelancing:

  • Reading about it
  • Going to the library (incl. specialist libraries)
  • Watching videos
  • Meeting like-minded people (in person and on social)
  • Meeting freelancers in other niches (ditto)
  • Finding out how other writers did it
  • Joining a community
  • Coaching
  • Attending a conference and a couple of training days
  • Enrolling in a couple of specific online courses
  • Learning seemingly tangential things, like how to get better at managing my website

Talking of tangents, I read a fascinating article in the New Scientist years ago about the placebo effect, that talked about how some painkillers only work in tandem with the placebo effect and vice versa. I won’t continue on that tangential path (!) but it is curious that they only worked in combination. Interestingly, some of the above forms of ‘help’ only worked in combination with one another too.

Reading about it – I tend to start with this one – worked but only in tandem with meeting others who were doing it. Of course, I had to practise (often trying things out and getting them wrong) as well.

Help-seeking behaviours

We can draw at least three more conclusions from an analysis of ‘ways to seek help’. We default to particular kinds of help-seeking. (Mine would be getting a book on the subject.) Some forms of help are good for working out which questions to ask, or providing tacit knowledge. Also interesting, when you think about it, is the fact that some of these forms of help were only right for me under certain conditions. So in sum:

  1. Some forms of help only work in tandem with others.
  2. I had to do it (and get it wrong) at the same time.
  3. We default to particular kinds of help-seeking.
  4. Some forms of help are good for working out the questions.
  5. Some forms of help are only right some of the time, in some contexts, or to a certain extent.

Getting help with my writing

I’ve also got help and support with my writing life of course, but this time we’re talking a life-time of help rather than a few years, because I started writing when I was around 7 or 8, probably as a way of hiding a way from the world but that’s another story. Here are the various ways I’ve tried to get writing-related support:

  • Reading about it (again, I started with this one)
  • Going to the library (incl. specialist libraries)
  • Watching videos
  • Meeting like-minded people (in person and on social)
  • Meeting other writers
  • Finding out how other writers did it
  • Attending literary events like festivals, readings, masterclasses etc.
  • Joining an online community
  • Being part of a writing group
  • Coaching
  • Attending conferences and training
  • Doing an MA
  • Enrolling in residential courses
  • Going on retreats
  • Learning seemingly tangential things, like how to sleep and eat better

This list is very similar to the first one. And as before, I had to practise at the same time, some of these only worked in tandem with others, I gathered tacit knowledge as I went, working out what questions to ask, and some forms of help were only right for me some of the time or were good for certain kinds help, disastrous for others. For example, going to a masterclass is terrible for finding out what questions to ask, being part of a writing group is fantastic for moral support, retreats were great when I had a project to work on.

Writing a book isn’t a solo endeavour

It turns out that writing a book isn’t a solo endeavour after all. While only you can turn up and write, there are lots of forms of support available when you need it. So how do you work out what help you need and what questions to ask? Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Start with the cheapest, lowest commitment option and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, don’t assume that ‘all writing advice is bad’ or that the option you chose will never work.
  2. Find other writers – some at your stage on the journey, some a little further ahead than you, some who have established careers as writers. Go to events and festivals, find them online, join a writing group.
  3. Ask specific questions to work out what you need.

The promotional bit

I’ve written a book for beginner writers. You can find out more here. If you want help from a low commitment self-paced online course, I have several available. I also do editorial work and mentoring. I post links to my courses and other services on my ‘work with me’ page. I also have a range of free courses for writers who are just starting out.

Good luck finding the help you need. More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. Here’s a list of all the posts in the ‘I want to write a book but’ series.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.