The Ups and Downs of Writing My First Book

I’ve written a book.

That’s difficult for me to say. I feel an urge to diminish it. To say, it’s not a real book. It’s just about packing. It’s not a novel or memoir. It’s just self-published. Which is ridiculous because I read plenty of self-published non-fiction books that I consider “real” books. I don’t even want to write a novel or publish traditionally.

I’m working on owning it. It’s something I created. It was a challenge. And it’s useful to people. So, I’ve written a book.

I almost didn’t write it.

I first had the idea four years ago—I even planned out the contents. I chose packing light as my subject because our packing posts have been our most popular since we started this blog. Travellers often struggle with overpacking, and our readers love hearing how we manage to travel full-time with just a carry-on backpack each. It’s something I have a lot of experience with, and I knew I could help people lighten their luggage.

But then I talked myself out of it. It seemed like a trivial thing to write about—who writes a book about packing? So I put it in my virtual drawer and stopped working on it. It was always in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t commit to it, to convince myself it was a good idea.

Then, other people began to write books about how to travel carry-on only. This could have put the final nail in my book’s coffin, but it made me realise that I did want to write this book. And that I had something to offer. I wanted to write the ultimate guide to packing light that would include all my tips and answer every possible question. I write long, detailed blog posts, and my book would be an extension of that.

Of course, I procrastinated some more.

For a few years, I struggled with a lack of purpose. Travel and writing on the blog had become part of my normal life, and I felt that I needed to try something new. But I put so much pressure on myself—the new challenge had to be a big, ambitious goal, something I’d always wanted to do with my life, a real purpose. I couldn’t think of anything. The truth was that travel was what I always wanted to do with my life, and I was doing it.

After much agonising, I realised that it didn’t matter what I did. It didn’t have to be grandiose. It just needed to be something I was vaguely interested in trying. Doing something is better than nothing. Why the hell not just try it?

Erin writing at Lake Atitlan, GuatemalaSo, at the end of 2014, while living in a casita overlooking Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, I began writing my book. I bashed out the first draft of 50,000 words in a month.

Of course, it was a shitty first draft. The only way I could keep going, to quiet the negative voices, was to follow Anne Lamott’s advice about just getting words down on the page without overthinking it. As she says:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

My draft was a long way from being publishable, but it gave me the confidence and momentum to continue. And it felt so good to have finally started. The pain of procrastination is worse than the pain of writing.

We moved on to Mexico, and my next stage was research. I hadn’t wanted to get lost in this before I had my own thoughts down, but I did want to find out what gear other travellers recommended so that the book would go beyond just our experiences. I spent nearly two months researching and incorporating advice from other carry-on travellers, including adding an interviews section.

It felt satisfying to have a project, to finally be trying something new. I still had moments of doubt, and I was nervous when I announced I was writing the book to our newsletter readers. But the response was so positive that I felt inspired to continue. The announcement made it real, and I knew I would finish it.

But then we began to travel—to Disney World, visiting family in the US and the UK, Finland, Italy, a sailing trip, Paris, Amsterdam. We were moving around so much, and I had so much to write about on the blog that I didn’t have time to work on the book. I ended up taking six months off (although we were gear testing during this time). My goal of a summer publish date didn’t happen, but it did give me time away from the manuscript. When we finally settled in Bali, I was able to start editing the second draft with fresh eyes.

Sadly, those eyes told me it was a giant mess, tedious and terribly written. Was it pointless to continue? But I’d come so far, so I plugged away, rewriting and reorganising. The second draft took about a month and focused on content. The third draft took another few weeks and polished the language.

Digital nomad office, Ubud, Bali

My office in Bali

Finally, nearly a year after I started, I was ready to show it to the world. I started with Simon, and then sent it out to two sets of beta readers for feedback, with edits in between.

This was by far the hardest part of writing the book. Getting started was difficult (three years of painful procrastination!). Figuring out book formatting was frustrating. Learning more about grammar and punctuation was confusing. But none of this compared to how vulnerable you feel when you send something out into the world that you’ve worked so hard on. I was inviting criticism, of course. I wanted to make the book better. And the majority of the comments I received included useful suggestions for improvement but were overall positive. I was genuinely helping people to pack lighter.

But some of the comments. Ouch. A few people hated the book. They almost seemed to take it as a personal attack. Who knew packing could be such a controversial topic?

Those comments hit hard. Their voices echoed in my head, reinforcing my own demons. I wanted to give up. But I knew that was ridiculous after so much work. All I could do was keep moving forward. Time and work help ease the pain.

After editing my book so many times I couldn’t bear it any more, I sent it to a proofreader. A final polish and it was done!

The Carry-On Traveller book coverIn the last month, I have focused on getting the cover designed, and the worst part of all—marketing. Writing the book felt so much easier than trying to get people to read it. I know logically that there’s nothing wrong with marketing—it’s just telling people about something they might find useful—but I can’t help feeling icky when I’m doing it.

That said, I had such an encouraging response from the bloggers I sent early versions of the book to, that I began to feel better about it. I filled all the slots in my virtual book tour for the launch with interviews, guests posts, and reviews on a variety of sites.

The Carry-On Traveller launches next Monday. I’m excited, terrified, exhausted. I’m sure the best and the worst of the book writing process are yet to come. There will be more ups and more downs.

But as the wise Brene Brown said on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast:

“I don’t leap for the landing. I leap for the experience through the air. Because you can not predict the landing.”

I have no idea what will happen when my book launches, but I’m so glad I finally took the leap. I learnt so much in the air.

Recommended Resources for Writing a Book

Tools

  • Scrivener – A powerful tool that allowed me to organise all my research and writing in one place, rearrange chapters, set word count goals, and format fairly easily for the Kindle. It’s a must if you are writing a book. There’s a generous free trial for 30 non-consecutive days.
  • Grammarly – The Premium version helped me find grammar and punctuation mistakes. I now use the Chrome extension, so it automatically corrects everything I write on the web. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great option if you can’t afford an editor.
  • Chicago Manual of Style – I used the free trial of this online style guide during my editing.
  • 99 Designs – We ran a seven-day contest where designers submitted over 100 potential book cover designs. We love the winning design and it only cost $299.
  • Upwork – I hired a proofreader on here (based on a friend’s recommendation). Mary was thorough and excellent value.
  • SurveyMonkey – I used this to ask our readers which book title they liked the best. The results were surprising.

Blog Posts

Books

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – If you are feeling creatively stuck, I highly recommend this inspiring book and companion Magic Lessons podcast.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – A fun and helpful guide to the practical and emotional aspects of writing. Embracing shitty first drafts was a game changer for me.
  • On Writing by Stephen King – Part memoir, part writing masterclass with lots of excellent tips.
  • The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield – How to overcome the resistance and fear that stop us creating.
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr – A classic style manual.
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser – A non-fiction writing guide.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss – A humorous guide to punctuation.
  • Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran – Practical advice for self-publishing.
  • Write, Publish, Repeat by Platt & Truant – These self-published authors explain how they achieved their success. Although it’s more focused on fiction writing, I still learnt a lot.

Update: The Carry-On Traveller is now available! You can buy it for the Kindle on Amazon US, Amazon UK, or your local Amazon store.

Do you struggle with packing? Save 84% on my book The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light this week only. Buy it now on Amazon Kindle for just $0.99.

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20 thoughts on The Ups and Downs of Writing My First Book

    • It was only a couple of people out of 30-40 people, so it wasn’t too bad really. I think some people are just opposed to the idea of packing light and took the book as a judgement on them.

  1. Hi Erin. It sounds like a lot of your readers tend to overthink their writing, and I certainly fall into that category. I procrastinate because of the “what if” fears in the process and the worries of what else I should be doing with my time. Oddly, I don’t have those hang ups when I am traveling, only when I want to tell stories about my experiences. Your sharing of your writing journey is really helpful for moving past the binds of perfectionism. Thanks for sharing!

  2. The two of you are impressive. My wife and I are about 20 years older than the two of you, and have yet to make the jump abroad, but we find your work very useful.

  3. Congratulations Erin! I bought your book as soon as I got your email! I have been following your blog for awhile. Your whole experience of writing your ebook resonated with me so much. I am 73 years old and have lived a house-sitting lifestyle for nearly ten years. I, too, thought about writing about that lifestyle (and at that time nobody else had written anything!) but procrastinated for five years until my younger daughter kept on at me to finish it! If it hadn’t been for her editing it and making suggestions and then putting the whole thing into the right format for an ebook (what a lot of work for her!) it wouldn’t have made it. Anyway, there it is on Amazon as “Secrets of Happy Housesitting” for $2.99 and I am done. Like you, I only really wanted to help people understand the wonderful options that were out there in these changing times and I hope it has helped others. By the time I published, there were many other books on the same subject! Your book is wonderful, with lots of amazingly helpful suggestions and resources that I will definitely use for my travels.. I will write a review on Amazon also. Several of my house sitting hosts wrote lovely reviews for mine! Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and enjoy the residual income it brings. Every little (and big) helps, right? Seth Godin would be proud of you beating The Dip!

    • Thank you, Sandra. I’m so glad you finally wrote your book too – we never regret the things we do, just the things we don’t! Good luck with it.

  4. Pingback: The ultimate guide to stress-free packing that also saves you money | My GTD System

  5. We travelled with just carry on luggage for the first time last year, it was so liberating! I have been looking forward to your book to find out how to travel this way in cold weather. I also want to thank you Erin, for this open and honest post it has really resonated with me. I have been procrastinating terribly about starting a travel blog I tend to start writing a post then give up halfway thinking it’s not good enough. It’s all based in fear and that perfectionist thinking you wrote about it’s ludicrous really. I just want to do it for fun as a creative outlet and I’m acting like it’s the most important thing ever posted on the internet!!

    • I’m glad carry-on travel worked out for you Audrey. It’s definitely possible in cold weather and the book does include tips for that. We actually found it easier to pack for Finland than usual, as we wore our bulkiest layers on the plane and didn’t have to take warm weather clothes too.

      I hope you do start your blog! Getting past perfectionism is tough but it’s worth it in the end. I recommend checking out some of these books like Big Magic, Bird by Bird and The War of Art. Good luck!

  6. Looking forward to reading your book Erin. It’s thanks to your blog that my boyfriend and I bought the Osprey Farpoint 40l bags for our year long trip around Latin America (I had wanted to take a HUGE bag). Now in month 11 of the trip and it has been so much easier having a smaller bag. Jumping on buses and sharing taxis without worrying about where the big bags will go. Thank you!

  7. Such an inspiration! I have condensed my belongings from a full house down to a one bedroom apartment which for me is a huge step. As I begin to remove the things around me it opens up the possibilities of travel, perhaps not to the extent that you all have committed to but the possibilities are there. I feel it’s a good challenge to see how much can be removed for a greater, more enriched life. Friends tease me that I pack everything and then some whenever we travel so I can’t wait to read your book and walk away with some (many) tips! I also really appreciate how you continue to keep us up to date on whats working for you and what you have replaced. Thanks!

  8. Congratulations! I am certain it will be great, especially knowing your awesome blog posts…I so love reading them, AND it’s because of you two that hubby and I have pared down our packing in the last year and a half. We even bought Tortuga bags, which we absolutely love. So cheers from Zanzibar, where we’re currently on holiday, and within a year, we expect to say so long to our jobs in education and be permanently on the road like you!

    • Thanks, Amanda. Your kind words mean a lot! And I’m so pleased that you like the Tortuga bags. Have an amazing time on Zanzibar – we’re hoping to visit next year when we finally make it to Africa.

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