Publishing Your First Book: Professional Writers Write Every Day

Late last year I watched a behind-the-scenes interview with Kemp Powers (the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and director) on the making of Pixar’s “Soul”; in one sentence he changed how I approached writing and, in part, inspired me to publish my first book.

Being a professional writer means you have to write even when you don’t want to.

Kemp Powers (screenwriter and director) from Inside pixar (ep. 1)

For most of my life I’ve treated poetry as a hobby and haven’t considered myself a poet. With that single quote, encouragement from a good friend (Kari Byron who txt’ed me late last year with three fateful words “write more poetry”), and writing the best poetry of my life during the early days of the pandemic, I vowed to write every single day (even when I don’t want to) going forward.

My debut book “canvas” (available for pre-order, launching June 15) is a direct result of reframing how I view myself, as a “poet” and a product manager. Publishing my first book has also made me hungry to publish more books in the future. Before 2020 my writing output was sporadic, I believed (incorrectly) that poetry happens when inspiration hits – that you wait for poetry to happen.

Waiting for inspiration, I’ve learned, is upside-down thinking. Interestingly, as a product manager I already knew this. In my day job I’m not sitting at my desk waiting to be inspired, I’m actively pursuing inspiration. Writing is no different. So with Kemp Powers’ quote in mind, and Kari Byron’s charge to “write more poetry”, I started writing every day.

During Christmas while on vacation last year I wouldn’t get out of bed until I’d written some poetry – anything – to check that box. Each night I’d go to sleep with no idea what I’d write about the next morning. Each morning I’d find something, and in the absence of something I’d just play with words and phrases. More often than not a half hour of writing would be discarded; but often enough an idea would emerge and during the Christmas break I created four new poems (a couple are in my new book). If I’d been waiting for inspiration it’s unlikely I would have written anything.

Months later and back at my day job I’m no longer writing each morning and instead finish each day, when the lights are off, with my phone in dark mode, writing when everyone else has fallen asleep. And if I wake up in the middle of the night instead of doom scrolling or reading the news I write. I have a Google Drive warehouse of partially formed ideas waiting to be completed.

The more I write the more I create, the more I write the better I write, and the more I write the more I want to read the poetry of other writers. As I travel through the world I find inspiration in the smallest details, jotting ideas down that I’ll use later during my daily writing time. Like anything that becomes a habit, if I were to miss a day I’d feel incomplete. Writing is still work, crafting a poem that is publish-worthy is hard, but it’s surprised me how much the simple act of writing every day has made me a better writer.

The best advice I can give to an aspiring hobbyist writer is to remember Kemp Powers’ words: “Being a professional writer means you have to write even when you don’t want to.”

“by the ocean” from “canvas” (poetry and photograph copyright James Morehead)

“canvas” by James Morehead is available for pre-order here. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notification of new posts by email.

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