Five lessons I learned by writing a book

Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty - Book CoverIn case you missed the news – on Friday I released my first book. Here’s what I learnt from writing a book:

1. Write what you know – it’s easier that way. 

That’s what all the best writing experts will tell you: write what you know. And I know the book of Ruth.
I was surprised by how quickly this came together in comparison with my still-slogging ME book, but I shouldn’t have been. Though I know my own story, I am still discovering more about the science of ME, and science was never my strong point. But the story of Ruth and I? – we go way back.
My love affair with the book of Ruth started with a Bible Study as a teenager in my youth leader’s apartment. For the third chapter, where Ruth meets Boaz on the threshing floor, we split into boys and girls’ groups: the boys talked about how they would have felt as Boaz, we girls talked about how we would have felt as Ruth, and then we compared notes at the end. I remember that the room was a narrow lounge-diner, and we were happily squashed up on the sofas and sprawled on big cushions on the floor.
I was sixteen, and an eternal romantic – I fell in love with the love story, the gentlemanly and godly attitude of Boaz (a good Christian girl’s ultimate crush). I remember laughing (internally, not aloud) at the discovery that someone who refused to be a kinsman-redeemer would remove his sandal and become known as the ‘unsandalled’. More than that, that Bible study planted a seed, a whisper, that God could bring hope, love and restoration in lives that had previously seemed empty. I treasured it up in my heart.

2. The first draft is always the worst thing you’ve ever read.
I discovered the gut-wrenching experience of looking back at writing you previously thought was pretty good, only to discover that it is a round brown turd of words, good for only throwing in the bin. Every writer talks about this, but I honestly thought my first draft would be the exception. (I’m very happy with the final draft, but there’s always the possibility that in five years’ time I’ll feel that same ‘oh no! did I really write this?? – it’s terrible.” anguish. Cue dramatic sigh: Ah, me! Alas! it’s so hard to be a writer…)
3. The only thing that will get you through the editing process is a deadline.
I had set myself a deadline, and – honestly – if it hadn’t been for that deadline I would have just thrown the whole thing into the bin, relieved that it had never seen the light of day. The whole experience transported me back into that frantic anxiety and strange exhilaration of exams and dissertation deadlines. As a perfectionist, it is often the way I can do things: I trick myself into doing the impossible task, because I know I have to do it by a certain time. I will remember this for the future – the tyranny of the deadline is actually a writer’s friend.
4. It really, really helps to have someone on hand who is a good artist, designer, computer genius and mailchimp expert.
There’s no way I would have been able to do this whole self-publishing lark if it weren’t for Jon. We discovered that Scrivener, although wonderful for drafting, is counter-intuitive and frustratingly limited in the production stages, and each heading font had to be changed individually, each line space adjusted without being able to see the full layout. The front cover is designed by Jon (who worked as a web designer many moons ago), and features a detail of one of Jon’s paintings, Patchwork Sea.
5. Like life, writing a book is hard, but good.
In the middle of all this book-madness, I had a teacher-friend round for a chat. My eyelids were aching from holding themselves open, staring intensely without blinking, as though to prove how wide-awake I was. (My ME was actually not too bad; though my walking is still a bit dodgy, my concentration levels had picked up significantly since the relapse.) It wasn’t so much ME-tired as your common garden variety working-your-brain-till-it-pops-tired, and we had the following conversation.

Her:…YES! You’re so right. That’s it in a nutshell: life is HARD, but life is GOOD.
Me (eyes wide open with this amazing discovery): Oh my GOODNESS. That is the height of profundity. Let’s just pause: I feel like we’re experiencing a moment of ELECTRIC POETRY. I really do.
Her: Yes! It’s like we’ve discovered this NUTMEG OF TRUTH. Nutmeg… Not nutmeg – that’s that spice you grate…
Me: I TOTALLY know what you mean. Golden nugget. Of truth. Life is HARD, and GOOD.
Her: Nugget!
Me: Mmmm.. chicken nuggets.

(It may be necessary to clarify that there was no alcohol, drugs or dodgy-looking fughi involved in our conversation, it was all the Power Of Exhaustion – I can recommend it for moments of revelation).
Life is hard, and life is good. Writing a book is hard, and writing a book is also very, very good. Though this is a short, read-it-in-half-an-hour book, it gives me confidence for the longer projects. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. (But perhaps when my eyes are not so bloodshot…)
Thank you all for being part of this crazy journey.
Some FAQs on Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty

  • How do I get the book? You can get the ebook by signing up to my newsletter by email (see boxes top right or bottom of the page).
  • What if I already receive your blog posts by email? You don’t have to sign up: you should already have an email from me (entitled ‘Super secret project’ with the links in it). Check your junk mail folder if you can’t see it.
  • What is the advantage of signing up to the newsletter? You’ll receive exclusive news of future book projects and any offers ahead of everyone else, as well as personal updates from me.
  • What will happen if I put my email in the sign-up box? Will I have to pay for anything? You won’t have to pay for anything. When you put your email in, you will get an email asking you to confirm your sign up. When you click on that, you’ll get another email welcoming you to the list, with two buttons to click – either the Kindle version or PDF.
  • I don’t have a Kindle or an e-reader, can I read it?  Yes – click on the PDF version, and you can read it on a computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • How do I get the book onto my Kindle? Check your settings: you have a Kindle email. Email the .mobi (Kindle) file to this email address, making sure that you’ve marked the email address you’ve sent it from as a whitelisted address. You should be able to find out more in or
  • Will it be available in print? Yes – it will go up on Amazon sometime next week [watch this space], and will cost c. £3.99.
  • Will it be available in the US? Yes – look out for it on sometime next week. I will announce it!
  • How long is the book? it’s about 40 pages, the length of a Kindle Single, read-it-in-half-an-hour short book.
  • For how long will it be available free of charge when you subscribe to a newsletter at Thorns and Gold? I haven’t got a definite timeframe, but certainly for the next two months.

[tweetit]“The tyranny of the deadline is actually a writer’s friend.” 5 lessons I learned by writing a book– @Tanya_Marlow:[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”Trick yourself into doing the impossible task” – and other tips for writing your first book – @Tanya_Marlow:[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”Life is hard, but good” – and other ‘nutmegs of truth’ discovered whilst writing a book – @Tanya_Marlow:[/tweetit]
Over to you: 

  • What things have you learnt from writing?
  • What crazy things have you said when extremely tired??




18 Responses to Five lessons I learned by writing a book

  1. Stephanie 21st January, 2015 at 11:11 pm #

    Congratulations on the book, Tanya – it’s wonderful! And I adore the fact that Jon did the cover art. Perfection.

    • Tanya 28th January, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

      YAY! Thanks so much for celebrating with me. This makes me happy. 🙂

  2. Emily McFarlan Miller 21st January, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I would say most of the time when I go back and read an article I wrote, like, five years ago, I’m actually like, I wrote that? That’s GOOD.

    Congratulations on the book!

    • Tanya 28th January, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

      Ha! Maybe that just happens to you, because you ARE good…?? It’s funny, I think there are two types of reactions to past work, ‘i can’t believe i wrote that’ (as in, urgh), and ‘i can’t believe I wrote that’ (as in, wow).

      Thanks so much for cheering with me for my new book.

  3. Rebecka 21st January, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

    I am still very impressed that you managed to write a book at all! I still haven’t managed to read it, perhaps I should give myself a deadline? 😉

    I say crazy things all the time, but I think my favourite has to be when I said “feed the penguins” when I actually meant “look at the flowers”. What’s really impressive is that my mother understood what I meant!

    • Tanya 28th January, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

      Ha! I laughed when you said about the deadline!
      I’m also quite impressed I managed to write a book. It helped that it was already half-written, and that I knew the book of Ruth so well. And that it was SHORT! I think short books are the way forward: easier for the writer, easier for the reader. Everyone’s a winner.

      ‘feed the penguins’ for ‘look at the flowers’ is some serious craziness, right there. Is that ME-produced craziness, or is that all you? (And it is impressive your mother knew what you meant!)

      • Rebecka 28th January, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

        I think it’s the ME, but it’s difficult to tell because I was crazy before too! 😉

  4. Nicola 21st January, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

    I have only recently arrived at your blog, but look forward to reading your book! Well done 🙂

    • Tanya 28th January, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

      Nicola – it’s lovely to see you! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I really hope you enjoy my book – please let me know what you think when you’re done.

  5. Miah 21st January, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

    Congratulations Tanya!!! It’s so encouraging to hear your story 🙂

    • Tanya 28th January, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

      Thanks so much, Miah! I’m cheering you on, too!

  6. lulu 21st January, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    Thats great Tanya I’m so happy and excited for you ( and I don’t get excited or happy about many things)! It made me smile when I saw it this morning. Are you sure no narcotics were being used in that conversation you had with your friend or that you didn’t just dream it?

    • Tanya 28th January, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

      Thanks for being happy for me, Lulu!
      (And I’m really glad to have made you happy about something – that’s kinda cool)
      And HA! with the narcotics. Honest, guv, it’s all my crazy mind. It did feel a bit dreamlike, but my husband wryly assured me that it was very real, as I had buzzed into his study and told him all about it.

      • lulu 28th January, 2015 at 11:16 pm #

        I’m glad it made you happy to make me happy Tanya!

  7. Pam Smith 21st January, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    Well done Tanya. I had to lean very heavily on what I’d think at other times were platitudes to get my book done! And you are absolutely right about the deadline. I’d still be tinkering about with it trying to get it perfect if I hadn’t forced myself to finish when I’d said I would!

    • Tanya 28th January, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

      Thank you, lovely Pam – ‘what I’d think at other times were platitudes’ – YES. So true. When you’re drowning, you’ll cling onto anything, right? I’m congratulating you right back – it’s only now that I’m beginning to appreciate just how hard it is to write a book.

  8. James Taylor 21st January, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    Hi Tanya,
    Thank you for this thought –

    “As a perfectionist, it is often the way I can do things: I trick myself into doing the impossible task, because I know I have to do it by a certain time. I will remember this for the future – the tyranny of the deadline is actually a writer’s friend.”

    Having just done this to myself (and it has not been pleasant) in order to tackle a much smaller project, it is _encouraging_ to think that someone else has to do the same in order to make progress.

    Best wishes,


    • Tanya 28th January, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

      Hi James – lovely to see you on here! I’m so glad that resonated with you – thanks for letting me know. Perfectionists: unite!

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