Sunday, December 5, 2010

How to Write a Book

"When I want to read a good book, I write one."
            Benjamin Disraeli, Two term Prime Minister of England, circa 1874

     Who hasn't entertained the idea of writing a book?  But then, vitrually everyone talks themself out of it: It takes too long.  No one cares.  Who reads books anymore, anyway?
     My message to anyone perched on the horns of this dilemma is: Quit thinking about it so much and get busy.  It's easier than ever to write and edit a book and in truth, there is more room for niche literature in today's marketplace than ever before in history.  It is also easier to get published than ever before.  Heck you can do it yourself.  Publishing is the easy part.  You just have to spend money, as in $500-$1000, depending on how fancy you want to get. Granted, this is for what is called a "vanity press" but that moniker may be a bit simplistic.  You get more than a copy of your own book to hold in your hands.  You get a foot in the door on distribution.  After that, it really beomes a question of how willing you are to agressively promote your own work once it is published
     But first, you have write the dang thing, and that is such a daunting challenge that my first item of advice is not to think about the difficulty and the time commitment involved. Just make an outline of where you want to go with it, then start plugging away.  Get yourself one of those mini laptops called netbooks and take it where ever you go.  When you have idle time, get a little wiritng done. I do a lot of writing while I am waiting for my kid at basketball practice. Nothing good on TV?   Can't sleep?  Don't just surf the internet. Write.    
     You will burn out on it at various times. Fine. Take a break.  Back up your files on a thumb drive. The best way to back up your work is to attrach it to an e-mail and send it to yourself.  It is now stored safely on the web, and you can open it on anyone's computer and work on it.  Keep a few chapters on your machine at work.  Write on your lunch hour instead of going out to eat. Skip a few TV shows and write instead.
     Pretty soon you will have developed a bit of a habit that will actually feel therapeutic and even relaxing.  You will have ideas about what to write at random monents in your day. For me this happens most while walking, driving, or mowing the lawn (I have a big lawn.)
      . Meanwhile, you spouse or child will have appropriated you little laptop and you will have to get another one. Hey, no problem.  They only cost a couple hundred bucks these days.  I recommend the Esus line of laptops. Thee most important feature  that they offer is long battery life, like eight or ten hours to a charge. This is huge.  Also, buy the expanded memory card that upgrades it to 2gb of memory.  That really speeds up the operation of the machine. Throw down for Windows Office 7 or another up-to-date word processing program so your work can be formatted easily when you are ready to publish.  Now you're set with all the support and technology you need.  Maybe one more thing: a comfortable chair.
      There is just no way to describe the simplicity with which one can write on a modern laptop campared to the way writers of yore had to bang it all out on reams of typing paper fed into an Underwood typewriter. Still worse was the Heming-way: by hand on yellow legal pads that some typist hadto transcribe. By comparison, Improvements and corrections to your writing are so easy on computers that modern writing and editing would be viewed as cheating by yersterday's master wordsmiths.
       Once you have your laptop, then you have to answer one central question:  "What do you want to say?"
In round numbers, a book is 100,000 words. That's a lot to say, so your idea for a book has to be somewhat involved.  If your idea is not so well developed, then you end up with an article, not a book.  Fine. That's even easier to publish.  Get a blog, or contribute to someone elses. But a book is in a whole different league.  It is such a lengthy process to undertake that, like I said, you are better off not thinking about it too much.  Just get busy and start chipping away at your idea.

Fiction or Non Fiction?
      Your call, but I my limited experience, I will offer that you might want to try non-fiction at first, because fiction is waaaay tougher to write.  You have to develop some characters, develop a plot, and get all of that written down.  That last sentence right there took me over two years to accomplish.  The non-fiction work I did previously (see photo up top) was somewhat easier to do, but that still kept me out of the bars for eighteen months, and that's a good thing.  Maybe I'm just a non-fiction kinda guy, but writing fiction too much more effort and even some coaching from folks more knowledgeable than I.  After tryingto do it, I was humbled by the skill that is manifest in the writing of even mediocre fiction writers.
     That observation brings me to my first big secret: The key to writing competently in either the fiction or non-fiction genre is to read other people's stuff, especially the stuff of talented authors.  Your mind will automatically assimilate the skillful choice of words, the flow, and style as you read marvelous writing. By doing so,  your own style will evlove and improve.  And here is another strange but very useful clue that was given to me by author and writing teacher Kirk Sigurdsen: Read poetry!
     "Why?" you ask.
     Because the economy of words and rarefied thought and feeling that is manifest in good poetry will further
hone you emerging writing style much more than you realize. Don't take my word for it.  Ask other writers you know.  They will agree, and they will also be impressed that you care about such subtleties, and they will likely offer you much more useful advice.  They may even take an interest in your literary direction and provide ongoing encouragement, which you will probably need.
     Books are written on how to write, so there is much much more to say than will fit on a blog post, but for now, keep these few ideas in the forefront of your motivation:
*Don't get discouraged. Remind yourself that it's easier than ever to get your writing published. There's also more niche markets than ever before.
*It will take a long time.  Don't think about that. Just be patient and keep plugging away.
*When they hear you are writing a book, some people may feel threatened enough by your bold undertaking that they try to deter you, even ridicule you.  They may express doubt about your ability to complete the project and be skeptical of it's ultimate artistic value.
     Like everywhere else in life, you must rise above the naysayers. This is the cross that the writer shares with artists in every medium. Hiding your literary art from scrutiny before it is finished is not the solutuon. You need criticism of the helpful kind. Your challenge is glean useful, constructive criticism while remaining unswayed by those who would have you believe you cannot succeed.
    Every human being would be mentally strengthened by  passing their intellect and their ego through the ringer of  authorship. Your grasp of the subtleties of talented wiritng and literature will be heightened like never before.  You will read literature more perceptively.  You will have more respect for good wiritng when you see it,  and you will face future challenges in your own life more courageously.  Once you've written a book, the thought of taking on other huge projects will never scare you again.


  1. Thank you for the advice Thom. I've toyed around with a couple of fiction manuscripts for a few years now. This post of yours is both helpful and motivational. :)

  2. I was hopping for you to expound on the other possibilities for how the Bigfoot travelled 100 miles in 2 hours without being spotted in transit, i.e. high speed invisible orbs, floating invisible hominids in a higher dimension, invisible clouds, etc. The possibility of telepathically communicating the exact rhythm of your nights wood knocking effort, to third party bigfoot already in place in your neighborhood, seems unlikely.

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