How to Write a Book

My writing desk. If only we had time to write long hand. 

After Red Sand came out, friends and strangers have been asking me, "How did you do it? How did you write an entire book?” With almost 1.8 million book titles on Amazon, I’m hardly unique, but not all of those authors are sharing advice.

I think everyone has a book in them. My only goal with the following information is to inspire you to write a book of your own. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. But first, here are a few tips:

Rule Number One

Write! Seriously! Write that book! It sounds glaringly obvious, but I know from personal experience that this is the hardest part. I've spent hours in front of my computer researching publishers, reading "how to write" books and blogs, dreaming about the storyline and the characters, fantasizing about a life as a rich and famous author, outlining the book, telling friends "I'm writing a book!”, and attending author readings to ask "How did you do it?" Notice that none of those actions actually involve writing. If you are reading this, I’m sure you’re familiar with all of the above.

So what makes Rule Number One useful? 

A. The answer to "How do I write a book?" is in the last three words. 

B. Publishers of fiction will only read a completed manuscript. Until you have that, you've got nothing. Even if you have 99%, you have nothing. You have to finish what you started.

C. Writing is a process of discovery! Once you start writing, you will uncover new plots, new characters, and new ideas. Don't waste time "thinking". Do it! As you write , you'll ask questions. Who is this character? What does he want? Where is he? Why is he there? What will he do? Why? What do the other characters think about that? Why? Who are they? 

Every sentence begs a new question. You won't even know the questions until you start writing. 

Here’s my personal example. Red Sand started as a dream, or a nightmare. Remember the part where Emily is running away from Angel and the creatures get her? In my dream, I was the one running away. That scene remained similar to the original dream (with a few cast changes), but the rest of the book is completely different. When I started writing, the natives on the island were just what you picture when you hear the word “native”. Grass skirt, spear wielding volcano worshipers. I don’t remember the pivot, but I’m sure glad that changed!

2. Build with bricks
Writers seem to think they just need eight hours to sit and write. They fantasize about that scene in Love Actually where the writer retires to a cottage in Portugal to finish his novel in peace (and hooks up with the hot maid). Right. Don't hold your breath. In a high-speed, 24 hour a day world it’s hard to finish lunch, much less read a book, much less write one. So how do you write with only snippets of time? I used these tricks to write Red Sand (and this post):

A. You get a great idea at work. What to do? Type out a paragraph in an email. Mail it to yourself. To your boss, it looks like you're working. Every paragraph should be a new email. Someday, at home, cut and paste from your email into a document. These are the bricks you use to build your book. You'll be surprised how quickly they add up. Even better, they can sit in your inbox for years, patiently waiting for you, calling you in your sleep. Red Sand sat in my inbox for nearly five years before I got around to writing it. I’m glad I kept notes. There were some amazing details I might never have remembered otherwise.

B. Use your personal word processor. Unlike the old days when a typewriter weighed twenty pounds and sat in a suitcase, your tool waits in your pocket. No, not that tool! All phones have text capabilities now. Smart phones even have sophisticated notepads with spell check. Whenever you have five minutes - waiting in the car for the kid to get out, suffering the train ride to and from work, gritting your teeth while your spouse tries on one more thing, slouching alone as your lunch order comes out, going mad until the DMV calls your number, yawning before that staff meeting - you can work on your story. Again, email it to yourself. Best of all, at work you’ll look like you’re busy getting one last important email in. Don’t blame me if you get a promotion!
You have your typewriter with you every day. Use it!

C. Track your progress. I’m told that once your book clears the 20% hurdle, you will finish it. A typical novel is 90,000 words. It takes only one or two hours to write 1000 words. That means you could, at 1000 words a day, finish four books a year!
How realistic that is is up to you. But you should be able to carve out one hour a day at night. If not, you have some other issues to work through. Remember, psychologists say creating something is more satisfying than watching sitcoms. 
It took me nine months as I was lucky to write 1000 words a week. Maybe next time I’ll be more disciplined. (Read my author bio before you place your bets.)

Why are you still reading this!? Get writing!
Not yet inspired? Need more specifics? Read Part II (coming soon, when I have another five minutes). 

No comments:

Post a Comment

But what do YOU think?