Funny thing happens each time I mention that I’ve written a dozen books in my life. That’s funny odd or funny curious, not funny haha. Without exception, people say, “Man, I wish I could write a book.”
Of course, each of you can write a book, and I tell people to pick up a pen and paper, or open Word on the computer and start. It really is that simple. Not one person has ever said, “Gosh, I wish that I could write a bestseller.” Or “I would like to create the Great American Novel or even a book that a few people will consider a masterpiece.” Or “Boy, would it be nice for my writing to earn me first prize in the Ageless Authors Writing Contest.” (BEWARE: shameless self-promotion.)
If you want to write a book or something shorter, you can do it. It doesn’t require a license from the state. You don’t need the Pope to bless your hard drive. You just need to start putting words on paper. Well, okay, there may be a little more to it. For all the rule keepers out there, here are some guidelines that you might find helpful.
First, there should be a commitment to yourself that you are going to give it a try. You are going to give it your all, but you are also not going to ask too much of yourself. The first essay, short story or poetry you write doesn’t have to be chosen for inclusion in an anthology of great works.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes, and often to make start after start. First-time writers often treat words like fine crystal. You must handle them with care, for one tiny mistake can send the whole project down crashing. The great thing about our culture is that words are fungible. We have many words for the same thing, and you might change a word a dozen times before you get it right.
Tell those you love that you are writing something, that you will be a little preoccupied and possibly unavailable. Ask them to have patience with you, and wish you luck.
Immerse yourself in the type of writing you are about to undertake. All of my books are nonfiction, and each has required at least six months of research before putting a word to paper. And in some cases the research phase was far more enjoyable than the writing. You might isolate part of the topic for blog posts or potential magazine or newspaper articles. With fiction, I say dive right into the very best work by your favorite authors. Reading good quality fiction is the best way to learn what makes good fiction.
Don’t do what I call “the windup.” Just start. Don’t think you need a new computer or 100 perfectly sharpened pencils or a certain office chair before you can be productive. Start with what you have. Set goals for the number of pages or words you will write each day. Don’t worry if you miss your own goals at the start. Two or three pages is what many professional writers compose each day. The next day you start by editing what you wrote the day before and then write a couple more pages. Soon enough, you have a book.
After you have written perhaps one third of the book, buy the time of a writing coach to evaluate your work. If you are veering off course, this can help you right the ship. This person should also read the book when you are finished, and help you finalize it.
These suggestions can help you write the actual book. In our next post, we will deal with whether you publish the book and have it available from booksellers, or will it be a private printing just for your friends and family. But take a bow when you complete the manuscript. You will be surprised how accomplished you will feel.