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How to Write a Book-Other Than the Putting-Sentences-Together Part
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how to write a book—that is, the part outside of sentence structure—I could take you and some of your friends out to dinner. So I haven’t been asked multiple times, but often enough to know it’s a popular question.
I had four books published in June, along with another one. There are two more, but they are long gone (aka “practice”). Here’s what worked for me…
*THERE IS A ROUTINE
The main part of the article is “The seat of the pants for the seat of the chair.” I have a set time when I sit down to write, which helps my writing muse play with me. When it’s almost bedtime and I’m done with my nightly routine, I’m ready to sleep. As soon as the drops of vitamin D and K hit my tongue, I feel sleepy, even though I wasn’t that sleepy before. In the morning, it’s the same: I drink my coffee and read the New York Times Daily Brief (I’ll always be a native New Yorker), sit down in the writing nest – and I’m ready to write. The muse is waiting for me then and there.
I also have a separate playlist or album for each book; as soon as the music starts, it’s Pavlovian and I’m automatically transported to old Jerusalem, the mountains of Idaho, Scotland in 1597, Los Angeles—wherever the book is set.
*GIVE YOURSELF A SPECIFIC TIME TO WRITE… OR NOT… OR CHANGE
If I write all day, then I have all day to…honestly, not write so much. It’s like I’m saying to myself, “Oh, I’ve got so much time, so I’ll just stare out the window. Then maybe rearrange a drawer or two.” Yes, if I find myself doing other tasks, that can be part of the idea generation time (see below). But I also feel a little guilty for not writing. If I give myself an hour or two at a time, I usually write a full hour or two.
*GIVE YOURSELF ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
I’m not big on deadlines, because nothing can rush this process for me, even though I’m a very fast writer. I also enjoy the spaciousness of open time. Besides, in direct contradiction to the above, a whole day’s voluminous writing is also tasty. And if they reorganize an account or two, that’s fine.
*Hold a NOTEPAD
Ideas seem to come more often when I’m doing dishes, showering, folding, etc. My best thinking time is in the car, especially on long drives. My phone is always next to me, ready to take notes in the little notebook section (with audio while driving, of course).
You don’t have to start at the beginning. And you don’t need to spend a lot of time perfecting the beginning, because it will change as the rest of the book introduces itself.
*MY WRITING OFTEN SURPRISES ME
Talking about the book becoming known, it sounds a bit strange, but I am often surprised by the writing process and the writing process. I know many authors create meticulous outlines. I am not one of them. Sometimes I’ll put together a sketch at the end of the game to keep track of the movement and make sure it flows, but that’s about it.
I once talked about this surprising thing in a screenwriting class. The professor said, “Are you saying to yourself, ‘I can’t believe I wrote that?’ Everyone laughed, including me.
Well, yes. I mean. My characters live a life of their own. They often talk to me in the shower or in the car – both places can be crowded at times. The story suddenly goes in a completely different direction than I ever imagined. That’s where the magic happens.
*WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?
“If I knew, I certainly wouldn’t tell!” This was Stephen King’s fascinating and less-than-kind response to an interviewer who asked him this question. I thought he was being unreasonably stingy until I realized the answer he was actually giving was that he didn’t know. Writers and artists often don’t know where their ideas come from.
My answer when someone asks this question? “They just keep coming.” My ideas seem to come from the ethers by themselves and by themselves. I finished Life on Hollywood Lane a few months ago and I had no definite idea of what my next book would be about. Now there are several that have just appeared in the vacuum created by the completion of the previous book.
One of the main principles of writing is to write about what you know. Taking experiences from my life and turning them into meaningful, impactful, inspiring stories is my main focus… and the ideas just keep coming.
*BACK TO SPACIOUSNESS
I totally understand why writers need to go on writing retreats. I am fortunate that when the door to my writing room is closed, my family and visitors know that they allow me time and space. So much of writing involves what I call incubation.
I once had a job where I had to write and I had an incubation period and I had to go to the bathroom and break my train of thought as I walked down the hall. I hope my co-workers didn’t think I was too rude, but I probably was, because I probably was. I grew up with an extremely creative father who was hard to interrupt, so I understand the creative process. However, many people do not understand it at all. “Oh, you can just get back to it.” This is so not true. The book or article will be written, of course, but an interruption can divert the idea. Also, for those of us deep (I mean deep) in our flow, it can be physically painful to break it.
I jump when someone comes in when I’m writing even a simple email – so immersed (I was going to say lost, but I’m not lost, I’m there) doing whatever. It’s a high-level problem, no doubt, but it sure can be frustrating. I was once working on a CD review and read the lyrics, which were deeply touching and moving. I was completely immersed in the words, I really flew into another world. Someone suddenly walked in (honestly, it felt like a wild animal bursting into the room…like most writers, artists, and healers, I’m sensitive to energies) and I screamed at the top of my lungs. Okay, maybe I wasn’t that loud, but he wasn’t amused.
I may be completely making this up, but I vaguely remember a crazy story about a writer who caught word clouds as soon as they came to her. Once the cloud passed over him, he grabbed it, ran to the house and wrote the words backwards (as the cloud passed over him)! I think I heard it from a famous author like Julia Cameron or someone like that. (If you know who said that, I would love if you let me know!)
Writers are different people… just like electricians, like horse mane weavers, like all of us. But writers, creators and healers should definitely make time for undisturbed spaciousness.
* USE ALL YOUR SENSES
Writing comes alive with texture, smell, taste and sound. Some writers (myself included) prefer to tell the story rather than the descriptions. But the latter helps the former to get under the skin, to become a lived experience instead of reading, and it stays with us even after finishing the book.
* WHAT TO DO ABOUT WRITER’S BLOCKS
I don’t have much to say about this, because I really only write books when I get inspiration, which is more and more these days. The routine, along with the playlist, automatically puts me in the mood.
It was by far the most difficult book for me to write Spellweaver, which is about a healer during the witch hunts in Scotland. The parts were magical so it was fun to write. In the end, I just wrote out the difficulty and was done with it. But the book was still a difficult subject. Finally, I said to myself, “Okay, work on it twenty minutes a day.” Of course, twenty minutes will be much more – the point was to sit down and start.
Another difficult thing to write about was the crucifixion Mary’s message (about Mary Magdalene). Other parts were hard too. I ended up just writing them out instead of dreading them. Once they were done, the rest of the book flowed.
* HOW MUCH TIME DID A BOOK TAKE?
That’s wild to me. I have written Visit in two weeks – just released as a download. Mary took a summer. Angles from overtime it took me a few years because I was working as an editor at a magazine and my word power went to that job. I started it Spellweaver in 2009 and would return to it from time to time; it took a year before I finally got started in 2016. Life on Hollywood Lane lasted about nine months. This can vary as you see.
So, in the end…
Have you noticed how many people start sentences with “word” these days? Even high-level reporters do it, plus most interviewees. In Toastmasters, the speakers click even when they really want to say, “So…”
But I digress. I actually tried not to write. Being a writer can be a rough ride, just like being a musician or actor or anything without a reliable paycheck. But it’s much harder for me not to write. Plus, my characters come with hands on hips and feet tapping, and they won’t leave me alone until I write their story.
I write very good books, if I do say so myself, and if I listen to the many people who rave about them. I dealt with traditional publishers, but nowadays it is more often recommended to go your own way with self-publishing. That way we retain creative control and a much larger percentage of the money. Plus, with the exception of JK Rowling and Dan Brown, authors are required to do their own marketing anyway.
If writing is your art, let us read your words. Actually, anything we do can be a work of art: write a story, sing a song, raise a child, smile at a lonely neighbor, throw a basketball… whatever it is, let’s see.
Our lives are our artwork, indeed. Following whatever is in your heart, doing what you want, doing whatever is best for us and those around us – and that’s for all of us.
Much of the muse is based on what I call magic… which is not some distant quality that only a few possess. We all have magic in us. Let the magic illuminate your muse. Then share your gift… we’re waiting! What gift are you sharing?
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