The other day I was considering doing another round of search term bingo, so I did a quick scroll down through search terms that have led readers to my site. I found some real gems including, ”Alien coming out of a space ship,” “White lima bean pills,” “Is it ok to eat larger lima beans after you run for the daty for dinner?” and my personal favourite, “I’m not paid enough to answer stupid questions.”
(Incidentally the single search term that brings the most readers to my site from Google is “Clockwork.” What is up with that?)
But then I came across one that read, “How to write a book”. And it got me thinking. Because I’ve never done a basic bare-bones rundown for someone looking into getting into this whole writing thing.
What would I tell someone like that? How would I advise them?
Of course the obvious answer would be for me to scream at them to turn back, that this whole writing thing is an emotional drain and a waste of time. I would try to tell them that they’re not going to get rich off of this. No, it doesn’t matter what they heard about whatever famous author getting paid truckloads of money for his first book, that isn’t going to be them. They’d be better off playing the lottery.
Except I know better. Facts aren’t going to deter this person. They’ve got stars in their eyes. They’re special. They’re not like all these other wannabe hacks.
So instead I’d tell them this:
‘You want to write a book? Here’s what you do. You sit down and you write the freaking book.
No. Really. There is no magic formula. I mean, I’d suggest maybe having some kind of plan for where you want to go with this thing (we call these little jewels “outlines; do not disregard them) and reading books about style and story can’t hurt, but writing at it’s core, especially at the start, is just sitting down, setting some kind of goal for the day, and doing your best to hit that goal.
For anyone who’s interested I tried to write a thousand words a day when I started. If you want to do more or less, that’s fine. But I’d say keeping a schedule is important.
Odds are pretty good you’re going to have some missteps along the way. That’s okay. You’re not the only one. My good friend Ellie Soderstrom just had to scrap two years of work, because it just wasn’t working out right.
Maybe now would be a good time to bring up that whole, “Get out while you still can” thing? No? Still determined to write a book, huh? Then keep writing.
And while you’re writing keep reading. Pick up whatever writing books you can, and do your best to absorb the wisdom of those who have walked this path before you.
And one day, you’ll write “The End.” And you’ll prop your chair back with your hands laced behind your head, and think, “Well I’m glad that’s over with.”
And we’ll come in and push your over backwards and laugh, because you are so not done. There’re rewrites, and edits, and looking for an agent, and dealing with the crushing despair of rejection and….’
So yeah, that’s what I’d tell them. Not the most upbeat and encouraging bit of advice, but then if you’re looking at writing a book your life isn’t going to be upbeat or encouraging. Writing is work. It can be fun work from time to time, but in the end work is still work.
And here’s the thing. I’m not sure you can teach someone to write a book. I mean there are things they need to know, but writing and all the mess that goes with it is something you have to learn for yourself.
You have to learn to discipline yourself to write consistently. You have to learn how to deal with the depression that can come with rejection, with fear and self-doubt, and no one can teach you those things. You just have to go through them. You have to build up your strength and endurance a little at a time until one day you can look back and say, “Wow, I was kind of a loser back then. Good thing I kept at it and got better.”
And that’s the key. Keep at it. Never be too proud to learn something new. Never stop growing.
That’s how you write a book.