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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 – aside from actually constructing the sentences – I could take you and some friends out to dinner. So I’ve been asked scads and scads a few times, but often enough to know it’s a popular question.
Four of my books have been published in June. There are two more, but they are long ago and far away (also known as “practices”). Here’s what worked for me…
* Do a routine
Here is the body of the writing: “From the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” I have a specific time to sit down to write, which helps the writing music play with me. When it’s time to go to bed and I do my nightly routine, I’m ready for bed. As soon as the vitamin D and K drops hit my tongue, I feel sleepy, even though I haven’t been this sleepy before. Mornings are the same: I grab my coffee and read the New York Times Daily Briefing (I’ll always be a native New Yorker), settle into my writing nest—and I’m ready to write. Music is waiting for me.
I also have a specific playlist or album for each book; As soon as that 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 taking place.
*Allow yourself time to write… or not… or alternate both
If I give myself all day to write, then I have all day… not that much to write, to be honest. It’s as if I say to myself, “Oh, I’ve only got so much time, so I’ll just look out the window. And then maybe I’ll rearrange a drawer or two.” Yes, if I find myself doing other tasks, that may be part of the idea-generation time (see below). But I also feel a little guilty that I don’t write. If I give myself an hour or two at a time, I usually write for a full hour or two.
*Give yourself all the time in the world
I’m not big on deadlines because I can’t rush the process, even though I’m a very fast writer. I also enjoy the abundance of free time. Also, in direct contrast to the above, having a full day to write is, well, delicious. And if a drawer or two can be rearranged, that’s fine.
*Keep a notebook handy
Ideas seem to come more often when I’m doing dishes, showering, folding laundry, and the like. My best time to think is in the car, especially on long drives. My phone is always next to me, ready to jot down notes in the little notebook section (with sound while driving).
You don’t have to start from scratch. And you don’t have to spend a lot of time to finish the beginning because the rest of the book will change itself once it recognizes itself.
*My writing often surprises me
It might sound a little crazy to talk about a self-introducing book, but I often wonder about the writing process. I know many writers create subtle outlines. I am not one of them. I sometimes put together an outline late in the game, to track the movements and make sure it flows, but that’s about it.
I once talked about this surprise in a screenwriting class. The professor said, “You mean you say to yourself, ‘I can’t believe I wrote that?'” Everyone laughed, including me.
But, well, yes. I mean it. My characters take on a life of their own. They often talk to me in the shower or in the car – both places can get a bit crowded at times. The story suddenly takes a very different direction than I imagined. That’s where the magic happens.
*Where do ideas come from?
“If I knew I certainly wouldn’t tell you!” Stephen King had a fascinating and less than gracious answer to an interviewer who asked this question. I thought he was being unreasonably flippant until I realized he was actually answering: He doesn’t know. Writers and artists often don’t know where their ideas come from.
My answer when someone asks me this question? “They just come.” My ideas seem to come out of the ether on their own time and of their own volition. i finished Life in Hollywood Lane A few months ago and I had no firm idea of what my next book would be. Now I have several that just appeared in the vacuum created by the completion of the previous book.
One of the main principles of writing is to write what you know. My main focus is taking my life experiences and turning them into meaningful, impactful, inspiring stories… and the ideas just come.
*Back to that spaciousness thing
I totally understand why writers have to write back. I am fortunate that when the door to my writing room is closed, my family and visitors give me my time and space. So much writing involves what I call incubation.
I once had a job that involved writing, and I would be brooding, have to go to the restroom, and interrupt my train of thought as I walked down the hall. I hope my co-workers didn’t think I was too rude, but they probably did because I probably was. I grew up with a very creative father who was hard to interrupt, so I understand the creative process. However, many people don’t get it at all. “Oh, you can go back to it.” That is not so true. A book or article will certainly be written, but interruptions can divert ideas. Also, for those of us who go deep (and call me deep) in our flow, it can be physically painful to break.
I jump when someone comes in while I’m writing a simple email – how it absorbs (I was going to say lost, but I’m not lost, I’m right there) what I’m doing. It’s definitely a high-level problem, to be sure, but it can be frustrating. Once I was working on a CD review, and I was reading the lyrics, which were touching and heartbreaking. I was completely absorbed in the words, truly transported to another world. Someone suddenly burst in (to be honest it felt like a wild animal bursting into the room…like most writers and artists and healers, I’m sensitive to energy) and I screamed at the top of my lungs. Okay, maybe I wasn’t that loud, but the guy wasn’t amused.
I may be completely making this up, but I vaguely remember a fantastic story of a writer who would capture a cloud of words as they came to her. Once the cloud passed her and she caught it, ran home and wrote the words backwards and forwards (because the cloud passed her)! I think I heard it from a famous author like Julia Cameron or someone like that. (If you know who said this, I do love If you let me know!)
Writers are a different breed of people…as are electricians, as are horse-neck breeders, and so are we all. But writers and producers and healers should definitely make time for endless spaciousness.
*Use all the senses
Writing comes alive with texture, smell, taste and sound. Some writers (myself included) love telling stories more than writing descriptions. But the latter helps the former get under the skin, become a lived experience rather than just read, and stay with us long after the book is over.
*What to do about writer’s block
I don’t have much to say about it, because I really only write a book when I’m inspired, which is more and more these days. A routine with a playlist automatically puts me in the mood.
It was by far the hardest book for me to write The spellweaver, which is about a healer during a witch hunt in Scotland. The episodes were magical so it was fun to write them. I finally wrote the hard part and finished it. But still the book was a difficult subject. I finally told myself, “Okay, work on it twenty minutes a day.” Twenty minutes will be a long time, of course—the key is to sit down and start.
Another difficult thing to write about is the crucifixion Mary’s message (About Mary Magdalene). Other parts were also difficult. I finally wrote them off instead of dreading them. Once that was done the rest of the book was swept away.
*How long does a book take?
This is wild for me. i wrote Seeing visions In two weeks – it was in download only. mary took the summer Angle on overtime It took me a few years because I was working as an editor at a magazine and my word skills went into that job. I started The spellweaver In 2009 and would go back to it from time to time; It took a year when I finally started it in 2016. Life in Hollywood Lane It took about nine months. As you can see, this can change.
Have you noticed how many people start sentences with “So” these days? High-level news reporters do too, as do most of their interviews. Speakers click in Toastmasters, even when what they really mean is, “So…”
But I digress. I have actually tried not to write. Being a writer can be a difficult line to walk, just like being a musician, actor or anything without a reliable salary. But it’s hard for me not to write. Plus my characters would come over, put their hands on my hips, tap their feet, and not leave me alone until I wrote their stories.
I write really great books, if I do say so myself, and I hear a lot of people raving about them. I used to deal with traditional publishers, but these days it’s recommended to go your own way with self-publishing. That way we keep creative control and keep a very large percentage of the money. Plus, aside from JK Rowling and Dan Brown, writers are still expected to do their own marketing.
If writing is your art, let your words be read. Actually, anything we do can be a work of art: writing a story, singing a song, raising a child, laughing at a lonely neighbor, dunking a basketball… whatever, let’s see it.
Our life is our art. Following what calls to your heart, doing what you want to do, doing the best at what we do will benefit us and everyone around us – and that’s all of us.
A lot of music is based on what I call magic… a not-so-distant quality that only a few people possess. We all have magic. Let the magic light up the music. Then share your gift… We’re waiting! What is your gift to share?
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