So You Want to Write a Book!

The Washington Post recently published a terrific article about how to write a book: click here. Of course what works for one person may not work for someone else!

I’m going to offer my own take on some of the advice in the article – what works for me and what doesn’t. Daniel W. Drezner’s advice appears in bold, and my comments follow:

1) Don’t start by writing a book. Start by writing a prospectus. 

A prospectus is a summary of the book you’re planning to write. This is a piece of advice I’m following with my current project – a book about Shaw’s play Major Barbara. A couple of weeks ago I outlined the entire book, and then I went to the next step – using Scrivener to make note cards.

But I feel compelled to add that this is the first time in a long writing career that I’ve outlined a project before starting to write it. Outlining rarely works for me, for a good reason: Writing is a discovery process. I don’t know what I’m going to say until I start saying it.

So what’s different about this new, yet-to-be-born book? I just finished writing an article about Major Barbara for a scholarly journal. I wrote 20 pages without getting to any of the big points I wanted to make. That’s when I knew it was time to write a book.

So I would add this to Drezner’s advice: Start by exploring your ideas. When your fingers start racing over the keyboard and your ideas are running off in a million directions, you’re ready to write your prospectus or outline. Wait until then!

2) Know your audience.

Sound advice! I’ll return to this in a future post.

3) Learn how to self-discipline.

This is the key to becoming a writer. If discipline sounds like a strait jacket, I’m with you a hundred percent. You need to start exploring ways to get yourself into the working mode without feeling like you’re in jail. I cannot abide schedules and to-do lists, so I’ve had to find other ways to get things done.

When I was writing my first book about Shaw, I had a little mantra I said every day: “Write. Dance. Exercise.” My goal was to find a few minutes during the day for those three priorities. I’m still reaping the benefits of that mantra (ballroom awards, healthy knees, and a career as a Shaw scholar). I’ve written a book about my unconventional approach to time management: Five Minutes a Day.

4) Ration your social media.

Not a problem for me because I’m such an introvert, so I’ll move on to #5, which Drezner says is his “most important piece of advice” – and I concur:

5) When you get on a good writing jag, tune everything else out.

The time will come when the book (like a baby) will tell you – in no uncertain terms – that it wants out. If you fight that energy, you will lose your momentum, and the book will never get written.

I am lucky enough to be married to a man who understands that I can’t scrub and vacuum when the writing gods are beckoning. Emails pile up. Stacks of unread newspapers and magazines appear.

I’ve also dusted off a lesson I learned as a Girl Scout: Be prepared. When the writing jag hits, I’m not going to want to make hotel reservations, buy toilet paper, and shop for birthday gifts. That means getting routine tasks done during fallow periods so that I’m free to write when the time comes.

(Confession: I don’t always practice what I preach. I just took a five-minute break to play a game of chase-the-string with our cat, who doesn’t give a damn that I really, really want to finish this post, and I’m going to a dance this afternoon, and I don’t have time to play with her. Guess who won that argument?)



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