I have 2 books scattered unevenly throughout 5 books. I’m fresh off a near-6 year tech Odyssey and back on the shores of Ithaca. I still see the writing rust speckled about the floor when I get up from the table after another session. With all that little authority, the first piece of advice I could give on writing is this: Listen to advice so long as it is making you happy, healthy, and productive. And creative. God, please be creative.
Unless you’re a tech or how-to writer, then, God, please be precise yet thorough – and don’t be afraid to use pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. And proper documentation. Don’t let forum posters and bloggers fill in all the gaps. That’s annoying.
If the advice you’re given is not doing any of the above, then something within its methodology might not align with your sensibilities or situation. Or, it’s shit. Or you’re chicken shit. Time will tell, measured by the words that are or are not on the page. If more words aren’t reaching the page, choke it down, put a sheet over the television, and exhale. Cry with every key or pen stroke. Hate, scream, swear, shout, throw shit off walls…whatever it takes to break the barrier yet not alienate you from your family. Also, try not to do anything that would put you in prison – unless you can get a prison sentence that lets you have access to paper and working writing utensils. Three hots and a cot… No! Bad, Finn.
Then, go from there.
And, to the chicken shits: I’m probably a bigger chicken shit. Oh yeah? I stopped writing for 5 years to do a startup platform. I should have probably let that platform go 3 years ago but I don’t let things go. You know, unless it’s writing.
There’s good advice out there.
My wife, Katie, reads a lot of advice from writers. She’ll tell me, “Jeff Goins does this”, or “Malcom Gladwell says that.” And the advice is often true. They could be true as the day is long, to a point. And I like quite a bit of their stuff. Katie and I often do 700 mile roadtrips to her mama’s up in Oregon and 700 mile trips back – part of the reason we moved from Chicago to San Francisco. We’ve played podcast interviews with Goins and Gladwell during those drives.
No pride. No passion. No feelings hurt. It isn’t about how you get your books written. It’s that they get written that counts.
One’s great advice might not always apply to you.
For example, Katie once sent me Goins’ behemothian SEO-friendly piece, “10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book.” There are many gems in there that I found myself either going, “yeah, I do that,” or going, “Yeah, I should do that.” And starting a piece off with a Mark Twain quote will almost certainly capture my attention.
I didn’t like all 10 20 of Goins’ points. I quite liked 7 17 of his points. Quite a bit. I can’t stress that enough. There’s good shit in there. It’s my favorite piece on the topic. For point’s sake, here are a couple I can’t do:
Point 4 sounds claustrophobic to me: “Write in the same place every time.” Writing is already can be a lonely, isolating adventure:
“Phenomenal cosmic powers. Itty bitty living space.”– Genie from Disney’s Alaadin.
Sometimes I have to get out of this apartment: the work-from-home claustrophobia. Sometimes, the café helps. Sometimes, the brew pub is the place to be. Sometimes, my mother-in-law’s guest bedroom is the perfect spot. And sometimes going to the location that I’m writing about is what I need to do, just to refresh myself on the textures, smells, and lighting. Being on location helps me make sure the lines-of-sight are what I remember them being. God bless improved laptop battery powers and solar-powered laptop chargers. God bless my wife for booking flights to New Mexico in October. I hope we get to go.
I don’t do well with clean, well-lighted rooms.
His point 5 sounds restrictive to me: “Set a total word count.” I write out everything I can think of in the story and then trim it with a machete. Otherwise, I find myself writing filler sentences in order to make word counts. Typically, my creative diarrhea-of-the-words already goes well beyond any standardized minimums.
That doesn’t mean to ignore all of one’s advice because you didn’t like some of it. That’s just stupid. Find the best bits, especially the ones that apply to you. Roll them over a bit till you get a feel, then try them out. You’ll suck at it for awhile, but set pride aside until you get better with them.
To quote The Band:
“You take what you need and you leave the rest.”
And perhaps, in this case, you take the very best. Sorry, Virgil.
There are other pieces out there that are helpful.
- Yale Daily News – on Malcom Gladwell
- Jeff Goins’ 10 20 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book
- Nick Morgan on Forbes. His points will piss you off enough to hide in a hole and write just to prove him wrong.
- Writers Digest. Good thoughts in here, though remember to test them out.
Just be careful on how much you decide to spend on the “How to Write a Book” products out there.
If the advice is coming from a writer whose promo headshot is photoshopped-beautiful with a touch-too-white teeth and squinty-eyed smiles and a 4K-brilliant-background and you’ve never heard of them and all their accolades and recommendations come from places that sound similar to places you’ve heard of but are not exactly, then you might want to save your $19.99 a month. And if you’re about to go and they say something to the effect of, “But, wait! There’s more!” Then run! Fast. I don’t care how tempting the Free Trial they just threw at you sounds. It’s called a downsell. Run from downsells.
Those also apply to those who you do recognize but whose writing success revolves around writing about how to be a success at writing. Self-fulfilling prophecy books are, just that.
And, don’t take their free invite to their next workshop conference at the airport hotel. And if you belay this advice because you want free sandwiches, leave your wallet at home locked in a 500-lbs. safe with the keys and the number for the combination locked inside. You’ll thank me in a few days once you’ve received new identifications and cards and can now convince the safe cracker that, yes, you own the safe. Just don’t take help from anyone at the workshop to get this done, or all these labors will have been for nothing. And you’re on your own.
This is coming from one who cut his digital marketing teeth at an agency whose top 10 clients included Trump University.
The shit thrown out there to make a quick buck at the expense of those new to the market is unconscionable and proof that “legal” and “morally good” don’t always overlap.
Hell. I could end up spending my whole life being wrong on this.
But, I’m gonna find out. I don’t think my wife will let me not find out. Yes, I know the rarity of what I have with her. This day of all – our anniversary.
So, yeah. To reiterate, the first advice I’d give on writing your first book is to find what gets you writing. Then, you know, write.
Speaking of that…I gotta go write…damnit, after I go to the gym. FUCK! But, tonight I get to write and drink and nibble off a fruit plate. She’ll get to do the same, but draw instead of writing. We’ll call it an anniversary incredibly spent. I’ll literally be on a couch for a bit tonight writing about another couch. A better couch. A hand-stitched leather couch. What a beautiful through line.
And I’ll let Microsoft Word count up the words and tell me later.