The Top Eleven Ways Not to Write Your Book
Of every hundred people who tell me that theyíre going to write a book,
ninety-nine never finish. What makes these people so spectacularly successful at
not writing? Here are the most common reasons why authors never finish that
11. Read every book and magazine article ever published on how to write. Buy
every tape. Make notes. Cross-index. Memorize all the rules. If you break one,
youíre in big trouble.
The fact: Many how-to books are crammed with great ideas and
information, but someone elseís methods arenít a magic carpet to success. Try
what the author suggests--and then keep what works for you and ignore the rest.
The right way is whatever works for you, and you can judge that by looking at
whether youíre making progress toward your goal and enjoying your work.
Learning about writing is fine, and if your work loses its pep, reading a how-to
book may give you a refresher and get you back on course. But the only way to
learn to write is to write. This is a skill, like tennis. You canít learn to
play tennis by reading Sports Illustrated. And you donít do it by trying
once. The only way to get better is to practice.
Ask yourself if your time might be better spent in learning about the subject
youíre writing about, or simply in putting your words on the paper.
10. Look for a trend. Whatís hot right now? Editors have a secret list of
things theyíre looking for, and if your idea isnít on it youíll never sell.
The fact: By the time a trend appears in the bookstores, itís
usually overripe at publishing offices. A book hitting the shelves today from a
major publisher was written at least a year ago, more often two. Only a rare
trend lasts that long.
Beware of writing a book to fit a series, or a trend, or a market listing, if
itís not something you want to write. Itís tempting to try fitting into a
line which obviously has some openings right now. But no matter how good the
writer, not everybody can write everything Ė nor should they try.
Especially for your first sale, concentrate on the good solid non-trendy story
which will be just as saleable in five years. We hope it wonít take that long,
but the fact is it might.
9. Write or call every published author you can get in touch with and ask for
help, advice, and the name of her agent. Thereís a foolproof combination for
success, if only someone will share it with you.
The fact: Actually, there is a pretty-much foolproof
combination for success: Study the field, learn how to tell a gripping story
about engaging characters, write with the reader and the marketplace in mind,
and be willing to do it over and over and over. The short version of that is,
put your rear in the chair and write.
There is no substitute for hard work. All the networking in the world canít get
your book written, and you canít sell what you havenít written.
8. Plot the whole series before starting to write. You donít want to set up
something in book #1 which will make it more difficult to write sequel #12.
The fact: Getting the first book written and published is tough
enough. Plotting several at a time in order to keep all the strings untangled is
asking for trouble.
Too much planning is the best way not to write. Of course you need a blueprint,
but you canít sort out every detail ahead of time.
Are you actually writing your story, or only thinking about writing it?
7. Tell everybody who will listen all about your story. They might have some
good ideas. Even if they donít, itíll make them respect you as a writer.
The fact: With the exception of brainstorming with a trusted
individual or group, telling someone your story is a bad idea. The average
personís ideas are almost guaranteed not to be helpful, and talking about the
idea often diminishes the desire to write it.
Another disadvantage of talking too casually about your work is that for the
next two years youíll have a hundred people asking when your bookís coming out.
You wonít like having to admit that the idea didnít work out after all, or the
manuscript isnít completed yet, or itís been rejected Ė so be careful who you
invite into your confidence.
6. Research every detail before you start to write. You never know what fact
you may want to use, so youíll have to know everything about the historical
period, the place, and the background. That goes for your characters, too. If
you donít know all about their past, how can you tell their story?
The fact: We need to know the basics about the historical period,
the place, the characters, and the background before starting to write. Some
mistakes are so huge that thereís no fixing them once the storyís started, and
the only option is to throw it all away.
But once you have the basic knowledge, stack the research books under your desk,
prop your feet on them, and start writing. If youíre stuck for a detail, you can
look it up. Itís easier to fill in gaps than to learn everything there is to
know about the subject.
That goes for your characters, too. Let them tell you some of their history as
you go along. You may be surprised at what they come up with.
5. Polish the first chapter till itís perfect before you begin the second
The fact: Revising as you write is almost guaranteed to make you
lose momentum. By the time youíve got chapter one glossy enough to satisfy,
youíll have lost interest in the rest of the book Ė or forgotten what you
intended to have happen. Your work will need polishing, revising and rewriting Ė
but get the story down on the page first.
4. Never stop questioning. Maybe your other idea, or your alternate plan, was
better. Donít be surprised if after you write three chapters, you conclude
another story idea shows more promise. Go for it!
The fact: Every writing project hits a spot, maybe a fourth of the
way into the work or sometimes even earlier, where the idea suddenly seems
stale, the plot illogical, the conflict dull, and the entire story impossible to
finish. Sometimes thatís true, and the book is better off left on the scrap
heap. More often, though, it just means that the honeymoonís over. If you push
on through this rough spot, youíll probably find your enthusiasm coming back.
You donít learn to write a book by writing a synopsis, or even a partial. You
donít learn to write a book by entering the first chapter in contests. You learn
by slogging through the whole process from Chapter One to The End and then
figuring out what worked and what didnít so you can apply the lessons next time.
3. With every paragraph, ask yourself how an editor will react to your work.
Is there a way to make this sentence better? Clearer? Closer to what sheís
The fact: Writingís an art, editingís a craft. Writingís creative,
editing is practical. Writing is right-brain, editing is left-brain. Nobody can
do them both at the same time and do justice to either one. When youíre editing
a sentence, you canít be thinking about what fragment of the story should be in
the next sentence.
The temptation which goes along with this is to wait till itís all clearly in
mind before trying to write it down at all, so we can get it just right the
first time and not have to revise. It doesnít work Ė but it makes a great excuse
not to write.
2. Wonder if readers will think your sex life actually includes the things
you write about.
The fact: They will. Even worse, people who donít read your books
will believe your sex life actually includes the things they think you
write about Ė and their imaginations can run pretty wild.
Theyíll also believe that you must have have up-close and personal experience
with everything else you write about Ė including wealth, servants, bank
robberies, scandals, kidnappings, and murders. Learn to live with it.
And the grand prize winner: 1. Wait for inspiration.
The fact: Every once in a while, a writer gets an adrenaline rush
where ideas fly and paragraphs or even chapters write themselves and life is
grand. But those times seldom produce a quantity of work, and they donít come
frequently enough to make a would-be writer into a professional. The pro goes to
work, whether she feels like writing or not. Often, after sheís been there for a
while, inspiration pokes its head through the clouds. But even if it doesnít, in
the end itís literally impossible to tell which paragraphs came in a flash of
light like the Ten Commandments to Moses, and which ones the author sweated over
and rewrote eighteen times.
The top eleven ways not to finish your book. Get bogged down in
method instead of storytelling, try to edit and sell the book before itís
written, focus on the market instead of the story, delay the writing process
till it feels just right, question yourself at every turn Ė and youíll end up
being a successful non-writer.
Iíll practically guarantee it.
Copyright 2009 Leigh Michaels