If I had a dollar for all of the times someone has told me that they want to write a book, I would be a millionaire many times over. Most folks have a story mulling around in their brains—whether it’s fact or fiction—and many seem to think that the world would benefit if their story was shared. Perhaps. One thing I learned from my career in publishing and later as a literary-agent-at-large, was that just because you think your story is incredibly interesting, and it may be, writing a book is a commitment, versus a whim. It’s not something you do when you have free time, but something you do now, because your book will help others in some meaningful way.
Is Your Story Ripe?
Often, the best stories are ones that a writer has ruminated for some time. Most writers – fiction and non-fiction—develop an idea for weeks, months, years, before they full-on tackle the subject. Trust in the creative process is key, as the mind has its own way of fleshing out ideas and concepts.
How to test the waters to see if your topic is one that readers are interested in? Write a few blog posts about it, or if it’s related to your professional life, write a Linked In article. Measure your response. Are people interested? The feedback you receive may help you to tweak your idea a bit, or get confirmation that your topic is a go.
Questions to ask yourself before you buckle down to write a book:
- For a duration of time, am I willing to focus, say no to dinners and other social activities, and immerse myself in this endeavor?
- Do I have the perseverance, grit, and fortitude to see it through (even when it feels hopeless)?
- Why does this story matter? What new or different topic, theme, or idea does it communicate?
- Who is the audience for this book? How substantial is the audience?
- Why do I want to write this story? Will it help others? How? Why?
Deciding on an agent and the traditional route versus self-publishing
This is too complex a topic to tackle in one article, but do your homework. Know if your story is agent worthy and which agents are best to target for your specific genre. Take a look at the acknowledgment page of books that are comparable to your own. Often, authors thank agents and editors in their acknowledgment. Then take a look online at what other titles that an agent has worked on. Read up on agents carefully! Many will note on their websites what genres they accept and the proper format in which to submit a proposal and/or manuscript.
If you wish to go Indie, know what self-publishing entails in terms of editing, promotion, and sales. Review the pros and cons and what you will gain or lose by taking the Indie route. I have my own story to share on this end, which I will at a later date. I have had books published in the traditional fashion, and for my most recent project, a novel, I went Indie.
If you are sure that you’re ready to take the writing plunge, here’s some tips:
- Have something compelling to say.
- Research, research, research. Get the facts right. Get dates/years right. If you are writing about an episode that takes place on September 3rd 2012, know what day of the week it really was.
- Set a time every day or every weekend to write, and show up.
- Perseverance. Believe in yourself.
- Learn grammar, and when in doubt, look it up. Purdue Online Writing Lab is a great online tool for quick grammar questions.
- Read everything that you can. About anything and everything. The number one way to become a better writer is to read more.
- Save your work in progress often. Losing your work is a drag! Saving it in the cloud is a great way for it to be accessible wherever you go.
The Reality of Writing
Writing is re-writing and editing. And more editing. Then other people need to edit your book. While writing certainly requires its share of solitary work—no one can get those ideas, concepts, and words down on the page but you—the editing process does not have to be a solitary one. In fact, it shouldn’t be. You should enlist peers, editors, colleagues, professors, college roommates—whoever you can cajole into reading your work—to help. There’s a reason so many writers enlist in writing workshops. But beware that not all workshops are the same. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great groups at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, and then later, while enrolled in the Master of Arts program in Creative Writing at Brooklyn College. I have also had great experiences at the Key West Writers Festival, and University of Iowa Fiction Workshops. In short, if you do join a workshop, you want to make certain that it’s one that is run with the right intentions—that is, writers that are there to help one another versus to promote their own work and tout how accomplished they are.
What about writer’s block?
If you don’t know what comes next in a book, it is likely because you have missed something along the way. I am a believer that the next chapter as well as endings are inevitable. If you are blocked from finding your route, perhaps it’s because your project is not fully fleshed out in your mind. Let things percolate. Read for a bit to alleviate your mind. Years back Mark Salzman wrote a great and humorous article on writer’s block in The New Yorker magazine, “The Novelist and the Nun,” reminding us that inspiration comes, but not always when we seek it. Give yourself time. But use the time away from a specific project to write something new and different. Sometimes just getting back in the flow of writing spurs a stalled idea.
Enjoy the Journey
Writing is transformative and a great connector across generations, countries, and people. I have never walked away from writing an article or a work of fiction without having learned something new about myself, about life, and when relevant, about a topic. The same holds true with reading for me. Enjoy the process, in all of its ups and downs, and remember that your writing journey may result in the inspiration or knowledge that positively impacts a reader’s life, as well as your own.