Advice on How to Write a Book

Got this message from a friend: Hi Kate, Looking for a little guidance. I would like to use my ability to write to make some money. I’ll bet you have a few ideas of how this could be done. Any wisdom to throw my way? Hope you’re enjoying your Friday and your book launch for Adrift in the Sound and Between the Sheets is a huge success!


Here’s my response—Hi Michelle: I’m just coming up for air after launching two books in June and spending time with my granddaughter, Ada, who is visiting for a month from Eau Claire, WI. Sorry I didn’t get back to your sooner. It has been a whirlwind month, including lots of interesting reporting assignments at work—working a day job, launching a couple of books and finding time for family is fun, but exhausting.

In answer to your question, I saw a funny quote on Facebook this morning from Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down to a typewriter and bleed.” I have another quote, framed and hanging in my hallway: “Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it.” – Robert Louis Stevenson.

Two views—one scary, one kind. Both true. And, we get to choose our truth. But, the most motivating advice I found as a writer came from Walter Mosley, who is a successful writer of LA detective stories. Basically, he said: Sit down and write your book or stop kidding yourself, get over it. Action talks, BS walks. Not the most elegant of sentiments, but it worked for me.

And, with two books published, it’s back to the keyboard to write number three, and I’ve got at least three more books I’d like to get to after that. When I seriously started writing creatively in 2005, I thought producing one book would be a miracle. I agonized over Adrift in the Sound for four years.

One thing I learned in writing that first book is that carving out time to write and consistently laying down words results in progress, often not great progress, but real, measureable movement toward your goal. I’ve lived in rewrite Hell for a long time using that method. I’m thinking a better plan for execution will shorten the path to a finished, satisfying story for me.

Another thing I learned is to “chunk it out,” meaning once you have your project defined, break it into bite-sized pieces and work on it section by section, polishing as you go, the way folks say you eat an elephant, one bite at a time. For me, that meant chapters. And, it helps to have confidantes who will offer an ear while you talk through your ideas or concepts. It takes a village to write a book.

I don’t know if you’re considering writing fiction or nonfiction. With nonfiction, you need to think about the project in a mechanical way—Layout the information in a logical progression for readers, think about how the book will be packaged, how it will be used to promote business, how it can be used as a foundation for additional streams of revenue—seminars, videos, workshops, speaker opportunities, Radio & TV discussions, print articles. I heard of a woman who published a booklet and turned it into a full-blown profitable business. One booklet!

For fiction, pure story, I used an approach something like learning to play the accordion, expanding the story for air, pressing buttons, squeezing it to distill sound. Adding a campfire and gypsy violins after the story took shape. I think of the quote from acclaimed author Joan Didion: “Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.” Fiction is a mélange of music and mechanics.

The only wisdom I can toss your way, like a colorful summer bouquet tied with pink ribbons, is trust your heart, plant your seat, and start tapping your keyboard. Do not stop, even if your butt falls off! You’ll be amazed by what happens, promise.  Best wishes on your new adventure. Let me know how you’re progressing.

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