How to Get a Book Written

Augustinus_21. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. The photographer/ painter Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

2. For first drafts, quantity is better than quality. Five adequate pages are better than one good page. Ten pages of crap are better than zero pages of genius. First drafts are just raw material. Save your brilliance for editing.

3. Do not guilt yourself into writing. Nobody wants to read guilt-ridden prose. If that’s the only way you can get yourself to write, you need therapy, not authorship. Come back to the writing when you can be yourself.

4. You don’t need anyone’s permission to write. You don’t need permission to give a gift or improve the world. Every act of artistry is a creative gift to humanity. Think of your writing as your gift to the world, to your children, to yourself. Anybody who doesn’t understand that can go to hell.

5. Write something every day. But don’t feel bad if you miss a day now and then because you need surgery or your daughter has a recital or you just need a break. But if the breaks outnumber the writing sessions, reconsider your priorities.

6. If you really feel you want to write but you don’t enjoy it when you do then you aren’t writing the right stuff. Forget about what you imagine you should write, what genre, what style, whatever. Drop all pretensions and crank out pages of anything till you start to notice what feels good to you. Patterns and themes will emerge. And that right there, that’s your voice, your passion, your satisfaction. That’s the only thing worth doing.

7. Make outlines if they help you organize your plot or structure, but don’t enslave yourself to plans. It’s impossible to imagine all the details beforehand. Things will come up as you go. Don’t be afraid to stray. But also remember the plan had a point. Don’t lose the sense of it.

8. Making notes doesn’t count. Once you start the first draft, only writing more pages counts as progress. Make notes as you go, but don’t use notes as a substitute for fresh prose.

9. Rewriting doesn’t count either. The first draft is about production. If you get excited about an idea for fixing a weak scene from last week’s work, go for it and enjoy it. That excitement will infect your prose and the reader will feel it. But don’t get carried away. Three hours spent perfecting one crystalline paragraph could have gone to dashing out three new pages of rough but exciting story. That limp paragraph will wait for you. Let perfecting it be your reward for those three new pages.

10. Don’t get discouraged when you’re blocked. Your artistic sensibility may be trying to tell you something is off. Some intuition is dragging its feet trying to get your attention. You have to find out what it is. Don’t give up and don’t just power through. Re-read. Is it dull? Is it precious? Is it necessary? Is it unrealistic? Is it insincere? Have you written yourself into a corner? Figure it out, fix it or cut it, and move on.

11. If you’re bored with something, then it almost certainly sucks. Cut it, condense it, move it offstage, change the point of view. If you find yourself feeling you just want to get through this scene so you can go on to the good stuff, so will the reader.

12. Don’t write anything you don’t like. You’re going to be living with this story, these characters, these ideas for months, even years. Life’s too short to waste on stories or people or work that doesn’t engage you.

13. Never hold back. Never stop because you’re afraid it’s too revealing or too daring or too literary. You can always cut it later. If you don’t go for it now you will never know what you are capable of. And neither will anyone else. If you suppress yourself the life, energy, and passion will drain from your work.

14. Don’t be rule-bound. This is art, not engineering. Do what works. If daily word counts work for you, set word count goals. Get rid of every fatuous convention that doesn’t actually produce writing. Don’t tell yourself you can only do good work in the morning, or when it’s quiet, or when you have the right music. If you can only write using your special pen on lavender paper, then take up calligraphy. The world isn’t going to arrange itself for your convenience. Get on with it.

15. Be on guard against laziness. The human mind is amazingly sneaky. You can come up with more ways to waste time than anyone can warn you against. You can feel great about all the good ideas you’re having, plans you’re making, sentences you’re perfecting, characters you’re renaming, outlines you’re restructuring, spreadsheets you’re pivoting, deep spiritual truths you’re realizing, all the while getting fuck all written down. You have one perfect tool to protect yourself from your own bullshit: the page count. If you’re not producing brand new pages every week, you’re not getting your book done. Period.

16. You can’t figure it all out first. This is on-the-job training. Learn by doing. To discover, you have to explore. You can’t explore in your head, you can only do it on the page. Jump in. Set forth. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Go find it.

17. Train yourself to be creative on demand. You can learn the habit of creativity. You’re a performer: when the curtain rises, you go. Your skill doesn’t wax and wane. It’s not a mood, it’s a craft. You can learn to sit down and switch it on. No, it won’t work every day. People aren’t machines. But it’ll work more often than not. Go on, amaze yourself.

18. Don’t be grim about it. This is a dynamic process. You’re always dancing, leaping, balancing, spinning. Don’t get caught up in your flights of fancy, and don’t get bogged down in a grueling work plan either. You may not be a ten-page-a-day writer. If you’re a one-pager enjoy that page just as much as you imagine you’d enjoy ten.

19. What works this week, may not work next week. What works for me, may not for you. Finding your voice includes finding your process. Stop caring what works for me or anyone else. If you can’t deal with your freedom, you’re not an artist. Try factory work.

20. Enjoy it. Do these things so you can get stuff done, and along the way something else will happen: you’ll be having a whale of a time. If you cut the crap, if you stop tying yourself up in knots, if you don’t even try to do the right thing, if you don’t even care to know what the right thing is, if you just get words down, just keep going, just free yourself from your notions, then you’ll be writing a lot more and a lot better than ever—and enjoying the hell out of it.


 

nirvana_plagueGary Glass grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana, took a degree in English and Creative Writing from IU and ISU, and absconded to Asia. In Taiwan he worked as an ad man and edited a travel magazine. In Japan he lived and worked on a horse farm training thoroughbreds. In Nepal he wrote his first novel. He has also worked as a registered nurse, a draftsman, and a software developer. He is also a photographer (shutterglass.com) and the proprietor of BookBalloon.com. He and his wife now live in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is the author, most recently, of The Nirvana Plague:

What if perfect peace and happiness were a contagious disease? In this fast-paced, thought-provoking thriller, a schizophrenic scientist, an ambitious Chicago psychiatrist, and a hard-driving Army colonel are at the center of a frantic international struggle between the powers of government and a mind-bending outbreak of cosmic consciousness.

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