Revealed at last! How to write a book!

Years ago, I was touring the floor of the American Library Association’s annual convention along with a friend of mine, who we will call Very Famous Children’s Book Author, and we were discussing the fact that I used to write—had published stories, won a few awards, blah blah blah—but not so much anymore. At that time, not for about eight years. And she asked, “So why not? Why aren’t you writing?”

And I sighed in a melodramatic way and said, “Well, I’m tired.”

She asked me how old I was, then shook her head and said, “That’s bullshit, Michael. You’re not tired. You’re just not doing it. You just have to sit your ass down and do the work. That’s all.” And she told me how she did it, which was a daily word goal of a thousand words. Every day. No more than a thousand words, no fewer.

Do that, and at the end of three months, you have a 65,000-word draft. (No, my math isn’t that bad: I’m assuming you had to throw out 25,000 words that Went Wrong, or Just Were No Damn Good, or Were Part of Another Book Entirely that Wandered in and Cocked Up the Story You Already Had Going.) And then what?

You print it out, you read through and mark it up, you take it to a workshop of writers who understand your goals, and who you trust. They’ll give you feedback. If you’re wise, you’ll listen to only about ten percent of it. (People in critique groups mean well and work hard, but it is very hard to help a writer find her book in a first draft. Some people will be wanting you to write a different book altogether, others won’t understand at all what you’re doing, and still others will just be lousy critics. That happens, too. But you’ll smile, and thank them, and then go off and do what you have to do, taking what is useful and leaving the rest.)

And then? And then you put your butt back into the chair and you revise. That’s another three months. And then you do it all over again. And again. Until it is good.

Simple, right?

  1. I’ve been wandering around this website for most of the morning, finding myself getting hooked on the articles etc. which normally I never bother to read – result – I agree with your friend – you’re a good writer – funny too!


  2. In writing, as in life, it’s action that counts. Reading (or thinking or dreaming or blogging) about writing is like reading Shape magazine instead of getting to the gym.

    Oops. Oops oops oops.

    Off to the gym, no I mean, off to write. Because going to the gym would be just too bizarre.


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