Monday, November 16, 2015

So, you want to write a book?

I'm approached for advice on book writing regularly. Rather than continuing to cycle the same feedback, I thought I'd whip up a quickie blog on the subject.

First of all, I'm flattered by anybody coming to me. Thank you for thinking of me as a worthy source. 

I get it. The idea of writing a book is daunting. Just Another Number is a massive 400 pages. Every time I look at it, I feel like a 5'1" old lady staring at her 6'6" lumberjack son, wondering how the hell he came out of me. To this day, I have a miniature anxiety attack before every project. I don't know how the fuck I'm going to complete my next book, My Dilemma, which will have sex infused with politics, economics, and my dark family history.
But you know what I am going to do? I am going to write it the way I write everything, word by word.

That is the biggest mistake aspiring writers make. They think, dream, research, contemplate, and wallow in the idea of writing without ever writing.

I didn't plan on being an author. I wasn't even serious about finishing Just Another Number until I was almost done with it. Growing up, I occasionally wrote when I had to- when I was in such a state of despair that it was all I could think to do. I didn't write with intention until I took a community college Journalism course. I was 22, fresh out of the Navy, and on what I thought was a path to television. My final paper was a magazine article. My professor told me that I was talented and needed to submit it to the San Diego Weekly Reader. That article became Confessions of a Phony Navy Wife.  He encouraged me to write more. Having grown up without much parental support, I liked having a father figure who encouraged me and believed in me. Originally, I wrote for him. I wanted to make my teacher proud.
I wasn't confident in my writing voice, so I began emailing bits and pieces to friend. Their positive feedback was a high for me.
Something that very few people know about me, including my closest friends, is that I have always been a very lonely person. I grew up among a family that didn't really like or want me. My intellect surpassed my parents, so even during our best times, we couldn't connect.  I was very much trapped within the conservative cultures my southern upbringing and the military enlistment that followed. Even into adulthood, I am still perpetually lonely in my ambition. The majority of the American population is very "basic." The lives of my peers revolve around television, gossip, and partying. My work ethic isolates me. Writing became a gateway to human connection.

I've never denied my distaste for Southern culture. It's maliciously phony. It is purely image-based. The old south's language is passive aggression. It's entire structure is a sturdy barricade for abuse and corruption. I grew up in a world full of lies and secrets, where family bonding was merely intricately woven contempt. This is a culture whose cliche insult is "bless your heart." My only way of surviving and escaping the south was to embody its missing piece. My writing voice is the ultimate contradiction of southern culture: every variation of raw honesty, from the beautiful to the gruesome. Hailing from a world of facades, I wrote from the most private parts of me, which connected to readers on a very personal level.


I didn't choose to be a writer. I write because it's the only thing that keeps me from drowning in my struggles, that's mobilized me through emotional paralysis, that's assured me that I am not alone in this world, and that reminds me that my existence isn't in vain.

I want aspiring writers to know that this path is far from glamorous.  Writing is not something one pursues. It's something one falls into. True writers write because their soul has to. This path is alienating, rigorous, and rarely presents instant gratification. But if it is yours, it will be the love of your life.

You will only know if you try. The following are my rules to writing your book:

1.Write.  Just fucking write. Don't stress about premise, structure, your purpose, or how people will respond to it. All of those little details will come with time. You cannot write anything unless you write.

2. Write what you want to write. Don't worry about what's currently popular or what has been successful in the past. Don't even base your work off what your friends are interested in reading. A good book has nothing to do with genre, style, or structure. The most essential quality of any piece of art, whether it's a painting, a song, or literature is passion. If you've ever had bad sex, you know that passion, enthusiasm, and connection greatly surpass positions or technique. If you aren't into what you're writing, passion won't exist. And trust me, your readers will immediately sense that.

3.  Write how you want to write it. Seriously, screw all rules. My book doesn't have chapters. I make up my own words. I liked it, so I wrote it. Your book is your book. You have every right to put whatever the fuck in it that you want.

4. Write something you want to read. If you don't want to read your own work, you can't expect anybody else to. I read aloud to myself after I write a paragraph. That's my own personal technique. Feel free to try it.

5. Every reader's feedback matters. 

6. But don't take advice from another writer unless you love their work. And even then, you don't have to take it.  Writers can be narcissistic assholes. I'm pretty sure it's in our DNA. We are relentless, competitive, self-deprecating,  and jealous. Although some feedback is genuine, some is meant to sabotage you. Just think the stereotype of the girl that tells her friend that the hot dress she is trying on looks horrible on her so that she can be the pretty one. Go with your gut. If the feedback doesn't jive with your intuition, brush it off.

7. Your writing voice will develop with time and constantly change. Writing is like a muscle you have to exercise every day to grow strong. Every writer's voice is unique to them and will sharpen with time. There will never be a point where you have established a certain tone. Your work will constantly develop and alter just like you. We are never done changing.

8. Be willing to sacrifice. Writing a book takes a long time, especially if you have to work. What is play time for everybody else is your writing time. So, prepare for a lot of Friday nights with your laptop. Even after your book is complete, the marketing process is an even more strenuous monster. Anticipate devoting years to this. Be very selective with your free time. If you're serious about becoming an author, leisure will be a valuable rarity. Everybody has a potential book inside of them, but a very tiny percentage of them will actually write it. That's because that book will dominate your life.


9. If the sacrifice is worth it, you're doing the right thing.







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