How Do I Write a Book? No, Really. Help!

Q: I’ve always wanted to write a book. Now that I’m retired, I finally have the time. Am I too old?
A: No. You probably just now have enough life experiences to make the stories you have to tell worth telling. You can’t know until you try.

Q: Laid off, instead of looking for another job, can I support myself with my writing?
A: Yes, if you take a nine-to-five writing job. No, if you plan to live on income from penning the great American novel. There’s a story about seat mates on an airplane. One asked Two what he did for a living:

“I’m a brain surgeon,” said Two, “what do you do?”

“I write books,” said One.

“Ah, said the surgeon, “when I retire, I may write a book.”

“I know what you mean,” said One. “When I retire, I may do a little brain surgery.”

The point being: writing a book isn’t as easy as people think.

Q: How do I write a book?
A: A pond is filled one drop at a time. A garment is sewn one stitch at a time. A book is written, one letter at a time. Asked that question, a successful author I know said simply, “Put your butt in the chair.”

I know no magic formula. It’s like anything else worthwhile, you have to give it your time and your energy.

Q: Really, how do I write a book?
A: There is no one right way. Attend a writers’ conference. You will hear many theories on “How to Write a Book.” Some writers outline their ideas in a page or two. Others do outlines of thirty or forty pages. Tony Hillerman said he wrote like a man driving in the fog, only able to see the road immediately ahead of him as he went. That formula is called “writing by the seat of your pants.”

I write “to a premise.” In ten words or less, I write the premise––where I want to go. I post that sentence. When I wander, I look at those words and get right back on track. I don’t know of any other writer who does it that way, but it works for me.

Q: Do you have a special place to write? A quiet room away from distractions? Music? Candles?
A: Sounds fine, but when I get “in the zone,” I am not aware of my surroundings. J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter at a table in a cafe. I don’t believe you need special props or surroundings, although they might work as good excuses.

Q: How do you know when you’re through with a book?
A: I know when I’m through telling the story I intended to tell. Uncertainty comes with the editing. A writer never quits tweaking a manuscript. Even after the published work is in print in front of her eyes, she still thinks she might have put a comma here or there, or used a semicolon, or cut/expanded a thought, or…. See?

Q: What should I write about? What’s selling?
A: If it’s selling now, it probably won’t be by the time you’ve written and submitted something. Recently at a workshop, one editor said, “Do not send me anything with vampires. I am drowning in vampire stories.”

Sharon Ervin, author of Nightingale