Thursday, 5 February 2009

How do I write a book?

I hear a lot of people asking how they should approach writing their book. Most people believe they have a book inside them, and they are almost certainly right. Furthermore, I wish that they would write it. Wouldn't it be fascinating if everybody wrote about what it was like to be them?

However, I have a preliminary question - do you want to make money from writing a book, or do you want to spend money writing a book?

This is not a a both/and question. It is one or the other. If you primarily want to make money, don't write a word. It is not what you do best. You are a business person. Find somebody else to write your book for you. There are lots of superbly skilled artists around who will write for the pleasure of writing, for the honour of eating your peanuts. Feed them peanuts to write for you. Then you will both feel fulfilled.

Question - would you rather be the guy who delivers your UPS parcel, proud that it has arrived at the right address in an unblemished condition, or would you rather be the boss of UPS, living like a god on more money a minute than the little guy receives in a year? If you are with the boss of UPS - don't write a word!

Good, that is settled. For those few left, you really want to be a writer. Good on you! You have chosen a path of pain and suffering, and ultimately of incomparable personal reward (but no money).

My best advice is "Ignore all advice. Do your own thing." True writers are the other types of entrepreneur - those want to change the world, not to exploit it.

Failing that, I have two ideas:

1. write as you talk

Unless you have an overwhelming urge to write differently, then write the way that you talk. If you think that great writers adopt special voices, ditch them. Do your real thing. If, on the other hand, you feel inwardly compelled to write in a different style, then do that.

2. get diverted

All great story tellers head down a path and get diverted. If you have ever seen "The Two Ronnies", Ronnie Corbert nailed it sitting in his chair. Audiences crave closure, so find a story that the audience is minded to want to close, then tease the hell out of the cliff-bound suckers. Get side-tracked. Get side-tracked on your side-tracks. Ensure that the audience believes that you will provide closure to every plot line in the end, but never make it yet. Audiences crave the promise of closure, not its achievement. When you finally close, they go "Is that it?" Before you close, they are speculating. All the best soaps have a whole pile of sub-plots running wild, all with the promise of closure in about 3 series' time. Soap writers know exactly what they are doing. Follow their lead. Imagine playing 'strings' with your cat. The cat has to win sometimes, but only sometimes.

So there you are. If you still want to do it, pitch in and don't ask another question until you have most of the answers already. Writing is not about when you should start; it is about feeling compulsively guilty that you haven't started already. Writing is for alcoholics, not for social drinkers.

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