I often get asked how I became a published author. How did 600 000 copies of my books get sold? How come publishers now approach me to write books for them? I wish I had a recipe I could share like Jamie Oliver so that everyone out there could do the same.
But life recipes turn out differently in the kitchens of each of our hearts and circumstances.
Though we control our own effort, grace also weighs in there to some mysterious degree. I suspect the personality of our effort – open, humble and resilient as opposed to attached, needy and desperate may have something to do with success – but who knows? We all do our best.
I’ve reached a place in my own writing career where I feel that if I don’t write any more books, it will be okay. I have said much of what I want to share. The next phase of my life is about helping others to find their authentic writing voices and get their books published.
But I see aspiring authors stumble over the same problems. So I’m going to identify the most common ones and offer suggestions for getting past them.
First up: most beginner writers don’t understand the writing process or where they are in it. They’re lost. They don’t know where or how to start.
Writing a book is daunting. The task can feel overwhelming. Most people have no clue what writing a book entails. Many people start, and don’t get very far. Or they don’t start at all. Or they write a whole lot of bits and don’t know how to put them all together. Or they get stuck. Or they finish and they can’t get published. So let’s just begin with the beginning. Getting some sentences down on the page every day.
- Read books that can guide you and give you specific writing exercises to start the writing process – I recommend Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write or Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind.
- Just start writing anywhere: the itch on your nose; the jackhammering outside your window, the temperature gauge on your fridge that’s stuck and freezing the milk. Don’t worry about where it will go.
- Draw it – draw your story or book as a map. You can always stray from the map.
- Write on index cards – bits you can write in one-hour increments.
- Don’t worry about the beginning, middle and end. Just write. Structuring comes much later. You need to know where you are in the process and trust that what comes next will in fact, come next.
- Break the immense task down into small-bite sized chunks. You aren’t a python, you don’t need to swallow the thing whole — you don’t need to know how your book ends, or even what will happen. You just need to start it. And keep working away at it, scene by scene, or chapter by chapter. Shawshank it. You can tunnel your way out of a maximum-security prison one pocketful of dirt at a time.
- If you get stuck, use this as inspiration: ‘Write hard and clear about what hurts.’ Ernest Hemingway said that.