Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How do you write a book?

With everyone busy with finals and end-of-the-school-year stuff, questions have been down, so I'm picking a question.

At school visits, I've often been asked, "How do you write a book?"

People tend to think if you're gifted with writing, you must just sit down, and the words come with minimal effort and energy. Um, no.

Writing a book is a big project. You've got all these ideas and characters swarming your mind. You're thinking about a plot twist that should come toward the end, a fabulous line your heroine can say before she stomps out the door victoriously, etc. So how do you do it? What's the best way to bring it all together?

I've found myself returning to Anne Lamott's advice in her stunning book Bird by Bird time and time again. Here's what she says:

"I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running. I am going to paint a picture of it, in words, on my word processor."

A few paragraphs later she says:

"Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we're going to do
for now is to write a description of theriver at sunrise, or the young child
swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he
will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take
this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short

This is the way to write a book. Because otherwise it gets overwhelming, doesn't it? You start thinking about all those scenes that have to happen between now and typing THE END, and you can freeze.

You write a book by breaking it down into short assignments and focusing on those. Have a great idea for something a few scenes away? Fabulous. Jot it down, and save it for when you get there. For now, just think about the "assignment" on deck.

Have questions? Post below or e-mail me.


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  2. This is exactly how I've been feeling the last couple of days, so I know exactly what you mean! I'm glad to know that all authors feel the same way. It takes a while to write a book, just because of all the little tiny details that go into it before you have to type THE END. But what makes me persevere is looking forward to the day that I get the package of my books in the mail. Until then, I will continue writing. :)

    I'm sixteen, and last week at my first conference I was actually offered to be published. I'm thrilled, of course. I'm praying about it a little more, but I feel as if it is God's direction for my life. I know that you don't encourage teenagers to try and publish a book, which I respect and understand that - but the verse I have been going by is Ecclesiastes 11:9:
    "You who are young, make the most of your youth. Relish your youthful vigor. If something looks good to you, pursue it. But know also that not just anything goes; you have to answer to God for every last bit of it."

    For some teenagers, it is best to wait until after graduation to pursue getting a book published. But for me, God has given me this passion even when I was three, begging my mom to teach me to read. I have absolutely no desire in me to go to high school and live a normal teenage life, lol. All that I want to do is write. I know that it's not a race, but it's what God has laid on my heart. Besides, who best to write about and to teenagers than a teen herself? :)

    Anyways, thanks again so much for your tips. I think it's great that an author began a blog for teenage writers. Also, I just finished reading "Me, Just Different". Loved it! Can't wait to read the next two books in the series. :)

    God bless,


  3. Hi Tessa!

    Congratulations! How exciting! You'll have to keep us up to date on your publication journey.

    My hesitation with encouraging teens to seek publication is that I feel I had NO idea what all it involved, and there's no way I could have handled it as a teen. But God has different plans for everybody, and if you feel Him telling you this is the right decision, then it would be wrong not to do it. Just be as informed as you can going into it. I'm here to answer whatever questions you may have. (And, as a side note, most people don't recommend getting engaged at 17 like I did. Sometimes people are wrong.)

    I'm so glad you liked Me, Just Different! That's always especially nice to hear from GTW readers.

    Congratulations again!