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.