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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to Write a Book: Tips

I would love to start this post by saying that I’m an expert book writer; however, despite many years of writing, reading and studying the world of publishing, I still frequently feel that I am stumbling around a dark room looking for answers that aren’t actually there.

Before embarking on this long, and often arduous, journey it’s important to know what you’re after. Do you love to read fiction and long to detail your own epic love story that weaves a tale of elves, ogres and evil princes? Do you want to write an informative nonfiction book about growing wheat grass, choosing natural birth or writing a knockout resume? Understanding your goal is paramount because you can create an outline or plan from that larger intention.

Will you write fiction, nonfiction, memoir or novella? Figure it out and then go one step further and figure yourself out. Why do you want to write this book, this story? For me, writing has always been a release. I journal ferociously, but writing a novel is about moving into the realm of possibility. It’s about feeling inspired to tell a story and giving myself the power to create a whole new world and lead a character through it. It also comes down to self-discovery and world discovery because I’m becoming intimately acquainted with a space that exists within me and within the larger consciousness of humankind.

For instance, I wrote a fantasy book last year called Ula and it has been contracted for publication through Bluewood Publishing. When I started the novel, my central character, Abby, did not exist. Ula began as a few paragraphs about a girl walking through a forest and stumbling upon a dead body. Where did the idea come from? Who knows, really? I love the woods and I’ve always been drawn to the macabre so it was likely born from that eerie feeling that periodically accompanies a walk in the forest. Thus Ula began with this idea, but a single scene does not a novel make, so from that scene I moved backwards. Where had my character been before finding this body? What types of synchronicities had occurred to bring her to this juncture? And then I moved forward. How had discovering this body changed her life? What would happen as a result of her discovery?

As I wrote the story, I began to know my protagonist more and more deeply. I wrote her actions, her thoughts and her appearance. In a sense, her experiences became my experiences. Then something interesting happened; I began to move the novel into the realm of fantasy. No longer was I writing from the limitations of life, as we know it; I was writing from a bottomless chasm of magic, witches and evil. I was giving myself an enormous creative gift by veering into the world of the unknown and the unknowable. In fantasy, all is possible and there is something very tantalizing about writing from such a wide, wonderful space. I had not anticipated this novel as fantasy when I started it, but that is what makes creative writing so fantastic; it's your creation, it can go anywhere you choose to take it.

Once I moved to fantasy, I also opened the possibility of multiple books, a trilogy or more. This allowed me to introduce more characters, more storylines and more questions. I am not an avid fantasy reader and, at times, this made writing fantasy difficult, but at the end of the day, we are all steeped in fantasy from birth until death; our imaginations feed on it, our souls need it to recognize how amazing life on earth truly is.

Your imagination is the infinite pool of wisdom that you can dip into generously for ideas. For the less creative aspects of writing a book, consider the tips outlined below:

  • Find your prime writing time and be selfish about it. I write really well in the mornings. My mind is clear, I’m fresh from a night of dream travel and the day is just beginning. I make a French press of coffee, sit in a comfy window-facing chair and get down to business. Writing is tough and it’s even harder when you’re tired, unmotivated or uninspired. Monitor your writing experience at various times of the day for a week and take notice of when you’re at your best and then carve that time out for writing and stick to it!

  • Put pen to paper or fingers to keys - no matter what. It is very easy to choose something other than writing - like petting your cat, surfing the web or rearranging your living room furniture, but if you repeatedly do those things, the writing simply will not happen and the book will never get finished. Once you have blocked-out your writing time, commit to doing nothing else during that window. If you can’t get motivated to write your next scene, try journaling instead. Write about your day, your observations or happy childhood memories. You're setting an intention and each day that you fulfill it, you improve your craft and your commitment.

  • Write through the blocks. I’m not a huge fan of the term writer’s block, but I am familiar with feeling stuck. Sometimes it’s a difficult character or you've reached a major turning point and just aren’t sure where to go. In these cases, I write a future scene. I simply skip where I’m at and plug myself into some less pressure-filled moment where my protagonist is encountering an old friend or stumbling across some worthy clue. I write this scene as if I will throw it away. This allows me to write past the block and potentially connect to a future plot point.

  • Find creative ways to know your characters. Sometimes my characters are very real in my head; other times they are mere shadows of a life and I stress over their every move. I like to plug my characters into personality quizzes to get to know them better. The questions on the quizzes provide quirky and sometimes helpful information about your characters' behaviors, personalities and beliefs. Try quizzes on Psychology Today to discover their sensuality levels, paranormal beliefs and more. 

"Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window."

William Faulkner 

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