Writing A Book
Your Unfinished Life: The Classic and Timeless Guide to Finding Happiness and Success Through Kindness is my fifth book. As in writing any book, you learn more each time you do one. I'm sure there are many current writers out there, as well as many others who have thought about doing a book. The purpose of this post is to share some of what I've learned so that perhaps it might help and encourage you.
Writing a book is the easy part - and that’s not too easy. Selling it is the hard part. Author Hugh McLeod expresses a truism in his “The Sex and Cash Theory” (Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys To Creativity):
“The creative person has two kinds of jobs – One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task at hand covers both bases, but not often.”
So it's important to enjoy what you are doing and to be able to derive value from things other than monetary rewards, or even monetarily breaking even, because more often than not, that's not going to happen, not at least without a lot of continuing hard work on your part. Selling books is like riding a bike. When you stop pedaling, you fall down.
This blog expresses what my experience in writing books has been. Writing is work, but it's also great fun and very rewarding, if you are inspired by your subject and want to share your knowledge, create an atmosphere or do whatever else is important to you. I certainly am no great success at selling books, but I think there is much to be learned on what not to do, as well as what to do, and I'll be covering that next time.
This blog is targeted toward writing non-fiction, although much of it will be applicable to writing fiction too. Here are some thoughts I hope may help you:
- Write about what interests you - what you think will help, inspire or educate, not what “will sell”. Of course, if you can pull both of them off at the same time, all the better. It’s important to have psychic income from what you do. That way even if you don’t make much money, or any money, you will still feel as if you have done something worthwhile and will be leaving a legacy that can help others long after you’ve gone ahead.
- Avoiding Regrets – From Larry King’s My Remarkable Journey:
One of his eight marriages was to Sharon: “Sharon’s father was an amateur baseball player and he was pretty good. But he went into the Marines, and afterward his father made him take a job in the post office. One time, I took him to an Orioles game. We were on the field during batting practice, standing behind the cage, watching the players hit. It was a typical scene you see year after year, game after game. But as I turned toward Sharon’s father, I saw tears running down his face. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I should have tried.’ I’ll never forget that. I may have regrets. But one thing I’ll never have to say is I wish I had taken the risk.”
Keep that in mind, whether you’re thinking about writing a book, starting to paint, traveling or something else you'd like to do. What you want to avoid is “The Longest Rock” – sitting in a rocking chair when you’re 79, wishing you had done something, but knowing that it’s too late to do anything about it now. Discipline yourself to do what you need to do. At least you'll know you tried.
- Real Rewards – “The more you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with spiritual rewards, and vice versa. Even if your path never makes money or furthers your career, that’s still worth a ton.” (McLeod) Writing Your Unfinished Life was a very important goal for me for that reason. I wanted to try to help readers find more happiness in their own lives by creating more in the lives of others, not only now, but long into the future. Some of my high school classmates told me they found my book "inspiring". It was very humbling to hear that from people who "knew me when". I've gotten some very nice editorial and buyer reviews on Amazon.com too, so I think the book has value. So whether I sell 5000 copies or 50,000, I can always have the spiritual satisfaction that the project was worthwhile.
- Start file folders - Outline major topics of your subject, e.g., Real Estate Principles, then put them in what you think is a logical order: Real Estate Basics, Property Interests, Model Real Estate Transaction, Contracts (Listings, Offers, Agreements of Sale), Financing and Mortgages, etc. Use these as a working Table of Contents. Put anything you find relevant in the appropriate folder. Once you feel as if you’ve collected enough to get started, start writing. Much of it comes to you as you work along.
- Read other books in the field - Provides a broad outline for what you’re going to do and serves as research. I read about fifteen books on happiness and kindness in preparation for writing Your Unfinished Life. Doing your research reading helps ensure you don’t overlook anything major in your book. It also provides quotable information you can use.
- Get Started - Start in any section if you have to. Just get going and start writing.
- Title – Don’t worry about it or waste time trying to think of one. Just give it a working title. Just like "Field of Dreams", start writing and it will come.
- Write as timelessly as possible - Don’t date the book too soon by including highly contemporaneous material. Many times this can't be helped, but it's something to keep in mind.
- Writing is a perfect example of “flow” - a concept developed by Mihail Csiksentmihali. A "flow state" can be created through a worthwhile exercise of time in pursuit of something higher than ourselves,where sense of time is lost. If you "don't know where the time went" when you were writing, you're there.
- Find your best time to write - morning, later at night, during the night. Then use bonus times: vacations, breaks, or times when you can’t get to sleep or wake up during the night.
- Explain what you’re doing, and how you need to do it, to your significant other - Having her/his cooperation helps. Then be considerate and try to write when it’s less likely to cause interference with daily life - when the other person is out,otherwise occupied or asleep. You still want to have a life.
- “How did you ever write a book?” is not an infrequent question writers get. The simple answer is that you have to keep sitting your butt in the chair and keep typing until you’re done. There isn’t any easy way. It takes focus and discipline. If you are always “very busy” or can’t find a time to write fairly regularly, it’s not going to happen. It takes commitment and belief in your subject. We seem to usually find time to do what we really want to do, no matter how busy we are. You just have to decide if writing is one of your priorities or if it isn’t.
- Use up to date computer programs and equipment - It may seem romantic to type a book on a typewriter like Hemingway, but it’s highly inefficient. Decide whether you’re longing for yesteryear or want to get something done with reasonable efficiency.
- When you get a thought, write it down or type it in somewhere immediately - Don’t tell yourself you’ll add it later. I forgotten many good thoughts like that - permanently. When you think of it, write it down somewhere.
- Getting Stuck - Can’t seem to write anything today? Find something else to do related to the book, go out and pull weeds, go to the movies, go for a walk. Just do something else. It’s ok. It happens. Even the best hiters get into slumps. As long as you still have the skills, it will come back and you'll get back on base again.
- Use quotations in you writing - It provides pithy sources of time-tested wisdom and augments your work by using the thoughts of recognized experts. Your Unfinished Life contains dozens of quotations that have greatly added to the book's value and support its premises.
- Save regularly - Set up to do it automatically or do it every fifteen minutes or so. Make it a habit to always hit “Save” anytime you have to get up for anything. If you hit the wrong key or kick out the plug, you can lose hours of work. You might think that you can just do it again, but you will never get it back as completely as you had it before. Trust me, it is very frustrating and “epithetic”. Remember: Better to save than to add to the lexicon of lurid expression.
- Don't forget CTRL-Z - This is a very useful "restore" key. Sometimes you do something inadvertently and stuff disappears, sometimes lots of it. Just stop for a minute. Don't type anything else, because if you do the command won't work. After a flub, hold down the CTRL key and push "Z" at the same time and your material will be restored.
- Copyright – You obtain a copyright on your work as you write it. Registering it with the Copyright Office provides you with proof of it if you need to defend it. Obtain an application through the Library of Congress website (http://www.loc.gov/). Copyright rules can be easily checked on the internet.
- Counting Fingers and Toes - It’s commonly said that parents check a newborn to see if they have all their fingers and toes. You’ll do the same thing when you have the rush of having your first carton of books delivered to you. It's a great moment for a writer, seeing the delivery after an elephant-length gestation period. Check the cover and read everything to make sure it’s ok. Look inside the book to see if everything is as it should be. This is another big advantage of having a small print run. If there’s a problem, it minimize it and it can be corrected for any future print runs.
For more information about selling books, visit my book's webpage. It will show you some of the things your book's webpage should include. To see the contents of my Amazon.com page, just click on the Amazon.com link I have on the home page of my book website:
Have a good and happy life,
Next time: Selling A Book