How to write a book - random thoughts
First step is to stop saying that you will one day write a book and just start writing. Second step is to make a declaration, which is kind of like committing oneself to the process. It means assigning a writing schedule for oneself. Whatever works best for you. When do you have time to write? Is it when you wake up or before you go to bed? Is it at home or in the library? And here is the thing - don't force yourself to write. It has to pour from your heart - so if there is no passion for the subject, don't bother. Allow me to explain. If you sit in front of a computer or paper and pen and all that you can write is one sentense, so be it. Let it be one sentense. At times you will write a word, a paragragh or a chapter. Don't ever force it. In a year, you may have a book. Marianne Williamson says the you are to do only that which is deeply emotional and psychologically imperative. Do it because you enjoy it.... not for the money. To be continued...._
Some folks are lucky because they already know what they want to write about. Others, not so lucky. For both, its imperative that you walk around with a pen or lately, type on your cell phone. All senses should be alert, smell, sight, touch, sound and taste. If you know what you are writing about then anytime you see or feel something along your subject, write it down instantly. Don't wait until you get home because you will be gazing at the ceiling wondering what it was that had excited you. If you don't know what you are writing about then its a lot of fun because you have to follow your instincts. If something inspires or moves you, you write it down. Is it something you heard in a movie? Maybe a politician's quote or maybe the sight of the country as you drive by? The mow of a cow? The train whistle in the distance? You write it down and when you get home, transfer the same onto your computer or paperwork, this time trying to expound on what you had experienced. At this point of writing, don't worry about flow or the story, just write and write and write. You may end up with 600 hundred pages, but your book may only be 200. A time to make sense of all the madness will come. That time is not now. Continued...
So you have been writing now for a few days, weeks or months. If you are lucky probably about the same topic. If not, then you probably have a hundred different stories in your file. Maybe a story about a bad day at work or school; about how you witnessed a car accident or were involved in one; maybe you got chased by a dog; maybe you wrote about the politics that bombard our lives; or simply the roaches invading your house. Whatever it is, you need to pat yourself on your back because YOU are finally a writer.
Moving on. You will realize that you like some of your stories better than others. Pick them out and take one at a time. I mean, the ones you like. Is there anything more you want to add? Does your story relate to any other you have written before? Is there any way you can join them? For example: the day you had a car accident. Maybe you could come home and try to sleep it off but then the roaches wouldn’t let you. So you turn on the TV to get your mind off stuff and boring politics just wouldn’t cut it. You combine your three stories and hey! What do we have here? A short story. Is it THE story that you want to write? Probably not. But you get the idea.
The story you write has to be the one that you care about. You care about it so much such that when you are at work on your break, you think about it. Or when you are on the bus driving home, you talk to your characters. The characters in your story have to be real to you. You have to see them and feel their pain and suffering. When they cry, you cry too. I know, sounds geeky, but hey, one day someone will walk up to you and say, ‘I like Simon a lot.’ And you would be like, ‘who’s Simon?’ and he will look at you weird and say, ‘The protagonist in your book.’ Continued....
There are no rules in writing an initial novel draft. A hook, a goal, an obstacle, action, response, and a cliffhanger… these are some rules required in writing, that you don’t need when writing an initial draft.
To me, writing an initial draft is like jumping from the top of Mt. Everest with a smile on your face. And as you glide down, hands outstretched like wings, you close your eyes and smile, you are free falling… you are free writing … serenity… a thing of beauty.
Now, a lot of people like to give away chapters to friends for critique. I guess you can do that to get some kind of response, but in my opinion, if you can finish the whole book first then that book will reflect your innermost feelings and it will be real. The risk of critiques and editors is that they can easily take away your voice and mould your book into something suitable for the market. Book readers are smart people and they will detect the difference between creative work and passion. Continued...
Your unique writing style is what defines you as a writer. However, how you write will be subconsciously dictated by the kind of books you read. If you have been reading Daniel Steel for a long time then you discover hints of romance in your writing and a straight narrative unlike the twists and turns found in the likes of Robert Ludlum.
Life goes on as you write… school, work… career pursuits. There will be times when you will encounter writers’ block. When you stare at the computer and your mind goes blank. It’s normal. But what you do during these times is what determines your future writing. You read books, you watch movies, you learn how to play with different words and metaphors, and you experiment with some and see how they fit in your writing.
When I was 14 years old I came across the phrase, ‘he felt as though someone had touched the nape of his neck with an icy hand.’ I have to stop myself from using it all the time to avoid clichés.
But when the moment passes and you get your writing passion back, you forget about the above and continue to free write. A time to use big words and metaphors will come. The time now is to get the story out of your head. Continued...
We have to recognize that not everybody is a free spirit. Free spirits are the kind of people you meet at the airport and when you ask them where they are going, the answer is usually something like this, “You know what? I haven’t decided yet.”
Not everybody can free write. Some folks have to draw an outline of their story before writing it down. It’s kind of like a control system to keep from subject deviation. You have to find out what works best for you.
I also met a girl who wrote half a book from first person perspective then decided to switch to third person and rewrite the whole book. You have to decide what works best for you. I love first person writing because I become a part of the story. If am writing about a killer, then I fall into character and become the killer. I’m bad, evil, am immoral. “I pick up the knife and stick it into the man’s belly. I hear him scream and watch the life slip out of his eyes.”
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So it’s been a year now and you have finished writing your book, or your first draft. No big deal, you got the job done. What do you mean no big deal? It’s a huge deal! You have actually done it! A lot of people talk about writing books but you have actually finished yours and even managed to chip in a nice conclusion and a few big words to attest to the level of your education.
Set the book aside for at least a month and go celebrate. Go dancing, watch movies, visit friends, take a vacation or even through a first draft party. Do whatever it is that you need to do to get your mind away from the book. For one month, steer away from the book and avoid the temptation to take a peek. Continued…
It’s been a month or two now since you finished your first draft. The honeymoon is over, time to get back to work. Where did you put that stupid draft? Oh, there it is.
This is the part of writing called making sense of the madness. What the heck have you been writing about? You are going to read your whole book and try and figure out the answer.
Hold on, not so fast. There is a method of doing this. You won’t read your draft like a novel. What you will do is read one chapter at a time. You read chapter one and amend what you can. Rewrite the sentences that need to be rewritten, replace words that make you cringe, add metaphors and paragraphs to strengthen your chapter. After you do this, you log out and go do something else. Go to work or school or the gym. But here is the thing, at the back of your mind, you will be thinking about that chapter all day long.
Take your characters to heart, see them and feel them. What are they wearing? How are they reacting to one another? Take notes of the things and ideas that come to your mind and then the following day, go back and make the necessary amendments. You know what I mean? The way she flicks her hair when she laughs; the clench of his fist when he’s angry; the way her hips sway when she walks.
Try not to do too many chapters at the same time because trust me, spacing out the chapter readings gives you great ideas. And above all, remember that the whole idea of doing a second draft is trying to figure out the book theme. What are you trying to tell the world? Everybody has a story. You have to figure out yours and how your story stands out from the rest.
Another thing you have to remember is what we talked about earlier. Do not force yourself to read or write a chapter. If you come home and are tired or not feeling it, don’t do it. Walk away from the computer.
In ancient times, our ancestors were guided by their innate connection to their spirit. Life was about deep listening and acting accordingly. They called it the teaching of the hollow bone and it goes like this.
If you find an old bone in the woods, it has been cleaned out by insects or animals and appears to be pristine. The insides are absolutely smooth. When you become a hollow bone, you have no ego, no doubts, no pride. Just humility. The spirit can now come straight to you and straight through you. You read a book clearly or type on a laptop without pause.
How do you become a hollow bone?
For me, I go to the woods or a quiet park. I see the children and the dogs running: the couple taking a walk, the girl reading a book under a tree. Some people close their eyes to clear their minds, I don’t. I look at the serene scene around me and it clears my mind, I ground myself and breathe my spirit into my body. I listen with my heart. And then I write. Continued...
The ‘Save’ button on the computer should be your best friend. You save and save and save. You save after you type a word, a sentence or a paragraph. You save the deleted scenes because trust me, you will one day want to look back or need to use some of your old stuff. If everything you write is from your heart then every word represents the very fiber that defines who you are in life and as a writer.
So it’s been a few months now and you have finished editing the first draft. You actually have a complete second draft! Congratulations! It takes grit to reach this stage and you are well on your way to writing a best seller.
So you now, put the book aside and this time for a little bit longer, say a minimum of two months, maximum five. What you are about to embark on is the part of writing called ‘research’. Yaks… there goes the word that makes the heart flutter.
You find books that are in your genre or in line with what you are writing. If your book is based in a particular country then you can narrow your research to Authors from that country. If you are writing about crime and detective series then you should for example read James Patterson; if you are writing legal thriller then John Grisham is your man. You read to enjoy but here is the thing, you learn from their style; you watch chapter transition and plot build up, you see how they draw you in and make you feel. You see how they play with words and above all, make sure that your writing is not a repetition of what has already been published. Don’t let your book be a cliché because publishers will not look at it twice.
When I was doing research on a Lion in America my first novel, I had been in America for eight years and had lost touch with my homeland Africa. I wanted to know what African writers were writing about and so I read African writers like Chinua Achebe, Ishmael Beah and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. The River between novel by Ngugi captivated me a lot and I realized that its genius was in its simplicity. Ngugi spoke about a divided Africa contaminated by western ways and now many years later I realized that Ngugi had been trying to warn the world about my kind and I. I know more about the western lifestyle than my own. I have a first English and second African name. I am a lion in America.
If you write from your heart then your book will be unique. Now think about how you can draw a margin between what you have written and the books already in the market. What direction or how can you twist your book to make it your story and not just another detective series or romance theme? You have to figure this out before you go back to doing a third draft. Continued….
Not everybody can write like Shakespeare. Everybody has a unique voice.
A t this stage of writing a novel, it’s imperative that you immerse yourself into the world of writing. Attend writing classes and workshops, join a critique group or book club, read books about writing and attend conferences. The world of writing is one that’s evolving and being amongst other writers will help stay in tune with the changes. You will interact with successful authors and the not so successful ones and you will learn the do and don’ts of the trade.
One thing you will notice is that particular writing classes are taught according to those author’s personal experiences with publishers and the writing world. For example, one class will teach you never to use exclamation marks as a writer but when you go down the street, I guarantee you that you will find a novel with a thousand exclamation marks. So just because your writing style is different does not mean that its wrong. This is important because if you write your book based on a class you took, then you may loose out because the real world of writing is very flexible and your writing style may just be what people are waiting for to break from the monotony of the everyday writing style. You have to find a balance between your style and what’s acceptable.
However, there are some things you can do to strengthen your work:
Passive voice: John was stubbed by the killer. (Rewrite this)
Active voice: The killer stubbed John. (Use strong verbs)
Adverbs: Cut down on the adverbs.
He ran quickly
Adjectives: Reduce your adjectives
A beautiful blonde young girl: (does the reader really need to know all this? How else can you rephrase?)
A beautiful young girl. She ran across the road and her blonde hair fell behind her.
The key to good writing is to use muscle verbs: verbs that tell a story in one word: verbs that show and don’t tell. Continued…
The general structure of a story or scene should outline as follows:
A hook; a goal; an obstacle; an action; some response; a cliffhanger or a problem leading to next scene.
A good hook should ground a reader and engage him or her emotionally. It should show and not tell what’s happening. It should not slow down the story to describe a setting or back-story… it should have a balance. Lastly, a lot of readers don’t read prologues so be careful if your hook is in the prologue because you may just miss out.
Conflict can be internal or external. Conflict can be in a dialogue. Dialogue is real people talking, toned down. Dialogue must advance story. Don’t tell readers what they already know and don’t waste time on pleasantries.
-Call to adventure
-Meeting with mentor
-Tests and obstacles
-Allies and enemies
-Seize sword of victory
-Back to normal life
Never stop editing and researching. Resolve inconsistencies, avoid information dump, and don’t lecture the reader. Set the book aside for a few months or give it to a friend to read. Continued…
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...