Excerpted from William Garner’s How To Write Your First Book: A Simple & Practical Method For Anyone Who Can Tell A Story.
And they write every day they can. Period. No argument there.
Good writers know it takes years to become a good writer, so they are patient, master the basics, and ply their trade as often as they possibly can. For me, I write every day, even if it’s one chapter, say, 10 pages. I write because I have something to say and so I go out of way to get it down on paper. I’ve also been doing this for decades and have done well at it, so I’ve seen in myself what works and doesn’t, plus I’ve talked with other good writers about their habits. They tell me that they write each day, as well, and it’s because they have something to say each day. One of the rewards is that we good writers also get paid well for what we do.
Please do not allow the promise of good pay to become your primary motive for writing your first book. It should only be a side effect, at best. Love what you do, and the money will follow.
I’m lucky: I get to earn a living as a writer and editor, and I take advantage of it each and every day, unless of course, I’m on vacation. Truth? Even then I have a laptop and I’m writing. It may be an idea for a novel, or maybe an actual chapter for a book, but I am definitely writing. It’s as if I can’t get away from it, even though I’ve tried to let it go sometimes. Writing is in my blood and DNA and when I don’t pay careful and sufficient attention to this fact, my subconscious lets me know.
I am cursed: I have to write. I wish this wonderful curse on you, too, because if you love it like I do, then you’ll always be a writer and eventually will get published and do well. Maybe we should call it a spell, not a curse. Once again, I wish the spell that affects me every single day to come over you and bless you in a very special way.
Not everyone has the time to write every day, but good writers make it happen somehow and they maintain a good consistency, a ritual of writing and honing their skills. The only way to become a good writer is to implement the lessons and tools that make all writers good at what they do.
A good writer reads voraciously. She reads the works of other good writers, both entertainingly and critically. Other writers and authors provide us new ways of thinking, new ideas and tools that we use in our own writing. To say we “steal” the work of others is probably accurate, although there is a fine line between using devices of other writers and plagiarizing their work. If you come across a clever word or phrase written by someone else, it’s okay to use it in your own work, and that’s what good writers do, explaining that they were “influenced” by someone else’s good writing.
If a good author shares her influences with her audience, I ask you to study the works of those “influences” and then re-read that particular author’s works. I’ll bet you will find some gems in her writing that were “stolen” from the works of those who influenced her. You’ll also discover how her work evolved from the combined works of others. It takes time to study this, but if you do you’ll find it.
It’s amazing to see how we are influenced by the beautiful artwork of other people. People just like you. Hey, there’s another good reason for you to write your first book: it will become influential in the lives and artwork of other good writers and authors someday.
I’ve been influenced and inspired by dozens of writers, even those whose work I didn’t care for. I’ve always taken away a little something from everyone’s work and, even though I may not have actually used it in some small way in my own work, I keep those little gifts for the future. I write down and store these words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs I like from the works of others, and sometimes I’ll just read them, one by one, letting the brilliance of someone’s artwork seep into my subconscious where it somehow becomes my own work and paints new vistas for me. That’s how the work of other artists influences us: it moves us enough for us to record it and keep it someplace safe so we can enjoy it over and over . . . and even use it in our own work.
When someone else’s artwork makes you tingle inside, they’ve inspired you and have given you a booster shot of usable energy. Take that energy and channel it into your own artwork. Someday you will pass it on to someone else.
When we write, we do not necessarily reinvent the wheel, we capitalize on the lessons and tools we learned from other people, those who have been successful. In many cases, too, we use the work of writers who have not been successful, because they have a unique voice or choice of wording sentences and phrases, developing and expressing characters, using clever dialogue to advance a particular character and, in the end, the overall storyline.
Good writers feed their subconscious daily with many powerful active ingredients: art, conversation, face-to-face human interaction, traveling, eating great food, watching great films, storytelling with friends and colleagues. Since our subconscious is the entity that writes our story, it’s most important to nurture it. This is the topic of a future chapter on the subconscious.
Since I don’t punch a time clock or work for anyone else, I get to set my own schedule. I rise each morning when it feels right, have breakfast and lunch when my body says it’s time, go for long walks and hikes, take long drives along the coast where I live, or visit some cool shop, museum, bookstore or . . . anyplace that suits me in that moment. Sometimes, too, I just hang out under the duvet and watch movies all day. It’s part of my work, part of the whole process of creating something special, so I never feel guilty about it. Neither should you, if this becomes your way of life.
A special sidebar note about this process: you must be surrounded by people who support and respect you, those who know what it takes for you to succeed. For them to fully understand the process and what you wish to accomplish, you absolutely must share with them what your dreams, wishes, desires and needs are. Please do not keep them in the dark as you go through the process of writing your first book. Why? Let’s consider the passage below. It tells a great story.
“All disappointments are due to either unexpressed communications or unfulfilled expectations.”
—Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Well said. Interestingly, the Maharishi studied physics in the early 1940s before founding the practice of transcendental meditation. I think he understood the power of the Universe and celestiophysics, and founded quite a movement based on this universal power.
So, using the Maharishi’s quote to support my assertion, I feel you should express your desires to your family and supporters, so they fully understand and appreciate and respect what you’re doing. The more they know and understand, the better they can support you. Also ensure you express your personal expectations and goals as you further your artwork.
Look at it this way: if both you and all your family members knew exactly why you want to write your first book, and they knew all your and their own expectations for your success, then everyone would be on the same page, the same frequency. There’s a certain power and symmetry when many people’s dreams, wishes and desires are on the same page. The power isn’t just additive, it’s exponential. That, my dear Reader, is another unique power of celestiophysics. Makes me want to write a book about it right now, but my immediate obligation is to you. . . .
Ahhh! Where were we? The subject of communicating what we desire and then communicating our expectations to those important to us. To those of you who have families and significant others, this could be the most powerful tool you learn from this book.
I treat myself to good food, and find it so inspiring sometimes that I have to write about it, describing in great detail how it looked, smelled, tasted, the whole time wondering if I’d use it in some future story. Good entertainment is just as important. As I’ve said previously, I may spend all day watching some cool films and tv shows, entertainment that fills me with sizzling inspiration, or just observing animals and insects in the wild, or maybe the clouds drifting over from Antarctica. I’m sooo inspired by everything around me, I want to study it, make sense of it, write about it and then share it with everyone.
That, in itself, is a powerful feeling. And it gives me incentive and otherworldly energy to write write write!
It’s as if I can’t stop writing until that energy is spent and my body stops tingling and then goes into a relaxing detumescence. It’s very much like making wild passionate love, having an unforgettable orgasm, then coming down slowly and deliciously. Wow!
Point is, I get out and enjoy the world, because this is where stories are designed and built, from experiential experience and from being inspired by the artwork of exceptional and innovative people who aren’t much different from you, darlin’. I also get out there and practice my social skills of interacting and conversing with humans and engaging the environment. Without these skills, I am a slug.
Good writers are also good editors.
Once done with a draft, they let it sit for a certain period of time, then go back and change, or edit, whatever is necessary to make the story better. Editing takes time. The easy part is to get your story out of your head and onto paper. Then the real fun begins. Reminds me of a quote from a Larry McMurtry novel, to the effect: “Just when you think you’ve reached the end, that will be the beginning.” It’s the same with writing that first draft: just when you think you’re done, you then get to have even more fun editing your first book. Editing is the subject of a future chapter.
Good writers take breaks and vacations when needed. Sometimes it’s necessary to step away from your work, allowing your subconscious to distill and analyze what you’re written. At a later time, you then go back and let your subconscious edit your work for you. When I need a real break from writing, I go somewhere where my laptop doesn’t want to be, like the side of a mountain or under water. Taking a break means just that: a break from the typical pace of everyday life. It’s good to get away from doing just one thing. Variety is necessary. Plus, it’s an excuse to let your subconscious take a break from you, something that can be as important as your going walkabout in the wilderness for a few days.
I used to be a first-draft writer, never getting beyond that first draft, until I realized that to be a good writer I would need to keep working on my story until I got it just right. I couldn’t just let my cake bake itself, after I’d only added the mix and an egg. I needed to continue working on that cake until it was a masterpiece. To me, at least.
Good writers never stop learning. They are always on the lookout for a new lesson or tool that will enhance their work. They continually practice their skills just like athletes do. If you’re a sprinter and don’t sprint and do supplemental exercises, eat well, stay away from harmful things, then your muscles atrophy, they go slack. A sprinter cannot perform at top level without daily workouts and treating herself well. Like a seasoned sprinter, a good writer hones her skills and stretches beyond her boundaries without fear or trepidation.
How do I treat myself? First, I let my imagination run wild, like that six-year-old child who sees the world with wide curious eyes, soaking up everything around him. I absorb all I can from every possible source, asking questions along the way, meeting new people who teach me new things and introduce me to new concepts and ideas. I fill my mind, heart, soul with all life has to offer, then channel what I learn into my work.
When you master the good habits of good writers, you will be well on your way to becoming a good writer. You owe it yourself to do whatever it takes. Use this building-block approach, stay on track, do the exercises, follow through to the last word of your first book. Then go back and read it all again.
Repeat as necessary.