Someone once asked me what I would do if I knew I would not fail. I responded, without a shade of hesitation, that I would write a book.
Have I? Nope. Do I want to? Most definitely. Will I? I don’t know. What if I fail?
For years, the book I have had my heart set on writing has existed only in my imagination. Unattainable and utterly perfect, it has been safe from any bumbling and imperfect attempts to reproduce it in a tangible form. Because, of course, it cannot be reproduced. It is perfect, unformed, untainted by my inexperienced hand.
They say you only know how to write your book after you have written it. I cannot begin if I do not know how, because I would ruin it. My unwritten treasure, therefore, cannot be attempted.
My imaginary book is perfect. But no-one can read my perfect book-child, locked away inside my head. I cannot hand it to someone, to wow them into speechlessness as it surely would. I cannot read it and feel proud, because I would have to write it first, and I do not feel worthy.
But … perhaps I can write its lesser cousin. The book-child who will start as an inconceivably terrible first draft, never to be seen by human eyes except my own. Then, book-child may become a second, slightly less terrible draft, and then a third, a sixteenth, a forty-second, and so on. Book-child may be seen by many eyes, if I have courage enough to pass her around. She may yet be raw and vulnerable, yet without her skin, when I first hand her over. Book-child will wear the kind words of guidance, and I will allow her to grow and evolve beyond what I thought she could be. At some point, she will have to be pushed out into the world: whole, or nearly so, and most definitely as imperfect as her creator.
While she may be a shadow of the precious vision in my head, she will be real. Flawed, mistyped, worked over far too many times. And I will be a thousand times more proud of her than of the immaculate and divine image that I carry around in my head.
Am I going to write a book? Yes. Am I going to fail? Yes. A hundred times. Maybe more. And it is exactly that which will make me all the more proud in the end, when I finally get it right.
April 11, 2019
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything longer than a paragraph. I thought it would feel unfamiliar, but it feels like coming home. My spontaneous hiatus from writing, reading and generally functioning is coming to a close, and I am feeling a hesitant kind of relief.
Prior to my internship at Busybird, I had been playing host to a frustrating kind of brain fog. Not the where-are-my-keys? kind of brain fog, but the can’t-finish-a-sentence kind. I was unable to recall what words should come after ‘hello’, and what the name of this thing is – the sharp one that cuts the vegetables. And what do you call this long green vegetable, the one with the nubbin on the end? And these ones that are round-ish and beige. I was a slow customer at the self-serve checkout.
When Blaise asked me to write this blog post, I was worried that I wasn’t up to task. I wasn’t certain that my newly recovered concentration and vocabulary for groceries would be sufficient. But when I’d been asked to proof a novel a few weeks ago, I was uncertain then too. I became immediately enthralled by the task of picking through it word by word. It was the first book I had managed to read in a year and a half, and I was delighted. So I hoped that this might go better than expected too.
Many things have gone better than expected since I started my internship at Busybird. After my overly-friendly brain fog intercepted my Honours year, I had found myself without a writing community. I discovered one again at the Busybird Open Mic Night I attended on my first day. I haven’t been part of such a supportive crowd … perhaps ever. I felt like anything was possible. I’ve even started eyeing off an unfinished project that I thought would never be written. I thought I would never be capable.
But I also thought I wasn’t capable of writing a blog post, and here we are.
I am more hopeful about my writing than I have been in years. I’m shaking the dust off my ideas, the ones I thought were spent and overly ambitious. I’m reassessing them, and I’m getting excited again. I guess that’s what happens when you spend time around people who have made it their life’s work to nurture books into the world: to hatch them gently, and then shove them out of the nest when they are ready. Because we don’t always believe we can fly until we’re doing it.
I penned the first draft of this article by hand, and I have awoken muscles that I had forgotten that I had. I have a happy little dent where my pen has been resting.
Welcome home, finger-dent. It’s been a while.
March 28, 2019
In the age of Marie Kondo and Minimalism, is it time to throw out the paperbacks sitting untouched on the bookshelf?
I look over to the bookshelf sitting brazenly in the corner of my room. It’s far beyond full — good God, it’s overflowing!
It’s littered with a mix of yellowing classics and freshly plucked bestsellers crammed together haphazardly, almost as if the owner doesn’t care for them at all. And this is only half of the books I own. The rest are scattered amongst stained coffee tables and piled high on desks. This is in stark contrast to the rest of my possessions, which are stowed meticulously in their rightful places – even if this place is the rubbish bin. When it comes to books, the bibliophilic madwoman that sleeps within my chest stirs and with her husky voice implores, ‘Hoard! Keep the little treasures close! Don’t ever let them go!’
Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has recently entered the public arena because of the novel way with which it defines a person’s relationship with their possessions. Marie Kondo advocates for the practice of minimalism. She encourages people to let go of objects which no longer serve a purpose in their life. This begs the question: should this be applied to our books?
Looking at my collection, I wondered about the reason that we hold onto our books instead of applying the same degree of regular detoxification that we do to the rest of our possessions. After a quick brainstorming session, I identified three main reasons that we hoard our books:
- Decorative Achievement
Books are often similar to medals or certificates; we store them around our homes as trophies of the knowledge we’ve gained. They’re plaques awarded by triumphing a few hundred pages. This is the reason that a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People sits smugly by my desk, crooning and shaking its tailfeathers any time a visitor walks into the room.
Alternatively, books can fall into the category of memorabilia, generating a sense of warmth around the memories of reading them. I will often look at one of my prized books, give it a high five, and smile at experiences we had together.
Lastly, the more deadly reason for hoarding a book derives from the delusion that we’ll actually get around to reading it – an impulse purchase that sits lifelessly on the shelf, often unread for the whole of its life. Marie Kondo suggests in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, that ‘the moment you first encounter a book is the right time to read it.’ Well, Marie, sometimes I’m busy, okay?
Is it okay to accept that we’re simply not strong enough to give up our books? Or should we be actively getting rid of books we no longer need? The KonMari Method™ suggests that you shouldn’t keep anything that doesn’t ‘spark joy’. Its order to determine this is that you hold the item in question close to you. If you don’t feel it bring you happiness, then it’s time to throw it away.
However, I would argue a reader’s relationship with books is far more complicated than a regular person’s with their regular possessions. I’m sure I could find numerous books on my shelf that disgusted and disappointed me when I read them. And I’m equally as sure that if I held them close, I would just as quickly unfeelingly push them away. But even these books I can’t find myself able to permanently move to the bin (I’m looking at you, Twilight).
There is something precious and magical about a book, and this extends to the experience of book ownership. Those who love books, love to surround themselves with books. They use them to decorate their homes and reaffirm their identities. Holding onto a book is not sensible nor logical; it’s a highly emotive decision, and this is where minimalists are dumbfounded. Because if you’re likely never going to read a book again, then it’s served its purpose … Right?
Perhaps the reason that we hoard books is inexplicable. Perhaps we can’t easily define this complex relationship, that it’s beyond understandable reason. Quite frankly, in this reader’s opinion, if there’s still space in your house, then there is nothing wrong with that at all.
Hoard away, dear book-lovers!
March 14, 2019
There are lots of people out there offering fast, nasty mentoring packages. They’re fast, because the mentor wants the quickest turnaround possible, which inflates their bank account. And they’re nasty because, often, the mentor knows very little about writing, or the publishing industry – if anything, they know just enough to bluff their expertise.
Usually, some sort of formula is offered – a methodology to plan and write the book that’s tantamount to connecting the dots. The aspiring author just has to provide the content. Then you get the picture.
There you go: book complete.
Does this method work?
I would be wary of any formula that is applied to writing. Writing is an industry where the execution doesn’t fit a set template. Yes, there are precepts we all observe – e.g. the three-act structure – but they act as a foundation on which you can build your vision. To say that you must build X amount of chapters, and they must contain this and that is constricting.
Now the wily author – one who has a good idea of what they want to do – could exploit such a methodology to get the most out of what they want to write. In writing, there’s a tried but true adage: You have to know the rules before you can break them. So prospective authors can make this work for them.
But if you’re diffident, uncertain, and/or looking for genuine guidance, then I’d ask if writing this way is the best way forward for you.
So all these packages are scams?
No. There are good people out there. The issue arises in publishing because often, prospective authors are inexperienced and unfamiliar with the landscape. It’s easy for anybody to prey on that inexperience, and sell bluster as the norm under the umbrella, This is how publishing works. How can the inexperienced author know any better?
It’s important to do your due diligence. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask as many questions as you need. In any situation where you’ll be paying for a service, you’re entitled to ask questions about how that service works. It’s YOUR right.
If the person you’re dealing with can’t answer those questions, grows abrupt, or resorts to bluster, then are they really going to be right for you?
Think about WHY you’re writing a book.
There’s that old saying, Everybody has a book in them. It’s true. And there’re plenty of valid reasons to write a book, such as:
- to showcase your expertise in your field, e.g. life coaching, business, health
- to sell a methodology, e.g. how to make money investing
- to tell the story of your life
- to record for posterity the history of an organization, business, or community
- writing about a particular topic, e.g. butterflies.
Or you might be working on:
- a novel
- a short story anthology
- a collection of poetry.
Some people ask if there’s any value in trying to write a book. Does the world really need another book? Especially from somebody who’s never considered writing before? It’s a perfectly valid question that can be answered by exploring what you mean by value.
If you want to write a book because you believe you have a bestseller, that you’re going to become rich and famous, and you’re going to quit your 9–5 job, that’s not a valid reason.
We write this enough on this blog: there’s no way to guarantee a bestseller. You might as well play lotto. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. But you shouldn’t be going all-in.
If you have knowledge you want to share, a story you want to tell, or just the passion to put yourself out there, then those would be valid reasons.
It all comes back to one simple truth: we are all unique, and therefore we all have something unique to share. Packages that try to formularise writing are depriving you of your uniqueness and trying to make you – and whatever you want to try – common.
You are unique.
The 16-Week Write-to-Publish Program
We’ve seen authors shortchanged. We’ve had people crying to us on the phone about the exorbitant money they’ve spent to end up with a product they’re not happy with – or not end up with a product at all. We’ve had authors talk about packages they’ve signed up to only to end up with poorly edited and/or designed books. To put it simply, we’ve seen prospective authors screwed – good people who have wasted hard-earned money and time.
Again, it’s about doing due diligence. It’s not worth dealing with anybody:
- who pressures you (or harasses you)
- who can’t answer your questions
- who is full of bluster, rather than experience.
Our 16-Week Write-to-Publish Program was designed to offer a measured, structured mentoring program that could guide an author through the writing, help realise their vision, and produce a book at the end of it all. Our mentors are people who are published authors, editors, mentors, and have overseen the publication of over three hundred books.
If you’re going to write a book, what course would you prefer?
February 28, 2019
It’s not unusual to hear of actors who gain weight to play a larger character. Or for them to intensely research a role. Or that they won’t break character, even when not filming. More than just playing that part, they want to be that character. In that case, they’re not acting. They live the role. This is called ‘method acting’. Method actors believe this methodology makes their portrayal authentic.
Some writers do the same. If they write about a particular place, they go to that place. If they write about a topic, they throw themselves into research. Or they try to experience things firsthand. Author Tara Moss had herself choked out to unconsciousness to experience what it felt like. She’s also had herself set on fire (wearing a flame-resistant suit), shot firearms, spent time in morgues and courtrooms, and more.
We use our writing to reinterpret and make sense of our experiences, as well as the world around us. Even if the setting is fantastical, characters may go through similar things to ourselves. Like the method actor, it makes sense that, as writers, we try to broaden our range of experiences.
We don’t all have the luxury of best-selling authors, though. While we could all just go sit in a courtroom for a day, we don’t all have avenues to have ourselves set on fire in a safe, controlled environment. Best-selling author Sidney Sheldon used to fly to and eat in restaurants so he could write about them genuinely. It’s not something we can all afford.
But we can push ourselves out of our comfort zones by living life, which is the best way to develop our qualifications to write. And, as we live, we should observe. While we may be absorbing information through osmosis, we might not necessarily be examining what’s going on. We should break it down, examine it further, break it down more, examine it more, etc., to gain a deeper understanding of life, and the world around us.
We can also empathise. Most writers are already deeply empathetic – this is how we’re able to put ourselves in the heads of so many different characters and represent them genuinely. But a worthwhile exercise is watching/reading the news and, without judgement, putting ourselves in the heads of others. How would we feel in the same situation? Here, we need go beyond our instincts and programmed responses. It’s not about what we would do in the same situation; it’s about imagining and feeling how the other person feels.
And, finally, we can employ simple tricks to help put us in the right frame of mind when we write. Writing something sad? Listen to sad music. Watch a sad movie. Have a glass of wine and grow melancholy. Need our writing to pump with energy? Put on some upbeat music. Dance. Writing something angry? Dredge up memories of arguments. Hit a punching bag. Shout. There are lots of little tricks we can use to shift our focus into the mindset – and thus mood – of what we’re writing.
As writers, we can improve the technical side of our craft. But, remember, there’s also an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual side to improve also.