Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

How to write a book–or how to return to one

Ball Return

Forget New Year’s Day: I think fall might be the time that writers make all their resolutions. As the summer winds to a close, students prepare for a new school year. Teachers polish old syllabi and draw up new ones. Publishers, editors, and agents return from the Hamptons. And writers everywhere make themselves promises to buckle down and get back to work.

If you’re one of the latter, you may find these practical tips on writing a book helpful. Culled from 22 established writers, the list has lots of ideas for making THIS the year you finish your book at last. Most of the authors write nonfiction, but 99.9% of their advice relates to fiction as well. A sampling:

Carl Zimmer: Be ready to amputate entire chapters. It will be painful.

August Kleinzahler: I find it helpful sometimes — and still to my surprise — trying to explain to someone what it is I’m trying to write about, usually someone bright but in a different intellectual zone, and not a writer. Or, likewise, in a letter or email to such a person.

Barry Boyce: You’re better off than you think, because you’ve done this before, just not in as large a format. Almost every technique and skill you’ve used to structure and tell a story at feature length scales to book length. So, let go of the excess anxiety about never having done this before.

Sylvia Boorstein: Do not open email until 5PM on any weekday or other day when i expect to be writing much of the day.

And if you’ve been taking a break from said book all summer and need to regain momentum, How Not to Write has six steps to return to writing. The first? Show up.

1. Show up – This is the first step. You must appear at the desk daily. You know this. You also know it is not optional. There is nothing more important than this.

Anyone out there resolving to start—or finish—a book this fall? Tell us in the comments. After all, stating your goals publicly is often the first step to achieving them…

Further Reading:

  • Technology is your friend: learn more about writing-related apps and programs right here in the FWR blog archives.
  • Can’t get to work at all because you’re beating yourself up for “wasting” all summer? This may help.

Literary Partners