If Not You, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When?

I was just out mowing my lawn in the early morning hours, trying to beat the Texas heat, when I heard Billy Joel sing his song, “Piano Man.” If you listen to the words, most of it is about people who wish they were doing something other than what they were doing. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Why is that, I wonder? When I tell people that I write books, I constantly have people tell me, “I wish I could write a book.” I want to tell them–but of course discretion stops me–“well, why don’t you?” In this day and age of self publishing, there is absolutely nothing stopping someone from getting published.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of books published every year, many of them that probably needed far more work on them before seeing publication. So on one hand, this blog entry is to encourage you to write that book. On the other hand, I am here to give you a little bit of guidance so that frustration won’t kill the blossom of inspiration before it blooms into a final product.

First bit of advice: Aim high, but accept low(er). What this means is that high expectations can kill many an enterprise. I can’t write like Steven King, so I can’t write. Or I can’t finish 500 pages, so I can’t be an author. Neither one of these arguments are valid. I always start my books, envisioning the final product being of higher quality than it ends up being. I think that’s the way of all authors. But on the other side, even if it’s mediocre, unless it’s published it will never exist, good or bad. The reality is, you will probably never write as well as you think you should–unless you are an egotist. On the page length, take a look at Ernest Hemingway’s books. There are many books that have been written that are 100 pages or less.

Second, don’t be afraid to fail. If you are afraid of failure, you will be afraid to try. If you’re afraid to try, you will never do anything. And believe me, failure is something you need to get used to in writing. For inspiration, read any of the getting-started stories of established writers.

Finally, eat the elephant in small bites. Want to write a book? It might be worth your while to start out with short stories. After you have gotten a handle on that, try expanding to a larger format. Or if you insist on starting with the book format, break your writing down into scenes. I usually plan 3-5 scenes per chapter, then 20-30 chapters per book. But there’s nothing magical about that; it just works for me. Many a person has started a book and gotten to about page 20 without knowing where to go from there, so I suggest a comprehensive outline as well.

These are just three ideas among many, many others. I’ve been writing about writing here since 2011, so feel free to check out any of my other entries and see if any of it can help you. Otherwise, if you have a question, drop me a line.