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Authorial experience

June 22, 2011

As should be abundantly clear by now, I’ve never written a book. I don’t even really know anybody who has written one, or at least not one with many similarities to mine. So I’m open to advice from wherever it comes.

I’m especially open to it when it comes from established, experienced authors. This piece from the Guardian last year was an interesting read, even though it mostly referred to fiction writing. I came across a similar sort of piece today that was more focused on non-fiction.

I’m in the process of winding down my transcribing (necessary as I run out of things to transcribe) and ramping up my actual composition. I’m planning to continue to do interviews when I can get them, but let’s just say the stones that remain unturned at this point are either too big to move or too small to find. So while I’m still open to talking to whomever will talk to me, most of my energy at this stage is going to go toward actual writing.

And so pieces like the one I stumbled upon today (through Kottke, not StumbleUpon, just to clarify) are invaluable. The main takeaways for me were a couple pieces of software I’m planning to grab ASAP (Scrivener, a word processing and organizational tool, and SelfControl, an app whose utility is as needed as it is self-explanatory), but there are lots of little bits of wisdom that I take to heart.

Some are things I’m already doing:

Do as much research as possible away from the Internet — with living people, in real places.

Some are things I’m not doing but know I should be:

Develop a very, very, very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions.

And others are things I just won’t do:

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

Some are words of encouragement:

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.

Others are more critical:

Bonus tip: Be good to your spouse/partner and protect time for them. They’re in this with you, but unlike you, they didn’t choose it.

There’s traditional advice:

Shitty first drafts. Anne Lamott nailed it! But with books, it seems to be more like “shitty 20th drafts.” So shitty, for so long.

And nontraditional:

Stop in the middle of a sentence, leaving a rough edge for you to start from the next day — that way, you can write three or five words without being “creative” and before you know it, you’re writing.

The whole thing is worth reading, and I’m not just saying that to reconcile my cognitive dissonance between fair use and Fair Use. Especially if you’re a writer. Despite everything, writing a book can be a very lonely endeavor. Reading stuff like this is not only encouraging and educational, but it feels like a bit of a verbal hug.

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