So, You Want to Write a Book?

Dr. Olson,

I see that your about to publish your second book, No More Neckties. What inspired you to write them? I’ve always liked to write but have only recently begun to think about writing a book. What advice would you give me? What inspires you to write? What’s the best thing about being an author?

Eager Author

 

Dear Eager,

Everyone has a story, and stories we write change people lives. And our stories will live beyond our own life.

I never sought to be an author, although I always loved to write. My latest book, No More Neckties, I wrote during the COVID-19 lock down. I needed to find something to do that had meaning for me during that isolation. I had always found a sense of meaning and purpose in writing, so I started writing a series of short essays. Eventually, I realized I had enough for a book.

Why write? The short answer is you love it and you must. Only writers understand the excitement of finding the perfect word or splendid metaphor. But first, you must look at your goal? If you want to become rich and famous, pick a different hobby.

You may only write a journal to record your life experiences. You may write—as I often do—to find answers to life’s difficult questions. You may want to create a legacy that you may or may not be shared with loved ones. Or you may want to a broader audience and perhaps sell a few books.

If you want to write a book, write your ninety second elevator pitch. It is your one main message, and that message should drive everything you write. What is your story and why do you wish to tell it? If what you’re writing doesn’t answer those questions, it probably belongs in another book.

Think about a budget for money and time. Publishing can be expensive. Only people with notoriety will command a book advance. Costs could include editors, cover and internal designs, printing and shipping, and perhaps a publicist. Even doing your own promotion can involve significant costs. Those things add up quickly.

In a recent year, over half a million e-books were published. Your chances of hitting it big are slim. You’re lucky just to recover your costs. A best-seller may sell only about 35,000 books.

If your goals are less ambitious, costs will be significantly less. However, there are also opportunity costs; writing is isolating and will take time away from other things that are important to you. Are you and the ones you love willing to have you spend your time in this way?

Then start writing. Get something down on paper in a “shitty first draft.” Write quickly and without censoring or editing. Writing and editing are separate functions that involve different parts of the brain. If you try to edit while you’re writing it, you’ll confuse your brain, slow the process down and remove all emotion from it.

The next question is, “Are you ready to accept criticism?” People react to what you write. Some will agree; many will disagree. Prepare yourself for that.

If you’re writing a memoir, record your memories. As you write about them, you’ll begin to remember other things. Write truthfully. Make yourself vulnerable.

In telling your story, you will also reveal stories of others who may not want their story told. How much risk are you willing to take? In writing a memoir, start with the most difficult chapter first. If you can’t publish that, you probably can’t write the book. I wrote the most difficult chapters of No More Neckties ten years before I was willing to publish them.

Stories change lives. I wanted to tell my stories to offer people hope that they can recover from the hard stuff, and we all have hard stuff. When someone writes to me that what I have written has resonated with them, that is the greatest joy and return on my investment.

I hope to hear from you.

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