Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to Write a Book

Remember me? I hope so, because I missed you all terribly. *sniff*

I learned oodles during the month-long blog hiatus spent concentrating on my book, and I'm pleased to share my newfound wisdom (pro bono even) with each of you. So, here for everyone who ever wondered how to pen a masterpiece, is How to Write a Book 101:

First, announce to everyone you know that you are writing a book, so six years and two unsold manuscripts later they can ask you, "Hey, did you publish your book yet?"

Buy a new wardrobe two sizes up, so you have something to fit your ballooning ass after all the time you spent sitting on it.

Ignore everyday distractions such as scrubbing your toilets or paying your bills. You can hire an accountant and a live-in maid in a few months, after you receive that six-figure advance check. If not, none of it will matter after the foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Alienate your family and friends; how important can they be if they're not editing or selling your book? (If you're writing a memoir, half of them will someday hate you anyway.) Surround yourself instead with a houseful of pets who will purr or lick your hand after you read them an especially brilliant passage.

Don't worry about your writing getting sloppy as your alcohol consumption soars. Stephen King doesn't even remember writing "The Tommyknockers." Surely your drunken scrawl will be just as genius.

Take great pride--after 336 drafts--in finally getting that single paragraph on page 117 perfectly worded, just before everyone in your writing group suggests you delete the entire scene.

Refrain from checking your email every fifteen minutes after you submit a query. Wait--was that an email notification?

Never hate the agents or editors who send you rejection letters. Save your animosity for clearly talented published authors. Like Snooki and Bristol Palin.

Don't quit your day job. Once your boss catches you writing erotica on company time, you're likely to be fired anyway.

And finally, never ever give up.

Unless you have a real hankering to clean those dirty toilets.

What's the best or worst career advice you've ever gotten? Writers: Did I forget any other pearls of wisdom? And hey, did you publish your book yet?


  1. Yes, the "did you publish your book yet?" question is the single greatest reason to never tell anyone you're a writer. (Aside from the recommendations that you write a vampire novel like Twilight.) Of course, nowadays everyone will just ask why you don't self publish...while looking at you with great pity, because you must be REALLY bad if you can't even self publish.

  2. Laura: A vampire book is next on my list. Really. And the rest of you blog readers, be sure to sink your teeth into Laura's new book, Living Arrangements:

  3. Yay, Sherry's back!

    (Is Laura's book out now?)

    The first one is my current regret .

  4. I tried to self-publish, but I was rejected . . .

  5. Fantastic! Toilets unscrubbed, alcohol consumed, ass all set for a nice muu-muu...look! I'm fast approaching publication!
    Did I finish the book yet?
    I can't hear you, neener, neener, neee-ner (fingers planted firmly in ears).

  6. Downith: I believe Laura's book comes out in the late fall--but it looks like you can reserve a copy at the website above (that I failed to properly link)...

    Sarah: Ha! Just goes to show you're your own toughest critic!

    Lyra: Exactly--Nothing like a nice colorful muumuu to accent those bloodshot eyes.

  7. I posted elsewhere that 200 pages at 10 pages a day should yield a completed ms in 20 days in the eyes of an unwriter. Right? So what the hell have I been doing? Where can one buy my book? Can't? Oh.... a really condescending Oh...

  8. "Don't quit your day job. Once your boss catches you writing erotica on company time, you're likely to be fired anyway."

    We can only hope.

    We missed you, Sherry. Welcome back!

  9. Deb: What the hell HAVE you been doing? And to further clarify, if you type 90 wpm, you should have the entire thing done in about 17 hours. Get hopping...

    Averil: Hee. Yeah, that one was obviously targeted! (Well, except the getting fired part. Hoping you can offer your big fat resignation instead.)

  10. Hello!!!! I did miss you. Your list seems just right to me. I would add, cover all the mirrors and save yourself the pain.

  11. And by "yourself" in that comment, I mean myself.

  12. 1. That's EXACTLY this smart-ass list I needed this Friday.
    2. I'm all about alienating the entire human race if I can become .... the next JK Rowling!!! (isn't that what everyone says when you say you're working on a book).
    3. Averil, you know that erotica statement was really for Betsy. Isn't TFFTT soft porn for writers?
    4. I need to start drinking more.
    5. You mean you're not giving Bristol Palin's book as Christmas presents this year? You must be heartless.

  13. Lisa: Great advice. Except I'm afraid to imagine how my hair might look when I show up at the office. Hmm... add "Buy large hat" to the list.

    Teri: I think you fared quite well with your own smart-ass list. And I'm holding out for Levi Johnston's book. Or maybe the whole Palin Saga Series.

  14. I'm only buying Levi's book if Sarah and Bristol are out hawking it with the entire Palin series. Like Harry Potter, the Alaska Years. I bet JK Rowling can't see Alaska from HER house.

    I hope kitty is still home.

  15. Sherry--I think what is hardest for friends/family/coworkers to appreciate (and I speak from experience, 13 rejected manuscripts and 20 years later) that when you write a novel, put it out there, and it doesn't get picked up, you--oh my god, are you sitting down, people???--WRITE ANOTHER ONE!

    The idea of trying again would so often draw this look of absolute blank confusion from people I knew--loving, lovely, well-intentioned people. It's not like trying to get a part as an extra on 90210 (yeah, I did that, circa '92). There is no expiration date on writing. You can publish at 20, you can publish at 80. Why the heck wouldn't you keep at it?

    But boy, that oft-heard "Oh, well I'm sorry it didn't sell. So what will you try to do next? Maybe soapcarving?" line used to give me the shakes...

  16. Teri: The kitty cat is still home! And he's grounded for life.

    Erika: You are an inspiration. And we're glad you didn't take up soapcarving, or we wouldn't be able to look forward to this:
    (I'm hawking all the good stuff this week...)

  17. You're a sweetheart. Thanks, my dear.

  18. I wish I could point to some truly valuable writing advice I've received, but I can't. Which is in keeping with the only writing advice I can offer: follow your own counsel. What works for one may not work for you. The conditions another must write in may not be the same for you. What others hold as sacrosant (say, grammar) may seem optional to you. What's good to them may be blather to you.

    All I can do is follow my continually evolving writing ethic that, maybe not so coincidentally, matches up with a lot of what you've said above.

  19. Paul: Thanks for dropping by! I just stopped over your way with my two cents about e-readers... You make a good point here about following your own counsel. All the writers I know have their own routines, priorities and obsessions. I guess all that matters is what ends up on the printed page.

  20. Some of my favorite advice comes from Roddy Doyle, via The Guardian's Ten Rules for Writers:

    -Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.


    -Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

    Thanks for a great post.

  21. Melissa: Ha! Good call about the suicidal author photo on the desk--not exactly the type of inspiration we may be looking for... And I thought your email indicated you're working on a novel. From the looks of your profile and website, I would have to think you have a terrific memoir in you, too. Thanks for coming by and commenting!