Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Can I Please Just Write the Book?

One of the things I loved about this Southampton conference is that it was a writing conference where we actually talked about writing. Yes, you heard me right. None of that "how to write a query letter" stuff or talks on "how to get published." We just talked about good, old-fashioned, sitting your backside in the chair and writing the book.

If I sound a bit snarky, that's because I'm so unbelievably sick and tired of being told all the how-to-get-published stuff when I haven't even finished my second draft.

Everyone seems to know how to get published, or at least have advice to offer. Sometimes we're lucky enough to speak to people who actually know what they're talking about. Thing is, these people usually have the good sense to know that advice is useless if you haven't written the book so they usually steer the conversation to more practical topics like how to reshape your third act. These people also know the scary truth: that if you get a hundred published writers in a room and ask them how they did it, you'll wind up with 100 totally different stories. There no one way to get published; every book is different, and so is every publishing experience.

Then there are the people who haven't got a clue. (My favorite are the complete strangers you meet at dinner parties. They ask you "what do you do?" and you say "I'm a writer" and they proceed to advise you how you should market your book even though the last book they read was "See Spot Run.") Sure, their intentions might be fine but often these conversations do more harm than good. After all, talking about doing something is a million times more interesting than actually doing it, which is why I think we have so many people who insist on giving advice on how to publish books but so few who actually get around to putting pen to page.

In an effort to re-focus my writing, I have devised a set of rules for myself.
  1. I will work on my book every day.
  2. I will not TALK about writing my book. I'll write it. Every time I feel the urge to talk or complain about writing, I will pull out a notebook and write a chapter.
  3. I will NOT workshop my book. It's been workshopped to death and for me workshopping is a convenient way to avoid actually WORKING on it.
  4. I will NOT talk about publishing or attend any how-to-get-published talks until I have a polished manuscript.
If you catch me breaking these rules, call me on it. Seriously. Smack me upside the head if you have to, but help me stay on track.

But not right now. Right now I'm going to go write that book.


  1. Sounds like a plan. I'll ignore your advice regarding the smacking.

  2. I hope your book writing is going well! I miss seeing you :o)

  3. Re: Talking ABOUT writing. Yep, that is something we really haven't done as grad students (I know because I spent 4 years doing it as an undergrad!) What I will say about workshopping though, is that it really gave me the langauge to talk about writing instead of a language to talk about what had been written. But it's true, workshops after the first draft can be a huge black hole. At some point, you just have to go with your gut!

    (But I can't wait to see you back in workshop in Sept! You always have amazing advice!)