HOW TO WRITE A BOOK AND STILL RESPECT YOURSELF IN THE MORNING
Some folks might think you’re a liar, perhaps omitting (or adding) parts to your story. Or, maybe, they say you’re attention-seeking. Some won’t understand why you felt the need to write and publish! *clutches pearls* such personal things. Some—who think they know you pretty well—may be shocked that they didn’t already know some of the sordid details of your life. When, exactly, would you have spilled the beans about abuse and exploitation? While riding around with kids in the backseat? Debriefing after a work assignment? At a family BBQ? Company happy hour? Things that come out in artistic form reflect the true person at heart, not who’s seen in traffic, on the job, and especially not who’s seen on social media. So, of course, when you only give people tiny pieces of your life—bit by selective bit—there’s bound to be skepticism and the ever lingering thought, “Did I really know this person at all?” And I have to ask, “Does anybody really know…anyone?” For as long as I can remember, I’ve always taken comfort in the written word—in school, in college, in my room. Writing is my preferred mode of communication. It’s the one that works best for me. Allows me to express how I feel in my own time. While writing, I don’t feel hard-pressed for my thoughts, shit comes out when it’s ready. Unlike conversation—in any language—writing is my jam. My story is my story and it lives exactly where I want it to—on a page, in a book, with that certain smell. Regardless of your preferred method of expression, what some folks may not understand is that it took all the strength you had to get anything out. It may have taken years. However, for some, it still may not be good enough because it isn’t exactly what they wanted or expected. In a world that tells us to “be authentic,” it’s kind of weird that we’re often punished for just that because we didn’t meet someone else’s expectation. People are gonna do what they do. Let them. It ain’t about you. Stay in your own lane and just keep on writing. For you. For your growth, to fill those holes you’ve got. What’s more, some who read your writing, books, blogs, etc. may take things personally. Perhaps something you wrote elicited a knee-jerk reaction and they’re looking to you to be their punching bag. Just remember, that is not your responsibility.You’ve already lived through your own hell and wrote (or are currently writing) about it. If and when their baggage comes at you full force, become Teflon, baby. Other people’s very limited experience of you has nothing to do with you. I know, it’s easy to say and hard to practice. You’ve not only lived through what you’ve written, you’ve also published (or eventually may). You’ve released a major part of yourself and given it to the world. Now it, and suddenly you, are up for grabs and all kinds of criticism. Don’t let what anyone thinks, says, or doesn’t say—for whatever reason—take away the great thing you’ve created. That’s yours. You keep it. Be proud of it. And know that most folks are doing their level best, just like you. Also, expect to get messages and emails from readers who want to know more. It’s one hundred percent human nature to be curious and want more; it’s how we’re wired. Trust me, I’d love it if Elena Ferrante and I chit-chatted via email, text, or some social media platform, but we don’t. I respect her privacy, and she wants complete privacy because she uses a pen name. So, it’s more than okay for you to filter through messages you receive and open up to a few or none at all. My writer friend and mentor, Lauren, imparted some wise words to me recently: “Just because you wrote a book spilling all your deep, dark, dirty secrets doesn’t mean that anyone who wants access to you, gets access to you, at any time on any level. That might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true.” Remember, just because you wrote about your cat, your sister, or your first major sin in such colorful detail, doesn’t mean you’re required to talk about it. Set those boundaries. Writing is cathartic and you can just leave it all right there. No explanation necessary. Go ahead and keep some things to yourself. You don’t owe anyone anything. Trust me, there’s a lot in my first book (and upcoming books) that I chose to move into what Lauren calls “The Graveyard.” If you needed to write it, just had to get it out—cool. Keep it for you. It’s okay; not everything you need to get out, needs to be published.
TIPS FOR FELLOW WRITERS
Try not to worry too much about what anyone might think. Let the first draft be a first draft—messy feelings on paper, cocktail napkins, laptops, emails, whatever. Keep and refer to old journal entries, emails, texts, the scribbles on your grocery list and in the margins of your favorite books.
Let music (or images) inspire you. I’ll listen to the same song over and over and over in order to transport myself to a particular time, to capture that feeling—whether it’s joy, pain, or sadness. It works. Feel where the music takes you.
Try not to format, outline, edit, plan, or be married to any type of organization when you start. Let the writing evolve. It is living, breathing all on its own. You can simply just be a channel. Who cares if the title comes when you’re just about to hand it over to your editor? Let it.
Mosaic-style writing works. That means, thoughts and feelings will come forth when they’re ready, and when they do, just write. You can find a place for the pieces later. If you don’t, feed them to your graveyard. I mean, not everyone needs to know you think the lady down the street is a cross-eyed twat but it felt good to get it out, didn’t it?
Don’t pressure yourself. If what you’re writing doesn’t feel right, it’s not. To me, “writer’s block” is just that—forcing something that doesn’t belong, that doesn’t feel right. And fuck the word count. I’ll check it occasionally, but I’m not married to a specific number. It doesn’t have to be a specific length to be deemed a book.
READ. Fiction, nonfiction, memoir, horror, suspense, sci-fi, fantasy, whatever; when you know what you love to read, you’ll know what you love to write. And definitely read about the craft of writing. Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert...lots of great writers wrote about writing and trust me, they help tremendously.
Be proud of your work and don’t go comparison shopping. Write like you, not someone else. Share your voice.
HAVE FUN WITH IT. It should feel good. Like coming home.