On Writing a Book: Author Advice

“What do you wish you’d known about the process of writing a book that you didn’t know before you did it?”

photo courtesy of Colleen Crinion

Steve Silberman asked that question to a bunch of authors and got a treasure trove of advice. He kindly shares it with us here. Like a lot of advice, some authors share competing viewpoints (share your work with everyone to get as many perspectives as possible, versus share with only a close circle), while others repeat similar sentiments (figure out a way to keep yourself organized and the Internet distractions to a minimum).  On the note of organization, Scrivener came up more than once. Also, since he was asking in regard to his nonfiction book, some of the advice is nonfiction genre-specific, though a lot applies to all writing (see: dealing with Internet distractions). A few highlights are below.

“Don’t forget to write the book that you want to read.”
Mark Frauenfelder, author of The Mad Professor and Rule the Web

“Non-fiction shouldn’t mean poorly written. Writing is writing and art always counts. Make your book beautiful to read and you’re more likely to communicate your messages to your reader.”
Peter Conners, author of Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead and White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg

Advice from a Newsweek editor I worked with in the ’80s, Nancy Cooper. Roughly my age, but so much smarter and more worldly and sophisticated. I was worried about writing the opening story of the nation section. And she sent me a note that read: ”You just start working and you keep working til it’s done. That’s all there is to it; no mystery.”
John Schwartz, author of Short: Walking Tall When You’re Not Tall at All 

“Find ways to break it into chunks and set concrete deadlines with friends/agent/editor. I’m sending my agent material every week now. The shit is super rough, but at least I’ve got *something* on page. Also consider a writer’s group. When I asked Bruce Feiler for this advice at the start of Lincoln’s Melancholy, he said: “emotional management.” I told him, yeah, but I really want practical advice, etc. etc., and he repeated the phrase. Writing a book is a crushingly lonely experience in ways that no one who hasn’t been through it can really imagine.”
John Shenk, author of Lincoln’s Melancholy

“You’re going to spend a lot of time in your head. Take care of your physical self too. Be just as committed to that as you are to getting your writing done every day. If you don’t care about your health, think your vanity — there’s an author video and a lot of public appearances in your future.”
Maryn McKenna, author of Superbug and Beating Back the Devil

“Finally: assume your book is going to completely tank commercially. That’ll help you remember that you’re not writing this for the purpose of writing a best-seller (at least I assume you’re not), but because it’s something that you care passionately about and excites you intellectually and because you hope to be able to share your thoughts and observations and conclusions with a group of people you respect and want to discourse with. Everything else is gravy. At the end of the day, what’s important is producing something you believe in…not producing something that’ll catch people’s eyes at B&N.”
Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus and Feeding the Monster

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About WIN Writing Group

WIN Writing Group is a network within the Women's Information Network (WIN), Washington's premier professional, political, and social network dedicated to empowering young, pro-choice, Democratic women. From this organization, our writing group was formed to give WIN members a community in which to write. We focus on creative nonfiction, which is defined as any writing that is intended to be read as true.
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One Response to On Writing a Book: Author Advice

  1. Pingback: Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors | independentbookpublisher

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