Monday, June 16, 2008

Make a Good Map for Your Book-Writing Journey

Writing a book is a lot like taking a long trip down an unknown river. It's beautiful, exciting, and slightly dangerous--but entirely worth the effort. Especially if you have a good map.Maps are easy to create. I use the three questions below as a start. As you answer them, you'll begin to chart your particular book-writing journey.

Why do I want to write this book?
Why do I think a reader will want to read this book?
What is this book’s purpose in the world? What greater good or mission could it fulfill?

Why do these questions help you create your personal map for the book-writing process? Maps give confidence. They tell you where to go next if you get lost.

Answering these questions tells you about your reasons for making the trip. That'll sustain you later--during editing, rewriting, and revisioning your manuscript so it can be successfully published.

In my workshops, I've learned that if a writer considered why she wanted to write this particular book, and name the reasons on paper, she was much more likely to succeed.

What do your answers mean?
Here's what I've learned, working with many writers over many years:

1. If you can only write easily, at length, about why you
would be satisfied writing this book, you’ve ignored the
reader and the book itself—what it wants to say that’s
beyond your current knowledge. If the book-writing
process only satisfies you, I promise it’ll be similar to
journaling. And that’s not very publishable, except if you
are famous.

2. If you know your exact reader but you don’t include your
own wishes and needs as you write the book, it will
gravitate toward formula writing. I promise you it will be
hard to overcome the real work ahead because you may
not have the stamina to finish it or include the essential
“inner story” which requires you to show up on the page.

3. If you only write to expound on a strong conviction
without taking your reader into consideration, the book
will tend to sound preachy. The reader may not trust you,
may feel you’re trying to “sell” an idea. You must be
present on the page to deliver the sense that you’ve been
through this too, that you are invested in what you are
writing about. And if the writing satisfies only a
community who are already convinced, it's the same as
promotional writing.

When you first explore these questions, you may not have good answers to all of them. If you can’t answer the second and third question, your first assignment is to get out there and discover what’s in bookstores right now, what readers are reading, what topics are important. In your writer’s notebook (see below for more about this notebook), begin to jot down what means something to you that might also touch others.

If you’re missing a good answer for the first question, do some soul-searching. What are you afraid of revealing on the page? What scares you about putting your heart into a book?

Some writers, certainly, churn out book after book in a formula method, but usually they must have had one success—usually a big success—in order for that formula to work. For your first book, you need to invest yourself on several levels.

“As I worked on these questions, I got stumped on #2. I realized that I’d never considered a reader at all. I had no idea why anyone would want to read my book, but when I began thinking about this, it was a revelation.”
--Workshop attendee