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That’s right: how-to write a book.  There are many sites and books that tell you how, and this is the process I’ve come up with.  Perhaps the kind of person you are, at bottom, or your muse, knows perfectly well how to write a book.  Here’s a method I cooked up that works for me.

Many writers of contemporary books–fiction and non-fiction–shout to us, ‘Write a book in a month!’  I’ve done this three times.  If I had a large independent income and could live on instant coffee and delivery food (pizza, fried chicken) I’d be a millionaire now, with three published books.

George Orwell called people who live like I do ‘simple lifers.’ I steam my own whole wheat bread, cook every shred of food I consume, grow my own when I have a garden.  I ride my no gear bike and don’t drive, wash my clothes in a bucket, run, do yoga, etc.  I found that ten pages a day forced me to live unnaturally (for me) and pass out at my desk, while 35 students watched. (The sts were cool; it was my colleagues who were unforgiving of who I was.)

OK.  So mine is a partially-organic method.  Ready, go:

I begin by musing over various topics for a day before I sit down to write it in a book form.  I literally ‘sleep on it,’ discussing the different aspects of each topic as I sleep and dream.  (Do I know/not know enough so I won’t do a lot of research and not write? Is it such a boring topic to others that nobody will read it? Have Harvard grads written about it for 20 years? Am I credentialed enough to get it into print?

I usually get ‘the message’ while biking or lifting weights the next morning. Then I sit at my net book and start writing my new book.  I write for a page or two, then stop and if I feel like it, I put the next few ideas on a separate piece of digital paper.  (I dislike being incoherent and raving to the Gentle Reader. They don’t have it coming.)

The next few steps are time-consuming, though they take up less than 5 hours.  First, make a new folder for the book with its working title. (E.g., The Day of the Gecko.)

Start a new document, ‘The Plan.’ Save it to the folder you just made. Write paragraphs of phrases that relate to one idea you want to express.  If you want, mention in this doc. where the idea or image came from: a dream on a certain date, a conversation in the art museum, something you saw on the subway, a memory.

This book’s “The Plan” had two sections:  ‘Scenes’ and ‘Ideas.’  The various scenes are perhaps parts of chapters or maybe just a paragraph.  But they’re important to the Big Picture of this book.  (Narrative non-fiction is supposedly made up of ‘scenes.’ I wonder if books are, in general, any more.)

Save that document The Plan to The working name folder (The Day of the Gecko). Start a new doc. Its name is ‘characters.’  Write down the name (or whatever you have so far) of each character.  ‘Experts’ say don’t have too many characters, and my latest has 7. Two are walk-on’s.  Some well-received writers insist we must have a separate character sheet for each character; but I ‘got too much into my head’ with that plan.  Limiting myself in my details is best; otherwise I get lost.   

Each character should/could have a physical description, even if we follow Hemingway’s advice to let the readers figure out what the characters look like from how they sound and what they do.  I write down for each person what they look like, sound like, age, interests, habits, general slant on life and this time how smart they are. (None of them are intelligent, by the way) I write what attracts one person to the other and vice-versa.

If you need a separate file for keeping research data and links, that’s a good idea. Phone conversations, emails, all that stuff can go there and be easy to find, in your main folder (The Day of the Gecko.) 

How much to write every day?  I do a much better job if I say ‘be happy with five pages.’ I love to write for publication, so I’m not able to adhere to that rule; but it’s there if I decide to take several hours off.  Graham Greene’s writers stop at 500 words each morning. It’s personal; suit yourself.

I use this system for both fiction and non-fiction, for collections and single volumes of the same subject by adapting the various ‘files’ to suit each project.

Tomorrow I’ll give details and more ‘human’ advice. Today I wanted to keep my promise to you and get down to facts.  The Net’s been down at my apt. building for two days. They say it was because of the riots in Bangkok, and I’m not sure I believe that. But at any rate, I’ll write you again tomorrow.

Send me more good comments!  I love hearing from you.

Mary Ann (Martine) in Thailand

The photo:  the Yamuna River in New Delhi, India, seen from my balcony in Majnu-ka-tilla,the Tibetan Camp, North Delhi.  (Wongdhen Guest House.)  




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