Quick! Steve Silberman needs help. Authors please advise.



Steve Silberman just signed a book contract.  That’s the good news.  The bad news:  “It’s one thing to work up a 4000-word magazine feature and another to sit down and write a 100,000-word book,” he wrote.

Silberman said he was “scared out of my wits that the two decades of journalism that have led up to this project have not prepared me to write a good book. I wake up at 3 a.m. staring into the darkness, wondering if I’ll have the skills, discipline, and inner resources to pull it off.”

The obvious answer:  write another article.  And he’s done it, on PLoS Blogs here.

He asked 23 fellow writers a question: “What do you wish you’d known about the process of writing a book that you didn’t know before you did it?”

From John Tarrant:  “Ideas don’t come from anywhere identifiable, so I’ve come to trust that they will be given. This is along the lines of not whipping the donkey.”

Seth Mnookin wrote:  “I tried, not always successfully, to start each day with some discrete goal I wanted to accomplish: write 200 words, or get through a certain amount of research, or conduct two interviews, or whatever. If I set out to spend a day “writing,” that would be so overwhelming I’d end up just farting around online all day instead of starting the climb the mountain.”

I liked three from Cory Doctorow:

·  “Write when the book sucks and it isn’t going anywhere. Just keep writing. It doesn’t suck. Your conscious is having a panic attack because it doesn’t believe your subconscious knows what it’s doing.”

·  “Stop in the middle of a sentence, leaving a rough edge for you to start from the next day — that way, you can write three or five words without being “creative” and before you know it, you’re writing.”

· “Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement.”

Basil Wasik offered praised outlines:  “This is a basic piece of advice, but it can’t be overstated when you’re trying to go from magazine-length to book-length writing: hone your outline and then cling to it as a lifeline. You can adjust it in mid-stream, but don’t try to just write your way into a better structure: think about the right structure and then write to it. Your outline will get you through those periods when you can’t possibly imagining ever finishing the damn thing — at those times, your outline will let you see it as a sequence of manageable 1,000 word sections.”

And this one, from Paula Span, is actually true: “You already know what you need to know to do this.  The fact is, my 60,000-plus-word book was pretty much like writing 8 to 10 long-form pieces.  I didn’t do it differently, in terms of research or writing or rewriting.  My existing skills were perfectly adequate to the task; yours will be too.  It took me 2.5 years but then, I was teaching and freelancing at the same time; had I focused solely on the book, it probably would’ve taken 18 months.  So you will make your deadline, even if your book is longer and more complex.

Finally, from August Kleinzahler:  “When my self-disgust reaches critical mass I seem to be ready to go.”

Read the rest here.

And if any of you authors have some thoughts to add, I’d love to hear them.

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2 Responses to “Quick! Steve Silberman needs help. Authors please advise.”

  1. Cathy Stucker Says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Writing a book can indeed be intimidating, and the advice from these authors is wonderful.

    A few of the things that work for me when writing books are:

    Break it into pieces. It is less scary to write one chapter than to write an entire book.

    Start with the easiest chapter. That might mean the topic where you have the most research completed, or the one you know best, or the one about which you am most passionate.

    Just write. Behind in chair, fingers on keyboard, write. Don’t overthink and never edit as you write.

    Capture random thoughts. Because you are focused on your material, brilliant ideas will occur to you when you are not writing. It could be in the car, in the shower or when you wake up in the morning. Have a way to capture those thoughts on paper or digitally.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks, Cathy! Good to see you here.