It probably goes without saying that this topic is the most important one for someone who is interested in publishing their own work. How do you get started? Here are a few quick rules of thumb that come from my own experience.
- Be receptive! I had been trying to write novels for years, starting even with my time in college. Many manuscripts had been started and pushed forward, only to be abandoned as I grew uninterested in the characters and skeptical of my ability to recreate the setting well enough. THEN, one night as I was telling a story to my son at bedtime, it struck me that the story I had been telling him (Scheherazade-style, for one must maintain a set of stories for bedtime!) was growing interesting to me. What to that point I had not recognized became quite clear! I needed to organize and capture these stories as a gift, both to him, but also to others struggling to come up with bedtime stories for their demanding child. Maybe this sounds silly, but my response to this unexpected inspiration helped push me through the many hours of writing and illustrating my first book, The Incredible Adventures of Pirate Zach.
- Seek Inspiration and Don’t Judge it. It’s hard to write about something that doesn’t interest you. I have started writing projects about subjects where I found myself curious about the details behind an event that I’ve read about in the newspaper, found in an old book, or even speculated about in my head. The writing of the book becomes the mechanism for “learning” the motivations, discouragements, manipulation, and loves that lie behind some “headline” event. Free-writing is something I did a lot in college (perhaps a professor had inspired this? I can’t recall) when something came to me that was interesting. Free-writing is essentially (to me) trying to capture thoughts about a fascinating subject without any organizational or structural restrictions. Why is this thing interesting? What might have happened to inspire this thing? How many people knew about it? And so on. I think there are two keys to this, though. a) Don’t be judgmental of your free-writing! Let it flow unimpeded by your inner librarian. b) Be disciplined with daily writing. Even at the free-writing phase I set small goals like one notebook page of material per day. Then, it’s a pretty small barrier to sit down and do it. And MAYBE I’ll write ten pages once I force myself to start.
- Brainstorming on the Written Page seems to Unlock Insights. This sounds complicated, but I have found that brainstorming during an initial phase of planning on a new idea for a book is much more impactful if I write it on paper instead of capturing it on a computer. Perhaps this is because my mind is less creative when it’s looking at a computer screen (indeed, I do quite a lot of this!) or maybe there’s some other reason. I find that this is where I “learn” about my characters. I try to describe their passions, their deep motivations, what they need to learn, why they’re annoying, and whether they are receptive to growth and redemption. I also can use these hand-writing sessions to unfold why the character is interesting, what in their life is worthy of being captured in a book, etc. Just like during my “writing phase”, I put some sort of daily goal on these sessions and generally fill up a spiral notebook, often before I start actually writing.
- Notecards help with Organization. One thing that I tend to like to do is create a high level table of contents before I start writing. Eventually, I will capture this in the Lyx typesetting software I use, but the first thing I tend to do is create one notecard for each chapter. Then on that notecard I come up with a stab at a chapter name, and below that I capture why this chapter is important to the book. Then sometimes I sort the order of the chapters until I get something that has about the right flow that I’m looking for. Only at that point do I go through and type in all the chapter names in Lyx.
- Start writing in Lyx. This is my typesetting tool and I think it’s amazing. It’s also free and is available on Windows, MacOS, and Linux. I’ll talk more about this later, but Lyx is the backbone around the bulk of my writing phase. If, however, I haven’t done the above steps to get myself enthused, the writing doesn’t flow.
LINKS TO THE SERIES:
- Project inspiration and organization
- Research, note-taking
- Setting up a Project for Success
- The writing process (building discipline, maintaining enthusiasm, unfolding plot-lines and emerging characters)
- Thoughts on the Character’s Journey
- Self-Publishing: Typesetting and Tools
- Self-Publishing: The Art of Editing