It is a truth universally acknowledged that a first-time published author will automatically become a source of magical information to all his/her writer wannabe friends – so that they, too, may become published ASAP! With all due respect to Jane Austen who wrote a similar opening sentence to one of the BEST books ever published – Pride and Prejudice – for the revised version above, which I first put on paper in February, 1996. Yep. 1996. My first book had been published some 2½ years previously, and for some reason that seemed to gain me ‘instant oracle’ status in my writing circles.
So, my first thought then (as it still is today) was ‘I could write a book about that.’ I did start one, too, and have been playing with the notion since then. One thing that’s not changed in all the intervening years is the title for this gem: The “How to Write a Book” Book.
I was then, and still am for that matter, totally amazed by how many people approach me to say they want to write a book, but don’t know how to get started. It always seemed easy to me, even if I didn’t do it myself all that often. You plunk yourself down in front of a (then) typewriter or (today) computer, and have at it! Sure beats writing with a feather, as the Sainted Jane did two hundred years ago!
My original thought was along the lines of ‘The Ten Commandments for Writers.’ That didn’t last very long, as my list almost immediately expanded to Fifteen Commandments. Finally, I settled on ‘howevermany’ as the best description. And I’m going to stick with that! I’m still working on this book, but of course, the almost twenty years since I started it have seen a revolution in not only writing instruments and methods, but also the publishing world.
However, no matter how you slice it, there are still many very basic and important things that have not changed one little bit. (By the way, I’m still working on this book, and it will see daylight in 2016, or else!) Actually, when I started this blog in April, 2010, it was with the intention of using some of the blog posts for the book. Following is the list I comprised in 1996. What do you think?
First Preliminary Outline for Contents of: The “How to Write a Book” Book 2-4-1996
The 15 (or howevermany) commandments for writers. Or, how to produce a salable manuscript, assuming, of course, that you really can write.
(Not necessarily in this order, either.)
1 Learn to write in English. If you live and write in this country, or intend your work for an English-speaking country: grammar, spelling, punctuation, plurals / possessives, to use or not to use? The dangers of dialects!
2. Figure out what you want to write, then read, read, read, and read, some more. Read all varieties of things, but especially in your chosen area.
- Show, don’t tell. Keep the reader as an active participant.
- Viewpoint. Who’s telling this story, anyway? (Viewpoint has nothing to do with tense, or voice.)
- Homonyms. One of two or more words that have the same sound, and often the same spelling, but differ in meaning.
- Styles. This can be a rather tricky one, but many writers wouldn’t think of putting a word on a page without a manual of style readily at hand. Each publisher has its own style regarding punctuation, grammar and continuity. So, if you gear your work toward one publisher and end up going with another, you may have to make lots of fixes, depending. Sometimes the difference is in words: toward and towards being a common glitch. Fiction and non-fiction may also differ, but not usually within the same house. Some of the more common manuals of style are: Chicago Manual of Style, New York Times Manual, AP Manual and The Elements of Style by William Strunk.
- Reference material, research, resources. How and where to find what; how to use what you’ve found, and how much to use.
- Basic presentation – putting it on the page. Plus – what’s the difference between a synopsis and an outline, and which do you use when?
- Using real people in your fictional world.
- Writer’s groups. Finding the right one for you, and just how helpful can they be, anyway?
- Sense(s) and sensibilities: touch, taste, sight, sound, smell. Mixing genres. Details, details and more details.
- Editor turn-offs and pet-peeves.
- Do you really need an agent? How do you find one?
- Suspension of disbelief. Yours, ours, theirs.
- Other markets and types of publishers.
Epilogue – a Reminder –
What’s past is prologue, now it’s up to you!
That last has NOT changed.
Questions? Additions? Comments? Write to me at: bookmechanicATgmail.com Thanks