CYA News Vol 3, Issue 7: How To Write A Book, Pt. 1 / Shawn McDonald

Posted: July 11, 2011 in CYA News, Music, Writing
Tags: ,

I could have titled this post, “How Sam Blunders His Way Through Writing His Books And Now Tries To Explain How To Do The Same,” but I dislike long titles.

Learn from the…erm…expert?
There are two things that people always seem to say when they learn you’ve written a book. The first, and most common is, “What’s it about?” My reply is usually, “Read the book and you’ll find out.” My wife is working with me to change this approach (thankfully). The next thing usually said, and to me the more curious of the two, is something like, “I could never be that creative,” or “I could never do that.” I find them curious, in either version, because they’re downright wrong.

Each and every single person has fantastic creative potential.  A simple theological argument could be made for this case easily.  Humans are made in the image of God.  Part of God’s image is his ability to create.  Therefore, if we are made in his image, we must also possess some measure of this creativity.  QED.

Another argument to support this point is that we partake in creativity on a daily basis.  How do I know this?  Have you ever had to solve a problem?  It could be any sort, small, large, weird, whatever.  If you’re breathing, then you my friend have problems to solve.  Solutions to those problems require thought.  Now, that’s not to say that some folks haven’t forgotten how to use their brain, but that’s a topic for another day.

Why am I discussing belief in one’s own creativity in an essay about how to write?  Because writing, like any endeavor be it musical, scientific, mechanical, financial, or janitorial (ew), is all about attitude.  If you genuinely believe that you are not creative, then you limit your ability to solve those problems and you won’t get anywhere.  “But, what if I can’t create something original?”  Guess what?  You can’t.  Nothing in books, movies, music, or even the tech world is exactly genuinely new.  It’s all variations – some big, some small – on previously established ideas.  The greatest stories told, the best songs written, the best gadgets invented, are those that take existing ideas and move them one or two steps in a direction no one else has seen yet.  So, all this is to say that before you ever sit in front of that keyboard, decide that you are a creative being.

The next aspect of attitude that is crucial and is one I still struggle with every time I write is to manage expectations, primarily, your own.  It is important to establish a discipline of writing.  Whether it’s snatching little moments of time here and there stretched out over months or plowing through a manuscript in one month, you have to have a goal that is reachable and a deadline to work to.  One of the hardest things about writing is sitting your butt down in the chair and actually writing.  You can make notes, do research, watch movies for ‘inspiration’ all day long, but you’re not a writer until you put words on the screen.

On the flip-side of that, you can’t be too hard on yourself when you miss a deadline.  Yeah, it sucks and you need to learn how to get better, but stressing about the lost time does no one any good (in fact, it can work against you).  Something that helps me is to set up little rewards for accomplishing a goal.  For instance, every time I finish a rough draft I celebrate by getting a new video game.  Fallout 3 sat on my shelf taunting for the whole of May 2008 when I first wrote The Thief and the Red Mandolin.  It stayed there until I was done with that first draft, but it helped me have a tangible goal to work for.

I realize that I’ve spent this entire time discussing creativity and attitude, and have not said one thing about plotlines, characters, editing, or even how to generate ideas.  But, attitude is absolutely crucial if you’re going to get anywhere.  Don’t buy into the “I’m not creative” lie.  Decide you want to do this thing and sit your butt in front of the computer.  You there?  Good.  Now wait a week, because this post is about done.

Weekly Showcase: Shawn McDonald
I’ve discussed Shawn before, but I feel he deserves another brief mention.  The guy’s music keeps improving over the years and I am ever impressed with how he expresses struggles and frustration in our walk with God.  His lyrics strike a chord with my own issues and he uses a simple musical delivery to convey the message.  I always liken it to the kind of stuff you can just sit back and listen to in a coffee shop (or while writing…with coffee in hand…I’m saying coffee is crucial here…probably because I need some).  Ripen is my personal favorite, album, but I’m looking to pick up his newest one, Closer.  The title track is getting decent radio play right now and it’s pretty darn good.

Next Week: How to Write a Book, Pt. 2 / YNAB

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