CYA News Vol. 3, Issue 8: How to Write A Book, Pt. 2 / YNAB

Posted: July 26, 2011 in CYA News, Writing
Tags: , , ,

Apparently, this last week I had a major brain malfunction (see Vol. 3, Issue 4) and forgot to post this.  No excuses, no busy schedule really.  I just flat out forgot.  My apologies for the mental lapse.  Hopefully, we can keep it from happening in the future.

The Writer’s Greatest Resource

Ideas won’t keep, something must be done about them. – Alfred North Whitehead

I spoke last issue about having the right mental attitude.  While I spoke on it as a first topic, it’s usually not the first thing people think about when they want to write.  A person will get the itch to write when an idea of some kind strikes them, and they want to turn that idea into a story.  I started with attitude because it must must must be there before you can carry an idea through two or three hundred pages.

But, ideas are what give a book fuel.  Ideas give you the starting point, the climax, the ending, and every conflict in between.  Sometimes the idea that gives birth to a book can be a simple thing.  For The Thief and the Red Mandolin, I started with one character: Hastiand the bard and his cursed, talking mandolin (okay, two characters really).  From there, the story expanded as I wrote it and rewrote it.  On Project R, I was inspired by an incredibly vivid dream and referred back to it continually as I wrote.

Ideas can come in all shapes, sizes, colors, bandwidths, frequencies, latitudes, altitudes…you get the picture.  The job of the writer is to capture these ideas.  Remember last time when I said that nothing is truly original?  Here is where that concept comes into play.  Many times, it’s simply viewing an existing idea or set of ideas and changing something.  Whether it’s combining multiple ideas, splitting one idea into several parts, or taking an idea one step further, don’t fret if you feel like your idea isn’t some big, grandiose thing.  Ideas aren’t necessarily a giant blinding flash of light, sometimes they’re more like a shy little kid standing at the back of the classroom.

So, rather than feel bogged down by the pressure of creating some brand new concept the world has never seen, focus on capturing ideas.  When an idea comes to you, you must use a mechanism such as a notepad, a voice recorder, or a computer to snatch them.  I have lost several ideas that I absolutely loved because I didn’t get to a pen and paper in time.  Now we have notebooks and pens all over the house with absolutely no organization to them, but they have a lot of ideas.

As far as types of ideas, they can be anything.  It can the plot line for a great fiction novel, or it could be taking that hobby you’ve always loved and turning it into an instructional book for others.  It could be the layout of chapters or a snappy line you heard someone at work spout out.  No matter what the idea is made of, capture it.  Even if it may seem a little silly, that’s okay.  Some of the best ideas I developed started off kinda dumb.  Ideas can take time to develop and the more on-purpose thinking you apply to an idea, the more useful it can become.  And you know, the funny thing is that once you start capturing and developing ideas, you start to do it more often and you get better at it.

At this point, there are two main things I want you to take away: 1) Ideas are powerful and must be captured when you come across them (become an idea hunter) 2) at the beginning of your book, don’t scrap any ideas whatsoever; the refining process comes when you’re developing the story.

Many great ideas have been lost because the people who had them were afraid of being laughed at. – Unknown

Next issue, I’ll discuss the approach (to outline or not to outline).

Weekly Showcase: YNAB (You Need A Budget)
If you’ve watched any of the news lately, the world is headed for destruction and the apocalypse will not arrive via four horseman, instead it will come with the sound of an accountant’s fingers punching a calculator.  The media’s tendency to blow problems out of proportion aside, the US of A does face major financial issues, but the biggest of them are not what happens on Capital Hill or Wall Street.  It’s in your own bank account.

If you listen to Dave Ramsey for any length of time, then you’ve heard the staggering statistics about the financial health of the average American.  It’s appalling how much we drive ourselves into debt.  With a “me-first” mentality, we borrow money to get anything we want these days.  TVs, cars, boats, even music CDs are bought with credit cards (AKA little bitty loans).  With this picture in mind, it’s good to see people like Dave Ramsey help bring sanity back into personal finance.  Another group you can add to that list of helpers is the company behind the budgeting software, YNAB (short for You Need A Budget).

They’ve taken the basic spreadsheet concept for budgeting and added a bank register and a simple interface for what I consider to be the best personal finance software available.  YNAB gives you two main screens to work with: the budget and the register.  The budget is where you do your planning and I love how it gives you four months at a glance so you plan way ahead.  They have a decent list of pre-made categories, but adding new ones is a breeze.  On the register screen, you track the income and expenses on your bank accounts.  You can also set up accounts to track your outstanding debt, savings accounts, emergency funds, what-have-you.

A few other nifty features include an expense trend chart to see how your spending changes from month to month as well as a pie chart that breaks down your current budgeted expenses.  Combined with the iPhone app, which allows you to record transactions on the fly and the ability to sync with the desktop version, our budgeting as gotten a whole lot easier.  The only downside: it tracks everything by month and I get paid bi-weekly so the timing takes a little adjustment, but nothing too bad.  Definitely worth checking into.  They even have a free trial if you’re not sure.

Next Week:  How to Write a Book, Pt. 3 / Jesus Freaks

  1. jacobbaugher says:

    Great post Samuel, I’m in the process of writing the first few chapters of my first novel. I have all of the plot planned out roughly and I am in the middle of chapter three. One thing I am struggling with is finding interesting last names for my characters, or making their names have that *ring*. For me I can get the basic Idea, its the little details that hold me up.

    • Samuel A. Mayo says:

      Thanks for the compliment Jacob. For help with names specifically, I have a few recommendations. 1) Skim through a phonebook. You’d be amazed at how many interesting names you can find in there. 2) Get a book of baby names. It may seem strange, but I’ve gotten a lot of names just by picking one or two out a baby name book. 3) The internet is jam-packed with naming websites. My personal favorite: It has a fantastic search engine.

      As far as how to handle details in general, I plan to cover that in a later post. Details are very important and give your book a nice glossy shine, but nail down your main ideas first. Specifics can be taken care of when you go to rewrite.

  2. Anne says:


    Glad you found YNAB and thanks for the neat mention on here! Welcome to the YNAB party! 🙂 We hope you continue to enjoy all that our budgeting program has to offer. We like getting your input and hearing your thoughts so please feel free to let us know how it’s working out for you. If you haven’t tried them already, our free, weekly webinars are an awesome resource to tap into. You have a great blog. I love writing and will be checking back periodically to see what great tips you have!:)

    All the Best,

    Anne Gordon
    YNAB Executive Assistant

    • Samuel A. Mayo says:

      Thank you for the kind words Anne! You guys make a great product. I’ll be sure to check out those webinars.

  3. […] Samuel A. Mayo Author. Adventure. Fantasy. Science Fiction. HomeBooksProject RThe Island of IstburnThe Thief and the Red MandolinPentiniumFree Stuff!A Good Bowl of RamenThe Thief and the Red Mandolin Excerpt RSS ← CYA News Vol. 3, Issue 8: How to Write A Book, Pt. 2 / YNAB […]

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