Sharing 15 tips for writing with my friends at Dropbox, if you’d like to read!…
I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, the how of it all. How did you find the time? How did you manage the workload? How did you overcome writer’s block?
And the grand finale:
How are you feeling now?
(Spoiler alert: So very grateful.)
First things first. I wrote Chasing Slow in a most maddening fit of backwards logic, opting to get it all down on paper unsullied for later tightening. (Famous last words: “I’ll structure this in editing!”) Two months into the writing of the text, in which I’d worked tirelessly to pen part one – seventy pages I’d thought for certain were brilliantly in tact and finally final – I emailed my editor a sneak peek for early feedback.
Her response: This is a good initial outline, Erin! Keep at it!
(There is a special seat among the thrones of heaven for gentle editors.)
And so, my 15 tips for you, based on what I learned by trying and failing and trying again:
- Consider structure.
There are a zillion and eight ways to structure a book, which is not at all overwhelming (joke font). Choosing which route to journey toward before you take your first steps will save you from a massive u-turn halfway through the book (or, ahem, from your editor confusing your second draft for a first outline). Not sure where to start? Here are 15 unconventional story methods that work.
- Find the thread.
Our lives are far more universal than we know. The difference between your memoir and mine lies only in the details — we’ve all started somewhere, lost track, overcome an obstacle and found our way again. We are living the same story with different plots. The trick, then, is to find the thread that ties our paths together. It can be hard to unravel, but not impossible. This book helps.
- Start here.
Listen: it’s never a good time to write a book. It’s never a good time to have a baby, to make the move, to join the gym. There’s always tomorrow, until there isn’t. Start here, today.
Keep timelines, outlines, photos and soft chapters on your desktop computer with back-up copies on a portable hard drive (or three). Or, better yet, get thee to Dropbox so you’ll have it all safe and available at a moment’s notice. Whether your story informs the art or the art informs the story matters not — what matters is that you can reference both at any given time, whether at your desk or on the go.
- Anticipate mud.
There is nothing tidy about writing. It is messy, and like most good things, it gets worse before it gets better. Wade deep anyway – there’s a sea of contradictions to learn from in your everyday life. Write them down. Learn from them. Use them. Wear boots.
- Be gentle.
Writing is hard. Be kind to yourself. There will be days where you’ll feel raw/spent/depleted after a long morning of writing, and reacquainting with the actual world might feel trickier than usual. Take deep breaths. Re-emerge gently. Pour some tea.
- Think marketing.
It’s inevitable; you’ll mull it over eventually. To publish or not to publish? What is your market? Who will be reading? And why? If you’re unsure who your book is for, take the easiest shortcut: look in the mirror. Write what you need to learn. Write what you want to read. Write what you know.
- Invite others.
Resist the temptation to go at it alone. Invite a close, trusted friend or editor to share your Dropbox files for collaborative feedback. Add in a fellow creative to help inform the aesthetic direction (my friend Cassie shot the most beautiful photos). Gather a launch team and share folders containing snippets of the book – from early chapters and full texts to finished photos and graphics. Sync memes to Pinterest. The book is yours, but the story is everyone else’s. Be generous with it.
A blank screen, a warm drink, two hours. This is perhaps all you need to write. Forget the fancy software, the timeline tools, the convoluted methods. Find your own method, then whittle it down to the bare essentials. Anything else is mere distraction.
- Read well.
Fill your mind with rich thoughts, ideas. Surround yourself with good craft. Read sentences that work; they’ll soon inform your own.
- A ritual.
If possible, rely on a ritual. Writer’s block happens – often and always. For the times your mind might fail you, let your body take over. While writing, I ordered the same black coffee and omelette (extra hot sauce), listened to the same classical music, wore the same scent on my neck. Even now, I’ll hear Danny Elfman’s Finale and feel an itch to return to the page. Rituals work.
- Tell the truth.
Resist the urge to fancy your lines, or yourself. Writing is an act of truth-telling; meet your real self on the page. (The truth is always far more fascinating anyway.)
- Take notes.
Keep a notes doc on your phone, or a handy Moleskine nearby. Everyday life is the most beautifully inspiring think tank imaginable if you can manage to catch the inspiration and pin it down for later. Lines, smells, textures, descriptions – it is all yours for the taking. Take it.
- Fall in like.
Like your book. Respect it; treat it well. Go easy on it. Do not demand too much from it, nor too little. Enjoy its company for the time you spend together; then, release it into the world.
Over, and over. Do it again. Practice makes good, then better, then still better yet.
And I suppose those are the only hows I know. To do the work, to meet yourself in black and white, to wield words without judgment and trust that it might possibly, hopefully, be enough.
(It always is.)
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Dropbox. The opinions and text are all mine.