As I was transitioning to a full-time writing career, I read a lot about it. At one point, I was reading a non-fiction book every week or two. While most of the books I read were general books on the nebulous topic of “success,” many were explicitly about writing. Here is a summary of the most useful things I’ve learned from those books about writing.
Don’t think about money
Keep thoughts about selling, marketing, or movie adaptations out of your head at this point. Those are just daydreaming until you have a finished product. Getting caught up in all that is a sure way of destroying your book before it’s even started.
Make a habit of writing every day
It doesn’t have to be good, just brain dump. As writer Anne Lamott suggests, just write a “shitty first draft” that nobody will see except for yourself. That way you can get the bulk of the writing done quickly. Once you have a shitty first draft, you can start to think about how to make it comprehensible and entertaining for other people to read.
Write the book you would want to read
If you don’t read memoirs because you think they’re all crap, then don’t write one. Or at least tweak the format enough so that if you saw your book on the bookshelf at the bookstore (but written by someone else), you would pick it up and want to read it.
Find your audience
Think of one person you know who would enjoy the book you want to write. That person is your audience. Don’t worry about appealing to anyone else with your writing. Just write as if you are writing a long letter to this one person. Trying to please everyone will please no one.
Read a lot
Stephen King recommends reading a lot if you want to be a good writer. If I had to recommend only one book to an aspiring non-fiction writer, I’d recommend On Writing Well by William Zinsser. It is required reading for all journalism students. It teaches how to write compelling non-fiction, and there are even chapters devoted to different types of non-fiction writing (memoirs, sports articles, humor, etc.).
For aspiring fiction writers, On Writing by Stephen King is a fun read, especially for learning how to tell a good story. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is similar but deals more with the writing process.
A few other good books on writing:
- Word Up! by Marcia Riefer Johnston (a guide to grammar for writing well)
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (an inspirational book on motivation)
- Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (about writing for self-publishing)
- Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran (how to self-publish digitally)
- How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn (the title says it all)
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