What It Takes to Write Copy That Kills: Part 2: Thinking

So you want to publish your first book.

Me too.

Yesterday I wrote about the first of the six-part formula I use in my writing. You can see that post here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-kf, or you can blow right by and I’ll sum it up for you in five sentences.

You must OBSERVE. Your classroom is the world and you need to pay attention. Watch people. Talk to people. Practice your interview skills, and over time, you should be able to walk up to anyone on the street, interview them, and tell an interesting story.

I took a random photo of these two hostess workers (Jennifer, left, and Kanesha)during lunch today at Chili’s. I’ll bet you 5 bucks I could interview either of them for 15 minutes and come out with a fairly interesting story. Everyone has a story.

Today, we’ll focus on the second part of the formula: THINK.

If you’re going to successfully publish your book, there’s a lot everything to think about. So much, in fact, we can’t cover everything. I’ll focus on three things and give you references later to some writing sites that really do help me think.

Three things to think about:

1. What are you going to write?

2. How are you going to navigate the road to a finished manuscript?

3. How are you going to sell and promote your finished product?

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO WRITE?

It helps to write about the things you know about. Unfortunately, some of the things you know most about aren’t really interesting.

I can just imagine an agent receiving her 125th submission from a woman scorned by divorce, or a man who completed his first marathon. Those won’t fly.

If the woman had killed her husband and just gotten out of jail after 20 years and the facts later show she was abused and only protecting her son, now you have a book.

Or, if the man completed his marathon and had secretly secured 100 donors to give $100 for every mile he ran and the proceeds went to victims of the Colorado wildfires, you’ve got another good book.

You get the point.

Whatever topic you may choose, please read what I’m about to write and it will help you immensely. An agent once shared this with me, and it changed the way I attacked a book.

YOU MUST BUILD A BOOK AS IF IT WERE A LIVING, BREATHING ORGANISM.

It must have the following:

1. Bones

2. Flesh

3. Breath

By the way, this story is gleaned from the Book of Ezekiel. It’s the well-known biblical story of the valley of the dry bones.

BONES – Beneath our skin, muscles, nervous system and our organs, there is a skeleton. Your book must have a strong foundation. An academic premise, perhaps. A theory or belief that you will go on to prove. Obviously, this is mostly true for non-fiction writers. I’m very unimaginative and couldn’t touch the skills of the most moderately talented fiction writer. I admire fiction writers. I’m just not one. So for all you non-fiction folks, build a framework for your book. And make it strong.

FLESH – Now you must have something to hang on those bones, and it’s flesh. It’s the human element of your book. The story or stories. Think of it as soul or the relational aspect of your work. Flesh touches flesh. Readers want to be touched by your story in some way. Will there be that moment in your book where the reader nods her head and says quietly to herself, “Yes, I can relate to that.” If so, you’ve created some beautiful flesh.

BREATH – A tricky one here, but simply stated, it’s the takeaway. The lesson. Your reader must be compelled to do something (maybe differently) because of your work. You don’t have to change a reader’s life, but you are required to bring something to the table for them to take away.

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO NAVIGATE THE ROAD TO A FINISHED MANUSCRIPT?

You can use a GPS and a map, but there are uncharted roads. Twists and turns you’ll never expect. The road to the destination isn’t even on the map. You must expect that.

The only way to navigate is to take someone along who’s been there. You need an editor. Not at the end of the work, much preferably from the beginning.

I have an editor. I make submissions to him about every 5,000 words or so. I’m lucky because he’s good. He teaches, praises, scolds, encourages, berates and whatever else you want to throw in. His guidance has helped me navigate a road I’d never have made it down. He strongly suggests which road to take at the “Y.”

My editor, Brad Harris, (left) during our first meeting. Breakfast lasted 4 hours.

For a bit about my editor, Brad Harris,  you can take a look at another post on my secondary blog here: http://wp.me/p2wzTk-16

In his notes to me, Brad uses an imaginary character, Boris, to react to my work. Boris is overweight, impatient and narrow-minded. Sometimes, he gives an approving growl to my work. Other times, he gets up to go to the refrigerator and get a snack. He may or may not come back to the book. Occasionally, he becomes so bored he gets up for a shot of vodka and goes straight to bed, leaving my “wonderful” work on the foot stool.

If I can keep Boris in page-turning mode, I’ve done a decent job.

Personally, you may choose to hire on an editor at the end. Steady editing throughout the process, however, has helped prevent me from making mistakes I’d otherwise have made many times.

If you’re going to write a good book, you can’t do it alone. You need a really good hired hand.

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SELL AND PROMOTE YOUR FINISHED BOOK?

There are hundreds of people more qualified than me to answer this question, especially since I’ve yet to sell a single copy.

I’ll try to give you the short and simple of how I view this.

You must first ask yourself this question.

Do you love writing, or do you just want to be a writer?

To sell book, the correct answer is the former.

You must LOVE to write.

I’m writing a book and I have not one, not two, but three blogs. Much of what I write is totally unrelated to book sales. Nobody wants to hear me pounding them day after day about how great my book’s gonna be. I just love to write.

So you must blog. And there will be many times you’ll do a “test and measure” of what you’re writing. Throw something out there from time to time and get reactions. I’m confounded more often than not when the stuff I think is killer falls flat on its face with a reading audience. It can really help guide the process.

You must be passionate about your topic. If you don’t believe in it with all your heart, you’re not buyin’ it and nobody else will either.

Find some speaking engagements. It can be a huge fear, I know, but it’s one you must face. Share your expertise with others, woo them, draw them in … and sell them books.

Buy into these things, and much of the rest will take care of itself.

The next post will be my 100th on this site and I’ll have a few special things to say about that, then we’ll return to the third part of the formula: PLAN.

As promised here are a few sites that really help me learn:

www.rachellegardner.com

www.booksandsuch.biz

www.behlerblog.com

 www.stevelaube.com read Tamela Hancock-Murray or Steve Laube

www.catherineryanhoward.com

www.cristianmihai.net

-30-

Writing’s Most Important Metaphor: Ending on a High Note

Among the group of professionals who call themselves writers (we’ll save my opinion for what makes a professional writer for a whole nother series, a whole nother time) there are dozens of species.

Some will get simple satisfaction from a single book; others will find happiness with the occasional Reader’s Digest or Chicken Soup blurb; many wish to publish a series of either related or unrelated works over a due period of time.

Each can have its merit and worth, but it’s the latter group to which I make a point today.

In the lower left-hand corner of my blog’s header, you’ll see a tagline. Six words, each with a period.

OBSERVE. THINK. PLAN. WRITE. PURSUE. EXECUTE.

It’s the formula I use for just about any project, but it’s particularly effective for me in a lengthy, dead-serious piece of prose.

If you wish to be one of those in the latter category i.e., a series writer with a number of interwoven, published works, you must do this. You must:

END ON A HIGH NOTE.

Let’s think about that metaphor for a moment. Take a 30-second break here and think about the picture the metaphor brings to your mind. END ON A HIGH NOTE… Think NOW…

Now that you have the picture, I’ll share with you what comes to my mind..

THIS IS NOT WHAT I PICTURE:

Go with me on this for a moment.

My mind’s eye visualizes a middle-aged woman, 60-ish we’ll say, slightly overweight, stunning black dress, simple pearls, plainly attractive, but also strangely stunning. And she radiates professionalism. She commands attention.

Her performance: It begins softly, movingly and it brings anticipation. She runs the scale, up, then down, and then she draws you nearer, but quietly, and you know it’s coming. The high note soars, and the drum rolls to a dramatic conclusion.

And it’s over.

ENCORE! ENCORE! ENCORE!

The ENCORE!~ is the writer’s dream. That’s where you want to be.

When I began my first non-fiction work in March of this year, one of the best moves I made was hiring a professional editor to work with me along the way. He is my compass.

Some 15,000 words into the draft, he dropped me an unexpected line. It stopped me, and it changed the course of everything thereafter.

He identified the second book in the series that I didn’t even know was a series.

Yes, it changed everything. Mostly, it presented a huge challenge.

How would I take the anti-thesis of everything I’d written and bring it to an excruciatingly obscure tease at the book’s conclusion and leave every reader salivating to purchase the next one?

***

At the age of 38, (I’m now 46) I decided to run my first marathon. I weighed 248 pounds, couldn’t catch my breath walking up a flight of stairs, and would sometimes pick up a filet-o-fish on the way home from work for a pre-dinner snack.

It began with walking on a treadmill at 5 a.m. on cold winter mornings. Eventually I moved outside. My first goal was to run to the mailbox down the block. Weeks later, I ran a mile. But it was hard to see completing an elevated 26.2 – mile course.

I had to practice VISUALIZATION. I actually had to train my mind to SEE my body running across the finish line and someone putting a medal around my neck.

Eighteen months later I crossed the finishing mark of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon (at a trim 165 pounds I might add.) Taken to the brink of total depletion, the next day, I knew I wanted to do it again.

To do what you must, you have to visualize the finish. You must see the impossible, and you must end on a high note.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin a seven-part series on what it takes to be a successful, professional writer.

That’s my high note for this post.

There’s no way to get where you’re going, unless you know where you want to end up being.

(Steve Watkins is a former journalist and marketing professional with more than 15,000 interviews to his credit. His first two non-fiction works now in the making are: LIGHT WINS: and the darkness is defeated forever… and Dark’s Dominion.)

-30-

The Binge: 12 Lessons Learned

“The only book that shall ever be written is the one that flows up from the heart, forced out by the inward pressure. When such a work has gestated within a man, it is almost certain that it will be written. The man who is thus charged with a message will not be turned back by any blase’ consideration. His book will be, to him, not only imperitave, it will be inevitable.” ~ A.W. Tozer from “God’s Pursuit of Man.”

Over the long weekend, I reverted to a style that has served me well from college to the present.

I was never good at composing research papers over extended periods of time, never embraced studying a bit each day, and really never have been good at doing a “little bit” of anything. For most of the things I do, I have to go “all-in.” It’s why I stay away from casinos.

I’m a binger.

It goes agains the conventional writing style that most experts will offer. Most say the best way to begin writing is just that, begin writing … write something each day, even if it’s just a few hundred words. That’s good advice for beginning writers, I’ll grant you. It creates a habit, and habits are good things for writers.

But if you’ve moved to a point where you’re more serious in your work, the notion of bits of pieces of writing daily may no longer work.

It’s become apparent that if my first book has any chance of being released by Thanksgiving – I must binge.

Last weekend, Friday 3am through Sunday noon was a 57 hour writing session with very few breaks. It was productive, resulting in nearly 10,000 words of decent copy.

When you write for three days straight, you inevitably learn some lessons. Here are 12 I learned:

  1. Without moving your cell phone’s switch to the “off” position, it will continue to ring.
  2. A.W. Tozer is magnificent.
  3. Periodic naps help.
  4. Grape juice keeps you going.
  5. One moment, you think what you’ve written is brilliant. On second read, it can sound really stupid.
  6. Sometimes, just sometimes, volume trumps quality.
  7. There’s no substitute for a good chair.
  8. The environment in which you write can make a huge difference.
  9. If you have a random thought, put it on paper immediately.
  10. Sometimes, it’s more important to write randomly, than chronologically.
  11. It’s ok to take a short Facebook break now and then, but just a short one.
  12. It’s going to take at least three more binges to get this thing done.

—30—

Going on a Binge

BINGE – an act of excessive or compulsive consumption…

Twenty-four hours from now, I’m going on a 60-hour binge – a writing binge that is.

If you’re like me, you necessarily live your life in compartments – work, play, family time, hobbies, service, etc.

Our hope is that the lessons from the good compartments somehow permeate over into the not-so-good ones and that, in the process, we somehow find a pleasing life balance.

Unfortunately, I live life in binges.

Never have I been able to do a little bit of anything. I can’t just run 3 miles, it has to be 10; can’t just plant a small garden, it has to be an acre-plot; can’t just grill a few burgers and steaks, it has to be enough to feed the entire neighborhood.

And to be effective, I can’t just write effectively in spurts, it has to be extended, focused, dedicated time with a closed door, silence and no distractions. It has to be hours, not just an hour. And sometimes, days.

The book is now written and complete in my head, but it does me nor anyone else any good in that foggy place. It’s time for the vision to move through the heart, pass though the fingertips and onto the keyboard.

The interviews are complete; I see the pages; the sidebars are tucked away in the right corner of my brain; the graphics are in sight; I see the bolds, the itals and the garamond fonts; and the cover, it’s a thing of beauty to me.

But alas, they are but a vision. It’s time to let the Light produce the vision so all can see it.

The 60-hour binge is almost here.

I’ll see you when the binge is over.

I hope the hangover’s not too bad.

—30—