Tag Archives | writing a book

Guest Post: Out of Your Book Mess and Into Story

I promised you a guest post from Jeffrey Davis, and here it is.  Jeffrey would be the first to admit that this post runs a bit long–but I want to tell you that it is worth reading every word! (I wrote a bit about Jeffrey, why I'm promoting his program and his upcoming webinar here.)  Enjoy reading!

Out of Your Book Mess and Into Story

by Jeffrey Davis

Sometimes I get flare calls.

An accomplished art critic calls and says she has a rough manuscript in the works and a book proposal her agent can’t sell. It involves renowned figures. Mounds of research. Book over 9 years brewing.

A business executive calls and says he has a book topic and concept and nearly a hundred blog articles circling around the topic. 2 years percolating.

An MFA grad and writing professor calls and says she has a nearly completed draft of her memoir. 3 years in the making.

Each one of these potential heroes is stuck in the middle of a creative forest.

Being stuck in the middle is frustrating and often lonely. You’ve gone beyond that first-love phase when you were struck by the initial inspiration. You’ve moved solidly into the “stand in love” phase. And how do you find your way out of this mess in a way that feels true and empowering – instead of just compromising?

No easy answers. But I will offer some ideas. We all need help, yours truly not excluded.

Draft to discover. Craft to design.

People get tripped up on drafting versus crafting. Writing is mostly rewriting. Still, drafting and crafting each are essential.

Draft to discover more of what you have to say, what your character has to show you, what that experience 12 years ago possibly means. Your own curiosity will drive you through the middle.

Drafting draws us deep.

To craft to design means you simultaneously learn the art of crafting experiences for readers.

You become a story architect who re-sequences drafted parts in ways to captivate readers. When you remember the captivating books that have cracked you open to new ways of imagining, feeling, and thinking, you can appreciate that those authors have absorbed craft knowledge in ways that let them design experiences for you.

Where’s the heart line?

At a certain point you have to ask, “What’s the heart of this book? What’s the heart of the Story?” You have to know your own heart connection. It’s the tender “why” that drives you to stand in love with this book through the difficult middle. It might be a personal story that you will never share with readers – although you might with a media interviewer when the book comes out.

But a Story, regardless of genre, also has its own heart line. One way out of the middle is to discover and trace the heart line.

A book’s “heart line” – versus the plot line – describes the movement from beginning to middle to end of what happens with the main character’s core yearning. Let’s break that down: Main character? Yearning?

Unless you’re truly exceptional at your craft, I’m only giving you memoirists and novelists one main character per book. The one who has the most at stake to lose. The one whose yearning we most clearly are drawn to care about.

Thought leaders, teachers, journalists, and other trade nonfiction authors, your hero is your targeted reader.

Yearning is what burns in the main character’s heart that he or she deeply desires to be fulfilled. In the film Thelma and Louise, naive and wide-eyed Thelma at first simply wants a taste of freedom away from her good ol’ boy husband for a weekend. In the course of the story, that want bursts into full-blown yearning to be free to be one’s true self.

Maybe your character yearns to feel at home in the world. Maybe he desires to fall madly in love again.

The reader of your trade nonfiction book on health might want to relieve her fatigue, but what she yearns for is vibrancy and vitality.

Your book’s core yearning is also your entryway into your readers’ hearts.

I’ve never been a woman married to a good ol’ boy, but I have felt stuck and compliant in relationships and have yearned for a taste of freedom – and my innate empathy goes out to almost any underdog. Thelma’s yearning becomes my yearning. Now I care and can be moved.

Move us.

Shape the opening

Many first-time authors don’t want to mess with the opening. They want to start with the Big Bang of drama. But where to go after that? These writers often avoid the delicate art of establishing and sustaining tension.

Once you discover the yearning, you can play with designing your book’s first part laden with tension. Call it the Broken World or Ordinary World. Call it the Prevailing Problem. It’s the story architect’s entryway that situates readers into this world of characters or concepts you’re asking them to inhabit.

The opening subtly introduces the tension among 1) the character’s situation (she’s married to a dolt), 3) her percolating yearning (freedom!), and 3) her resistance (where would she go? what would she do?).

When you discover your character’s yearning plus the external situation and internal resistance that conflicts with that yearning, then you have the makings for unfolding tension in your readers.

Do you only get one yearning? Yes. For now. If your protagonist or reader has three or four or five yearnings, then you haven’t yet done the work of discerning and choosing. After a certain point, the book’s story deserves your decisiveness.

I’m not talking formulas, you rebels (myself included) reading this. I’m talking core, fundamental Story forms that move your readers with a rewarding experience. That’s the craft you’re devoted to learn, hone, and make your own once you’ve drafted to discover these elements.

What is the Tornado Moment?

We human beings are wired to be curious about and to desire change and also to resist change. Isn’t that funny? And irritating?

In a captivating memoir or novel, something surprising happens that changes the protagonist’s course of action. In a captivating trade nonfiction book, a radical idea or a provocative premise comes along to challenge and change the reader’s course of thinking.

Think: A tornado comes along and drops Dorothy in Oz: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Think: After your character loses her mother, her father, and most of the rest of her family, she makes the craziest decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Coast Trail by herself. (Cheryl Strayed and her memoir Wild.)

Sometimes, this moment in Story is quiet. A decision. Meeting a stranger who becomes an ally. But it arises out of the causal sequencing of the Opening and it launches the character or the reader into the book’s fertile section – the Middle. The Quest.

Then you can better decide what stays in your book and what doesn’t. You clear the middle of clutter.

When if at all is the yearning fulfilled?

Stop the never-ending story. Please.

Look at your drafts and maps. At what point does the character fulfill – or not – that yearning? Dorothy awakens back in Kansas and realizes “There’s no place like home.” Sentimental, maybe, but it moves us. Thelma has her pal gun the convertible gas pedal and launch off the Grand Canyon cliff to reach mythic freeze-frame freedom. Yearning fulfilled.

Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You has a final section that recounts several hero stories of people who have followed their skills to find their passionate work. Yearning fulfilled.

Not everyone in a memoir or novel gets what they want. In trade nonfiction, you’re expected to fulfill your readers’ yearnings. So, if your book has essential concepts or steps, regard them as potential steps toward readers fulfilling their yearning. Then imagine the afterword you can offer.

Know who the real hero is.

It takes vulnerability and courage to send that flare that says, “I need help finding my way out.”

If you’re sticking it out and unravelling the inevitable creative mess of the middle, if you’re willing to finesse your craft on behalf of your Story and the readers who need it, then in my book you are a hero of the highest caliber.

Ultimately, though, you and I know who the real heroes of your potentially captivating book are: your readers. They’re the ones who will love your book in ways you never fathomed and who will be changed or awakened in ways, grand and small.

Your book becomes their magic tool that aids them on their own life’s quest. And that is a wonder.

Jeffrey Davis is founder of the Your Captivating Book Mentorship Program and author of The Journey From the Center to the Page. He and his team help smart-working people shape their Story – in books, platforms, and intentional lives.

Have you ever gotten stuck in the middle of a project before?  How did you find your way out?

3

A Meditation and Exploration for Your Book

I finished going through the papers from long ago that had landed on the floor of my office, but Everystockphoto-4703759-hyesterday I tackled another organizing project: office supplies.  Read: journals.  As in unused ones. I've got tons of them.  After my initial foray into sorting them, I told my husband that if I ever uttered the words, "I need to buy a journal," he was under orders to shoot.

Because I've got boxes and boxes of them, enough writing paper to last me nearly a lifetime. (And, you mark my words, I'll be buying another one within the month because I won't be able to find one that feels just right in the moment.  I know myself too well.)  Some of them are inappropriate for my needs and clearly need to be given away, which is the project at hand.  Along the way I'm finding several journals that only have one or two pages filled out.

And that's where today's post comes in.  On one of those pages, I found the following meditation, scrawled down years ago for my coaching clients in a moment of inspiration.  I figured I'd share it with you.  This meditation was written down and forgotten, so its not been tested in real life.  I decided I'd test it on you guys, since I love you so much.

(This meditation was designed to elicit information about a book you might want to write, but you could adapt the process slightly to make it work for anything else, such as an article or a story.)

Here goes:

1. Sit quietly and center yourself.  Take a few deep breaths and then focus on yourself breathing in and out as you quiet your mind.

2. Now allow your mind to settle on an image.  It's you, sitting behind a table at a book store.  The table in front of you is stacked with books.  Your book!  Picture the whole thing in your mind and then zone in closer.  Now notice:

–What your book looks like

–What is the title?

3.  As you hone in on the book, witness yourself opening the book.  And see:

–What is the book about?

–What does the subject matter on the Table of Contents cover?

(It doesn't matter if you don't see it all this time through.  This will give you a starting point, a springboard for further exploration through free writing.)

4.  As your signing ends, a person come out of the crowd that is now leaving, books in hand.  Oh my goodness, she looks just like a fairy godmother.  She is a fairy godmother!  And she has something for you.  She hand it to you.

–Open your hand and describe what she gives you as fully as possible.

This is your touchstone to carry with you as you write this book. 

That's it!  That's the meditation.  Hope it's helpful.  Have fun with it and adapt it any way you see fit.

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Experiment with meditation,either guided or not,  in your life and see how it affects your writing practice.  Do you see a difference in your writing?  In how you approach it?

Please share your ideas on meditation.  Do you do it regularly?  Once in a while?  Never?  How does it impact your writing?  I'd love to hear your opinions on the subjec. 

Photo by MVWorks.

2

8 Essential Tools For Book Writing (Just in Time for Nanowrimo)

The thing about writing is that you can accomplish it without much in the way of tools.  Really, all you need to finish a book is something to write on and something to write with. Of course, a computer is also helpful, but strictly speaking, it is not a requirement.  Theoretically, you could write your entire book in pencil on legal pads and find someone to type it up for you.

But that would be theoretically.  In the real world, it is good to have some niceties.  And this lack of a need for tools is one reason I got excited the other morning when I realized I had some things to recommend to have on hand when writing a book.  Though, in truth, I guess they would more accurately be called supplies than tools.  But work with me, just for the sake of it, would you?

Note_notes_notepad_260973_l

Here they are:

1. A good spiral notebook or binder.  This will be used for brainstorming, free-writing, working out your ideas for characters, writing down descriptions, and so on. 

2. A seperate notebook for notes.  This can be a small notepad or a small binder or whatever strikes your fancy.  To my mind, it is necessary because brilliant ideas and directions for changes in your book get lost in the mad rush of writing that goes on in #1.

3. A vision board.  For the visually-minded, a book-writing vision board which collects images and words to inspire you is a wonderful boon. 

4. A story board.  Not to be confused with #3, a story board actually tells the story of your book, scene by scene, on individual index cards or post-it notes tacked up on a board. Its a great aid in seeing where you are going and keeping track.

5.  Post-It Notes.  I can't live without them.  My desk is littered with them, stuck on shelves, to-do lists, in notebooks, on journal pages, everywhere.

6. A binder.  Use this for putting printed book pages in.  Nothing is more inspiring than seeing the pages stack up!

7. A carry-along notebook.  You might want to make #2 do double-duty, but you might also want to choose something compact.  Just make sure you have something with you to make notes on when inspiration strikes–I often use my phone.

8. A box of pens.  Because you'll go through them.

And then, of course, there's that metal thing called a computer…

What are your must-have tools or supplies for writing a book?

 

Image by christgr, via Everystockphoto.

15

The Benefits of Preparation

I made Panna Cotta* yesterday.  And potatoes for Easter breakfast.  But it was the Panna Cotta that taught PannaCotta me something about writing.

It is not a complicated recipe, and doesn't have a lot of ingredients, basically milk, cream, sugar and honey (it is not particularly good for you). Maybe for that precise reason, yesterday I decided to make like a Food Network star and have all the ingredients measured and prepared ahead of time.

And this turned out to be a revelation, making the cooking of the pudding go quickly and easily.  Which is not usually the case when I cook.

And that is because my blasted right-brain gets in the way.

Now don't get me wrong, I love my right-brain tendencies.  They are the source of my creativity, which I cherish.  But when it comes to logic and details, they can also get in the way.  When I cook, I'm usually all over the place–measuring sugar here, washing the dessert cups there, making space in the refrigerator as a last-minute after-thought.

Oh, and did I mention I'm lousy at following directions?  So sometimes I skip a step or skim the recipe and forget something crucial.  Not only that, my measuring skills are horrible and I usually end up estimating rather than measuring exactly.

And now I realize it is for all these reasons that I hate cooking.  Because yesterday, for some unknown reason, I actually followed the directions.  I carefully measured everything ahead of time, and then I simply followed the recipe step by step.

Um, revelation of gargantuan proportions.  I know.  Duh.  But work with me here, I'm the ultimate right-brain creative type.  And I think I've always thought that I should just sort of know how to cook things without following directions.

As I measured and stirred heavy cream yesterday, I thought about writing.  My next newsletter article (sign up to the right if you haven't already) is going to be about the steps it takes to write a book.  And guess what? Only one of them actually concerns writing.  The rest are all about the preparation.  Because I'm a huge believer in preparation when it comes to writing.  If you have some idea of the road ahead, you'll make much quicker progress.  Not knowing where you are going is the fastest route to writer's block.

Now excuse me, I've got to go put the Marinara sauce for tonight's pasta on.

*I actually used the recipe from Giada's first cookbook, but this particular link tells about the dessert and presents a good recipe, since Giada isn't giving up hers online.

Since I'm starting to like to cook, feel free to comment with ideas for favorite recipes.  Or if you want to stay on point, tell me how you prepare for writing projects. 

9

Ghostwriting

One of the main ways I make my living is through ghostwriting, and I love it.  I get to write about topics I’d never write about otherwise, meet fascinating people, and enter the minds of those fascinating people.  Sort of like writing fiction, only not.

What is Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is when I write the book for you but your name appears on the book.  As far as the world knows, you are the author of the book.  If I’m lucky, you might thank me in the acknowledgments .  But even that is not really necessary.  Some big-time ghostwriters even get a “with” credit, as in “by famous person with ghostwriter.”  But not usually.

Who Uses Ghostwriters?

A better question might be, who doesn’t use a ghostwriter?  Generally, ghostwriters are employed for non-fiction projects, though many a novel has been ghostwritten (you can read a post I wrote about that here.)   Many of the best-selling business and self-help books are ghostwritten, as are those by politicians and celebrities. 

Not only famous people hire ghostwriters.  People in all walks of life who are too busy to write a book or simply feel they don’t have a way with word hire ghostwriters.  Working with a ghostwriter can be an efficient way of getting your book to print.

Why Do I Need a Book?

You may not have dreams of bestseller status, but you do need a book.  Why? Here are some reasons:

  • A book lends your career immediate status and prestige.  No matter what profession you are in, having a book to show for yourself gives you credibility.
  • If you do any public speaking, or aspire to, you need a book because many speaking bureaus will not book you unless you have one. 
  • A book  offers a potential  additional income stream.   You may choose to sell it on the internet or as a  back-of-the-room product.  If you are providing useful content on your website or blog, people will want to buy a book to read more.  If you are giving inspiring lectures, people will want to read more.  Give them what they want–a book.
  • A book offers you a chance to spread your message in a different channel.  Make no mistake, even iin this digital age, a book is still considered the ultimate authority.

What is The Ghostwriting Process?

People come to me when they have an idea for a book, have been struggling to write one for awhile, or need to get a product out fast, for any of the above reasons.  Generally, the client will have a fair amount of material or notes on the project ready.  If this is not the case, there may be quite a bit of upfront interviewing time required. 

It is my job to take this material and shape it into a finished product that reflects the voice and style of the client.  No two of the books that I ghostwrite will sound like the same author if I’ve done my job correctly.  I assess the potential readers and what sort of style might be appropriate for them, also.

Every project differs, but basically I’ll send the client constant updates of the the manuscript for him or her to edit and make changes on.  I guarantee my work and I’m not happy until the client is happy. 

How Long Does it Take?

The time frame varies.  I’ve gotten books out in as short as a month, while some projects tend to take much longer.

How Much Does it Cost?

While I have a base fee, again, each project will vary in cost.  It depends on how much material you have ready.  Some books really only need a rewrite or edit, while others require a massive assembly of notes and research.  Still others may need a lot of upfront interviewing time to pull the story out of the client, and this, of course, will cost more.   Please, please, please don’t assume that a ghostwriter will work for royalties only.  We’re professionals, too, folks, and we like to eat also.  Royalties are more of an “if” than a “for certain” and if they do every manifest, it may not be for months or years in the future.  Unless you can find a ghostwriter who needs experience and a credit to show, forget about asking us to work for royalties.

I’m Sold, What’s My Next Step?

Contact me  and we’ll discuss specifics.  If you’re not quite ready to hire a ghostwriter, and want to do it yourself, I can help coach you to get your book onto the page, too.