6 Key Principles for Writing a Book: #2

  1. No single approach works for everyone
  2. The simplest and least invasive approach is frequently the best
  3. The solution and the problem are not necessarily related
  4. Change is happening all the time
  5. Focus on strengths and resources rather than weaknesses and deficits
  6. Focus on the present, rather than the past or future.

In general, minimally invasive surgery is associated with less pain, a shorter hospital stay and fewer complications.”

Mayo Clinic

Principle #2: The Simplest and Least Invasive Approach is Frequently the Best

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just…write a book. Spray the thoughts or narrative directly from frontal cortex to page or screen and have land exactly how we intended?

Ha ha ha!!! Excuse me while I choke on my ninth cup of decaffeinated tea.

Writers are superhuman.

I’m a big fan of writers, and not because I am one myself.

It’s because I’m with them day in, day out.

I see what they do to bring a book into existence.

It’s not just the writing of clear sentences that’s hard. It’s not just battling with the frenemy, resistance. It’s not meeting publishability standards or striding forward into the howling winds of the querying process. It’s not just the confusion of whether and how to publish, or how to persuade people to buy your book.

It’s catching a glimmer of an idea and turning it into an actual thing.

It’s creating an entire world of experience in about 7,000 sentences.

It’s forcing someone you never met to sink into a chair and keep turning the page.

Theory: How you write books is how you do everything.

It was 1993, Quebec City. I was a senior project manager in logistics for international events. I wore power suits and heels. Thinking back, I remind myself of the woman in the Cake song, “touring the facilities and picking up slack.” My brain was a critical path; my heart was a checklist. I knew my shit.

Except there I was in my room at the Chateau Frontenac, pawing through the Yellow Pages (a paper phone directory) in a full sweat. I’d just picked up a message from the facilitators. They had forgotten to book their rooms. High season, big tourist town. I spoke terrible French. I knew nobody. I had a bunch of delegates to manage and needed to be in the lobby in 30 minutes. I’d already checked with the Chateau and every other big hotel–all sold out. These people were the talent. If they had nowhere to stay, the conference was over.

You can bet I blamed myself for not following up two months earlier. But blame is stupid. Blame gets you nowhere.

So I told the Yellow Pages, “We’re not stopping until they have rooms.” And I sat on the bed and phoned every mom-and-pop B&B, pension, and 3-star hotel in the city. Dial, speak bad French. Repeat. I took off my jacket and rolled up my sleeves. I sweated so much that the ink ran on the yellow pages.

Finally, success. Someone had cancelled their reservation! I jumped on the set of rooms in a sweet little place not too far away. At that point, its sweetness meant nothing. I hoped it wasn’t a shithole, but the point was that I’d done what I set out to do.

I remember standing over the Yellow Pages, getting my jacket back on to go downstairs. I was filled with wonder at what had just happened. I said, “Look what happens when you persist.”

So that’s how I wrote books.

From that day onward, my motto was persistence. I won’t even bore you with the details. Just imagine a crazy person who won’t give up, no matter what. Not just on writing books, but on relationships, objects, even social events.

How I wrote books was just a reflection of how I did everything. The hard way! I just refused to give up.

I’m not talking about not quitting when things got hard. I’m talking about running at the same brick wall full tilt for years on end, thinking the wall would collapse before my skull broke and spilled out all its juice.

Naturally I became a shadow of myself.

Then one day I looked up what persistence actually meant:

1. The action or fact of persisting in a particular state, opinion, purpose, or course of action, esp. despite opposition, setback, or failure; the quality or virtue of being persistent.

It was the “esp. despite opposition, setback, or failure,” that gave me pause. It hit a little close to home.

Work with Your Strengths

Persistence itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some writers spend 10 or 15 years on a book, and it’s worth it.

But those people aren’t me. Once I stopped persisting, I realized what a grind it had been.

I realized that level of persisting is against my nature. I’m a binge producer with most creative things. If I like doing something, I’ll do it fairly obsessively until it’s done.

Which brings us to principle #2 of the 6 Key Principles for Writing a Book: the simplest and least invasive approach is frequently the best.

The simplest and least invasive approach for me is to work with my own nature. I can go at something with focus for days or weeks. I know how it’s going because of how I feel. If I like it, keep going. If I don’t like it, take a step back and regroup.

It’s not perfect. Like most writers, I have to write when I’m already medium busy doing the stuff that pays the bills. But that’s not a bad thing. I’m motivated by deadlines and restrictions. If I have a lot of time to get something done, it can take forever. It took me over five years to knit a poncho, and I finished it only because I had a deadline, in the end.

What’s the Simplest Approach?

You might be a new writer, unsure of what works for you.

You might be an experienced writer at the top of your game.

Or maybe you’re stuck in a rut or feeling lost, or having trouble getting started.

Maybe you just finished a book that took so much out of you, you’re not sure you can start another one.

What, then, is the simplest and least invasive approach?

It’s the one that feels right, right now.

We seem to be waving back at Principle #1 now: know thyself. It can be as simple as asking yourself, “[Your name], what is needed?”

What if you need more time to think about the idea before you write? Take your idea for a walk, or lie on the couch and stare at nothing!

Or what if you need to bear down on the project until it’s done? Turn off your phone and pull some all-nighters! Rumor has it, you CAN sleep when you’re dead.

What if you need to build a routine into your day that lets you noodle around and make steady progress? Schedule it in! Hook it to something you like doing!

What if you’d rather binge-write a first draft at a 3-week writing retreat? Start applying!

Your sweet spot is when the idea and the time to work on it find each other long enough to go from a glimmer to a thing.

p.s. Avoid the Ruts

Whatever your simple and noninvasive looks like now, be prepared for it to change with the seasons and your circumstances.

Much as I enjoy being obsessive, I can’t do it to the degree I’d like. My business would tank. So I time block and focus on one or two projects that I work on when I’m not doing client work or teaching. Yeah, being creative could be faster & easier if I didn’t work full time. But I like working, and I like being solvent. At least I’m not charging blindly at a brick wall with brain matter streaming down my face!

Next up: Principle #3

The solution and the problem are not necessarily related.

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