6.13.2019

A Different Walk of Life

If your long career has recently ended in retirement, you may have the desire to write a book about your experiences, but you don’t know how to get started. The difference between writing business reports and a full-length book can seem enormous. So today’s post has a few commonsense guidelines designed to help translate wishes into horses.

The first is to realize that writing does not operate on an eight-hour work cycle. Sure, a novelist like Joseph Conrad had his wife lock him in his study every morning and afternoon, but Conrad also happens to be one of the greatest writers of all time. For your purposes, I would advise a less lofty goal. Start off by choosing a one-hour block at a set time. That seems more manageable, doesn’t it? The key is to pick the same hour-long block every day, in the same location. If you don’t shoot for every day, you won’t develop the right writing muscles, and eventually the project will drift off again into dreamland. If you can go longer than an hour on an inspired day, that’s a bonus.

Second, don’t try to write the book in order. Organization is a major reason that neophyte writers fear such a long project. Or, even if you get started, a major reason that you stumble coming out of the gate. Forget about everything you learned at the office. A book has so many pieces that you can spend hours at a time on any single one of them. So why are you worried about the whole before you have anything to put in order?

Instead, start off by picking the low-hanging fruit first. Draw up a short list of the things you want to write about the most. The top of the list probably will include amusing or illustrative stories that you’ve been telling others for years. Don’t you think that your readers will be just as entertained? Perhaps you developed a special technique that later proved to be an industry standard; write about its genesis. If what burns in your mind is a fight you had with your younger bullheaded new boss, write about that—and why you were right.

Third, write with your reader in mind. That helps tremendously in keeping you focused. What are the points that you want a reader to take away from your book? By focusing on those, you’ll include only the really interesting stuff.  Stick to the riveting gossip, the tales that make people belly laugh. Pretty soon those pages will be adding up—and you’ll be enjoying your new avocation.

Exercise: Refrain from editing, except for typos, at first. Your capacity for criticism is harshest when it is directed at yourself. You’re not one of the greats yet, so don’t worry about it. You’re just trying to tell your stories in your unique way. Wait until you’re written 25 or 50 pages, and then go back to edit.

“I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there.”
—Richard Feynman

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine

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