[Sometimes I am approached by those who want to write a book. Often their excitement is delightful. When it is their first attempt, they may not be as alert to the difficulties of writing a book as I wish they could be. I don't want to discourage them, but I don't want them to be blind-sided either.
[I posted a piece like this a few years ago and thought I'd update it now because these encounters continue to happen.]
You came to me and said you want to write a book.
I applaud you. I’m excited about your excitement. May your excitement carry you through.
Yes, you can do this. Here’s one way to write a book. Sit down and write five pages each day for two months.
How hard can that be? Only five pages. Only two months.
It’ll take discipline, but in sixty days, you’ll have a manuscript that is 300 pages long.
My most recent book that I had published also came from a manuscript that was about 300 pages long. However—different from you—writing that book took me ten years!
The new book I am close to completing has taken about two years, and that includes the one year during which I knocked off writing all together because I couldn’t figure out how to pay attention both to my family and to the book at the same time, for the benefit of each.
When you are done with your two-month manuscript, then I will be happy for you as a person.
I will be happy because evidently you are a person who has had a very strong sense of three things during your past two months.
Here's the first thing you have been aware of -- where your book came from inside of you.
Here's the second thing -- where your book was each day, while you pushed it along, page after page.
And here's the third and most important thing -- where your book was going to end up--that is, what it is about.
That’s impressive; very.
I had none of those assurances while I wrote any of my four books. I thought I had, but I needed to write much of the books over and over again to work these issues out, especially the third issue--what is this book about?
You are able to work quicker than me; good for you!
However long it ends up taking you—whether two months or maybe three—one day, your manuscript will be done.
Or anyway you’ll think it is done.
Because it had better be done.
Because you really, seriously need it to be done.
You really, seriously need it to be done because your brain will hurt just as my brain hurts when I am done. My brain hurts with a hurt that isn’t assuaged by two fingers of bourbon and a night’s hard sleep.
My brain hurts because, now having re-read my whole manuscript five times over again since I deemed that it was done, I still can’t tell whether it’s any good or not.
It's done, yes, but is it any good?
Maybe you’re different. Probably you are different because it only took you only two months to write your 300 pages. It’s likely that you do know your book is good.
By the time I finish my new book, I will not want even to see one more word. Nor will I want to create anything with words. All I will want to do is to absorb.
Even the smallest act of creating with words will make my brain hurt. Instead of creating, I will desire to absorb that which has already been created…and not by me.
I would gaze upon that which is pure, and upon that which, being pure, is holy.
Perhaps I would gaze on that which is holy with the same intensity as that beachcombing, rusticating, French painter, Paul Gauguin, when he gazed, in the 1890s, on the maidens of the far South Sea. Those same maidens were the ones he used as icons while he wondered upon his canvas, wondering at his answer to the same three questions you mastered during your two-month book— Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
After my most recent book was published, we moved from Maine to the Blue Ridge of SW Virginia. We chased our first three grandchildren—now there’s another one there and one in New York, too.
Pretty soon after the move, I started out trying to capture the voice for my next book, the book I’m somewhere close to (maybe, possibly) finishing now.
Took me a while to get it right—took writing three times deep into that book to decide what is the voice that should tell it—and now does. I discarded the others.
Each writing-into-it brought me closer to understanding what my book is really about, since each of the now rejected earlier voices told the story in a lesser way than the present more robust and straight-forward voice does.
I envy you if you knew what your book was really about from the get-go. Lotta people don’t, like me.
Regarding your book—indeed you may finish your book in two months. People do. I hope you do, proving that you know the answer to these three vital theological, literary, and practical questions, and that you can work your answers into the weft and warp of your tale.
Write it all down, my friend.
Write it all down and tell us about it.
We need to know.
Thank you...and--I mean this deeply--may you prosper!