So You Want to Write a Book: Do You Need a Book Content Developer, a Book Coach, or a Ghostwriter?

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I meet a lot of people who tell me they want to write a book, and I get it. We all have stories and ideas that desperately want to find their way outside us and into the hearts and minds of others. When we feel this impulse, I believe it’s our life force wanting to express itself. And I believe that when we suppress that impulse, we harm ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

But do I think everyone ought to write a book? Not necessarily.

This may come as a surprise to those who know me and know what I do. For about two decades, I’ve been helping other people get their words on the page—first, for many years, with college students with whom I still work, and more recently in the past couple of years, with private coaching clients.

The first truth is this: Not everyone has the time or truly—deep in their soul—wants to make the time to write a book. They want to have a book with their name on it.

The second truth is this: not everyone is cut out for writing a book.

It takes an immense amount of resolve to build a writing practice from the ground up, let alone to maintain it. It also takes consistent time and effort to learn how to write. Everyone has a unique learning curve, and for some, it’s a tall order. There’s no shame in that!

Not having the time, not wanting to make the time, and not knowing how to write well are legitimate reasons for not writing. I do believe that most people can learn to write and write well, but the time and commitment it would take to get to that point and truly making just that phase of the process a primary focus in a life already filled to the brim with people, activities, and commitments is not reasonable for many people.

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I’m a very DIY person. I like to learn everything about everything (this is also a symptom of being a writer.) But long ago, I embraced the reality that there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to learn everything about everything and implement it all well.

I could learn how to do my own taxes. When I owned a car, I could have learned how to change the oil and the brakes. But I chose not to because I figured the money I spent hiring skilled professionals who can do these tasks well and quickly would, by far, override all the hours it would take me to learn how to do them, then feebly implement them many times over until I got it right.

It may sound like I’m discouraging you from writing your book. I’m not! I do believe we all have meaningful stories and brilliant ideas the world needs to experience and know about. I also believe that some people can write books and some people can’t. The reasons are many, and like I said before, there’s no shame in that. It’s a reality of life. (I can’t compose a song, cook an exquisite gourmet meal, or create a breathtaking sculpture from marble, either. I could decide that I want to focus all my energies in any one of these areas and likely make some decent headway, but I choose not to. I’d rather save my energetic and time bandwidths for other things. Life is only so long.)

So, how do we rectify this double bind of satisfying the impulse to write a book and, in some cases, not being able to? The first step is to get clear about how collaborative the project of writing a book is and then deciding—for your personal situation (lifestyle, life commitments, and budget)—when you need to reach out and hire an expert to help you.

To help you make informed decisions about the kind of help you might need to get a fully written book in hand, here’s a breakdown of the kind of help you can expect.

BOOK CONTENT DEVELOPER
Some people have a big idea but feel clueless about where to begin. They need help parsing their big idea into smaller, more manageable, pieces and zeroing in on the theme, focus, and structure of the book. These people need a book content developer.

What working with a book content developer looks like in practice
When I help clients develop the content for their book, this usually consists of a focused chunk of time (half-day or full-day meeting)—a VIP Day. I walk them through a process to sort out their idea into manageable parts. We also determine a structure for the book, and we determine a timeline. The client walks away with a solid plan to get started and keep moving forward. Being motivated and honoring deadlines is up to them.

Hiring a content developer is a good option for focused self-starters who are on a mission. These people are good at setting a goal, staying focused, and not getting distracted by shiny objects along the way. They understand this is a period in their life they’re committing to, and they know they can do it.

(I also offer one-off, one-hour sessions for check-ins if/when needed after the content development meeting, so clients aren’t adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean alone.)


BOOK COACH
Some people need help staying focused and motivated and getting feedback along the way (after they’ve gotten help developing their content). They may also need help with the mechanics of writing. These people need a book coach.

What working with a book coach looks like in practice
When I serve as book coach to clients, we go through the book content development stage, then we stay connected. The length of time can vary, depending on the genre. The least time-consuming books (don’t misunderstand… all books are time-consuming) are non-fiction books that feature a method, process, or program created by an author, entrepreneur, or business owner. Memoirs can be open-ended, depending on how much perspective the author has about the life events they’re writing about. (Writing any book is emotionally transformative, and memoirs are highly so. Sometimes memoirists encounter surprise emotional blocks, which can slow down the writing.) Novels can be even more open-ended than memoirs (and just as emotionally transformative) because characters shift and change and/or the author has new insights along the way.

Hiring a book coach is a good option for those who need the support of knowing they have a person who is “expecting” pages from them on a monthly basis. This keeps them accountable and honoring deadlines. They also benefit from constructive feedback to help them re-set their sails along the way.



GHOSTWRITING
Some people want to get their stories and ideas onto the page, and the most important goal is to have a book with their name on it and/or to get their story or idea outside themselves. These people need a ghostwriter.

What working with a ghostwriter looks like in practice
Ghostwriting is a highly collaborative process wherein I conduct a series of interviews with the client and we stay in close contact throughout the writing of the book with chapter-by-chapter check-ins over a period of several months, the length depending on many factors. My goal is to truly know the client and how she experiences the world so I can write prose that matches her lived experience and her voice—so it sounds as if she wrote it. During the time we work together, I deliver one draft, she gives feedback, and I complete a full revision on the draft.

Hiring a ghostwriter is a good option for those who genuinely don’t have time or don’t want to make the time to write. They have gotten honest with themselves about the viability of staying the course and putting in the effort required to learn to write well so they can produce a quality book. They have weighed the money and time investments and know that having a book with their name on it is the most important goal. They don’t need or want to learn the process of writing a book.


Why many people are still compelled to write their own book
The reality is that none of these avenues I mention above is free. A VIP Day (book content development) is the most affordable of the three, with coaching next, and ghostwriting the costliest. For some people, the financial investment prevents them from hiring a professional to help them ensure they start off well and stay the course.

Also, opening your life up to another person, sharing your stories and ideas, and turning over your voice to them requires immense trust. It’s a leap of faith, and for some, it feels “easier” and “safer” to go it alone.

I understand the impulse to write a book, to let your voice be heard, to have a legacy to leave behind, even if it’s solely for your family. In fact, I do what I do because I believe the practice of sharing meaningful stories and brilliant ideas can create change and heal the world.

For this reason, I do what I can to provide help and encouragement to people who want to—or feel they have to—go it “alone.” My Conjuring Clarity course offers all the essentials you need to get your book started so you can make progress. Part 1 (always COMPLIMENTARY) walks you through the planning and scheduling stages. It also helps you examine your writing mindset and walks you through a commitment process—all phases I take my clients through. Part 2 gets into the nitty gritty of setting the foundation for your book and getting started with a clear focus in mind.

If you’re ready to begin, learn more about the Conjuring Clarity course here. Get Part 1 at no cost and see what it does for you before you invest in Part 2 (which is very affordable—because I sincerely want to help you with your book!)

No matter the route you choose, as always… I’m sending you mad writing mojo.

Happy writing!

Johnnie
XXX


Please leave a comment below… what do you most need help with to get your book started or keep it moving forward?

 

Getting to Know Your People’s Histories: Using Backstory to Inform Character Development

In my last post, I wrote about the importance—necessity, even—of knowing your people… that is, your characters (for fiction and memoir) and your Ideal Reader, and yourself, (for non-fiction how-to self-help books).

Backstories

After we delve into who our characters and Ideal Readers are, we can get to know them even more deeply through their backstories—or histories. These histories are what shaped their beliefs and identities. (This is true also for those wanting to write the self-help or how-to non-fiction book and will apply to you, personally, as well because your personal story—the life events that brought you to write your book in the first place—will likely be woven throughout your book.) Through these beliefs and identities shaped from our characters’ backstories come their desires.

When we understand, on a deep level, our people’s heart-felt desires, we can develop compassion for those desires, and embrace the motivations behind them and the behaviors that prevent our people from attaining them. This will not only inform our story trajectories in fiction, it will also inform a deeper understanding of ourselves in memoir and the true pain points of our clients and potential customers and readers in non-fiction books.

Another facet of a character’s backstory we want to think about is setting. Setting is both temporal and spatial.

Temporal Setting

The temporal setting of a book or story is the era in which it takes place. The temporal setting of your characters’ backstories is important because it will inform much about your characters’ beliefs, social mores, and behaviors. Think about a teenage girl born in the 1950s and one born in the 2000s. They will be two very different people simply because of the time in which they were born. Now, place one of those girls in the U.S. and one in the UK or Africa or Asia during each of those times periods. You’ll have five distinctly different people.

When we can get clear on the temporal setting of our characters’ backstories, we can start to think more deeply about the WHYs behind their desires, motivations, and behaviors, and we can not only have a deeper understanding of them as people, but we can also represent them with more integrity and compassion on the page.

Spatial Setting

Spatial setting includes spaces and locations that figured into the shaping of the character’s identity because spaces shape who we are. Think about your own significant spaces and locations: your childhood home, your bedroom, your family’s kitchen, your school, your backyard, your school bus, your family’s car(s)… Now, think about how those spaces shaped your identity, what you care about, what you want, and what you don’t want. The same is true of our characters.

A young man raised on a farm will come to his college experience with a far different set of beliefs and desires than one raised in Manhattan. Think about how each of these characters might show up to an accounting class or a writing class and what their expectations, intentions, and fears might be. When we put together our characters’ pasts with their present-day fears, we’re writing from a place that will generate stories of universal appeal because we can get to the emotional experience of life. And no matter where we were raised or when, we all experience emotions the same. This is the bridge between us and our readers.

Characters’ backstories may not show up in the stories we write about them, but knowing and understanding them will inform us and influence the stories we write about them.

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Write 2-3 pages for one of your characters, your Ideal Reader, or yourself giving deep thought to their backstories and settings, and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about what you discover.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!

Best,

Johnnie
XXXX

Three Easy Ways Strangers Can Enhance Your Writing

I live in downtown Portland, Oregon, on the second floor of a 113-year-old building. I love my apartment, and while the building has its issues, it also has a fair amount of charm. I work at home, so I’m able to look out any of my four, big, north-facing windows throughout the day to see and hear snippets of stories unfold or pass on by. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wake up to the sound of alcohol-induced squabbles and lines of dialogue that stay with me.

The storyteller in me kicks in and I can’t help but create a beginning and end to the middle I’ve witnessed and/or heard.

As writers, we have at our disposal a jackpot of fodder and triggers for our writing. Even if we’re working on a longer piece, like a novel or memoir, taking the time to write a quick story based on a conversation we’ve overheard, a facial expression we’ve witnessed, or a scent that stays with us after someone has strolled past can lead to breakthroughs we might not have expected. Or it could lead to a finished piece we submit for publication, and getting our words in print never hurts, right?

Here are three ways we can use strangers to enhance or kickstart our writing, keep the cogs in our writer brains in good working order, and nurture our imaginations so we can keep funneling words onto the page.

  • Physical appearance. I’m fascinated by the vastly different physical traits humans have that can add to a character’s appeal or intrigue. From meaty cheeks, tiny teeth, and lush eyebrows to slender fingers, perfectly painted toenails, and dancing Adam’s apples, human beings are charming bundles of physical intricacies and abnormalities, all fit to be explored, described, and elaborated on. Keep a writer’s notebook, and when you’re out and about, do some people watching (coffee shops are excellent for this) and jot down interesting features you notice (but be stealth… staring at strangers for more than 5 seconds is creepy!).
  • Dialogue and speech patterns. Again, coffee shops are great for this, or any public place, for that matter. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to sit in a public space and not overhear conversations. I know it sounds invasive (and I have a thing about being overheard in a public space when I’m having a conversation), but it will give you some great indicators about how to vary language, cadence, and tone so your characters are distinctive. The last thing we want is for our characters to all sound alike. Listen for that slight lisp, where the voice emanates from (chest, throat, nasal cavity), the nervous laugh…
  • Fill in the gaps. After you’ve watched and listened, start to imagine the rest of their stories. If someone is sitting alone, imagine what the rest of their life might look like. Do they always sit alone? Are they lonely? Or are they happy to be by themselves, away from a house full of roommates or kids or visiting relatives? If two people appear to be having a meeting, imagine what their home lives are like. Who and what do they go home to at the end of the day?

Writers are avid students of human behavior and the human condition. It’s why we do what we do. And what better way to fill our notebooks with rich, usable fodder that will serve as prompts for practice or, perhaps, a polished piece of prose. And it will keep your storytelling brain in prime form, too.

Do some sleuthing, then let us know what you uncovered in the comments below. The voyeur in me wants to know!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Johnnie
XXXXX

The Surprising Secret to Creating Believable, Engaging Characters Your Readers Will Never Forget

We all know a good story when we read, watch, or hear one. But do you have a clear idea of what makes one story better than another? We could likely create a long list: vivid descriptions, compelling conflict, evocative emotional landscape, intriguing storylines, and much, much more. And while all of these are necessary for a good story, what’s the one thing that if it were missing there would be no story?

Character.

Many people are moved to write stories because they seek to make meaning of this crazy, beautifully confounding thing called life. And they’re compelled to explore the human condition, which means delving deep into the kaleidoscope of human motivation and behavior. This is why creating believable, engaging characters that your readers will never forget is essential. It’s also an art.

Constructing an interesting storyline that satisfies your readers’ need to know the answer to “what happened next?” is important, but when all is said and done, if your readers go away wondering “why?” did that character do that thing, they’ll go away frustrated and unsatisfied.

We want to understand why we do the things we do, and we look to characters for those answers. There’s a way to get to the core of that inquiry. We can study the ancient chakra system, which will help us begin to drill down inside a character’s core to unravel all her hidden desires and fears. This will better inform our creation of her, and it will help our readers embrace her as a flawed, yet lovable, character that they become emotionally invested in.

Stay tuned for more about how we can use this ancient, esoteric system as a practical application to writing deep, profound characters that come off the page and stay with our readers long after they’ve put our work down.

To get you moving in that direction, call a character to mind. Maybe it’s one from an in-progress short story, novel, or creative non-fiction piece. Or maybe you want to make one up for this exercise. (Think simply if you’re creating one: gender, age, physical appearance.)

Put your character on a plane or a train (or some other mode of transportation) en route to visit family for the holidays, and answer this question: What tacit agreement does this character have with her/his family?

Now write at least two pages about what unfolds as the character approaches, or arrives, at her/his destination.

Then either share your piece of writing or let us know what that process was like in the comments below.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Making the most of fallow writing periods

http://survivaljoe.net/blog/californias-fallow-farms-first-stage-of-food-crisis/

http://survivaljoe.net/blog/californias-fallow-farms-first-stage-of-food-crisis/

We all have something of unique value to offer the world, and the thought of anyone’s vision, wisdom, or story being trapped inside them hurts my heart. But while I’m invested in helping people remove blocks so they can, find and use their voices, and tell their untold stories, I also know there’s real value in quiet periods.

I’ve been through one recently myself. It all started in early October when I was surprisingly ejected from my living space at the time. I immediately moved into a new space that would be, I had hoped, a more medium-term situation so I could begin to feel settled.

Three weeks after moving into that space, which was the downstairs of a house, owned by the woman who lived upstairs, I left for almost three weeks for a conference in Mexico, preceded by some time in Portland. My goal was to come back from the conference all fired up about life and my work and to get back to it all.

What happened was something quite different, and in the past three months, I haven’t written much of anything, aside from a couple of blog posts in December and an email to my list of followers.

I came home to chaos in my living space (both physically and energetically); the newish relationship I had started in September ended. Then started, then ended again; I realized the living space was bad for me on all levels, so I began looking for a new space, found it and recently moved; hustled for work to pay my bills; and tried to make friends in my new town.

I started to have doubts about teaching other people how to move blocks so they can write when I’m not even doing it myself. But then I accepted the fact that fallow times are necessary. It’s all about recharging our subconscious while we tend to other things. To life. And while we’re tending to life, we’re filling our subconscious, which will show up for us time and again when we finally get back to the writing.

I like to think of my writing practice as I would a relationship. Sometimes we need to step back, give it room, let it breathe. Too much attention can stifle, even kill the love, the flow.

When I hit a fallow writing period, like the one I’ve had lately, the hardest part is not knowing when it will end. And experience has shown me that there isn’t much I can do about it.

I’m happy to say I’m coming out of mine now. Even though my new studio is still in a state of chaos, just having my own space lets me think and feel, and when I can do this, I can write.

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When you have a fallow writing period, how do you come out of it?
Do you do something intentional, or does it take care of itself?