Karen Rivers

how to write a book, redux.

Karen Rivers

Step One:

Allow dust to settle everywhere in your house.  

Accumulate items you don't want and have no space to store.

Let the weeds choke out your garden.

 

Wait.

 

Step Two:

Ask yourself:  How do you write a book?

Think about the enormity of writing a book.

Allow yourself to feel overwhelmed, dust settling into your pores, your hair growing in disarray.

Sit.

When you're tired of sitting, go for a walk.

Walk to a bookstore.

Look at all the books on the shelf.

Feel overwhelmed by all the books, which are probably really good, written by people who know how to write books.  

Find the contact information for as many of the authors as possible. 

Email to ask them, "How do you write a book?"

 

Step Three:

Sign up for a class about writing books.

Wait for the professor to tell you exactly how to write a book.  

Listen for specific instructions because once you know them, you will be able to write a book.  

Books are cookies, right?  One cup of flour, one cup of sugar.  Eggs.  Don't measure the chocolate chips, just dump them all in.

The professor will talk about creating obstacles for your character to overcome.  

Realize you don't know how to create a character.  Think about raising your hand but then don't do it because you don't want to admit you haven't got a clue.  You have, after all, already written nineteen books.

On the critique you fill out for the course, state that you still don't know how to write a book.

Request a refund.

 

Step Four: 

Start receiving emails back from authors.  

They all say the same thing:  "I have no idea.  Best of luck to you."

Go back to the bookstore.

Stand in the centre aisle and weep.

Buy twelve books, using your grocery budget.  

Go home and read all the books.

 

Step Five:

Think about cleaning your house.  Surely if your house is clean, you'll be able to sit down and simply write a book.

How hard can it be?

But JK Rowling said her house was messy for seven years while she wrote Harry Potter.

Look around your house and feel proud that you've taken this step of allowing your house to get messy.

Read Harry Potter again.

Give up on everything.

 

Step Six:

Discuss on social media that writing books is hard.   Try not to sound like you're whining.  You chose this.  You wanted to write books.  

So write one.  

But first, tweet this:  "Writing a book is hard."   Count your likes.  Accumulate retweets.  A lot of them are from authors you love.  They all agree!  It's hard.

It's too hard.

Watch six straight hours of Top Chef.

 

Step Seven:

Go for long walks.  Longer every day.  

Try not to ever be IN your dusty, decrepit house full of things you should be getting rid of but aren't because you are busy writing a book.   

Avoid the following:  Opening your laptop.  Your agent's phone calls. People who might ask, "How's the book coming along?"  

Try to walk in forests as far away from crowds as possible.

Avoid cougars.  

 

Step Eight:

Come to terms with the fact that writing a book is both ridiculous and impossible.  Experience a period of mourning for the characters you had thought would populate your book and the things they would have done.  Begin to wonder what they would have done if this had happened or that.   Imagine it.  Picture one specific scene so vividly that you become unclear if it really happened (to you?  to someone you know?  in a dream?  in a movie?).   Focus on the table cloth.  

Because you can't stop thinking about the way the table started to shake and the cloth shimmied back and forth and the bowl of apples spilled and the way your character ran to the window to see what was happening, type it out.   It's not a book, so it doesn't matter, it's just a scene that you're writing because of the table cloth, the way it wasn't ironed and should have been, and that one apple bouncing onto the floor and the way after it happened, the light poured in and illuminated it because the blind fell down.  

Just that one scene.

Once you've done that, eat a cookie.  (Make them first.  Remember:  ALL the chocolate chips.)

While you're eating the cookie, think about what your character would do once she assessed what had happened.  Think about who the other people would be who burst into the room and say, "What have you done?" Even though she didn't do anything.

It wasn't her.

Think about that.

Type one more scene.

Go for a walk.  (Take some cookies.)

While you're walking, let another scene unfold in your head like a movie.  There are no stakes now because you aren't writing a book.   Stop in the shade of a tree and type the scene awkwardly into your phone, like you're texting yourself.  

You just have to resolve this one thing about why everyone always assumes she's done something, even when it's clearly something that's nothing to do with her.  

When you get home, make a cup of tea.  Add quite a bit of sugar.   Read on Facebook about how sugar is basically poisonous.  Give that a thumbs up while you sip your delicious sweet tea and finish the cookies.  While you're on Facebook, mention in your status that you've quit writing books and how that's really very liberating.  Ask for job leads.  State that you never knew how to write a book and all the books you've written were flukes and you're OK with that.

Open your laptop to create a new resume.   Get bored with typing up your spotty work history and instead write down the bit about how your character is in love with someone she shouldn't love.  No one should love him.  Look, he's a terrible person.  He murdered the waitress.  Your character doesn't know this, and considering all that's happened, she doesn't ask questions.  

Write the bit about the waitress and what happened to her.  Much more fun than trying to figure out who to use as a reference on your resume.  

Make the scenes overlap a little.  You aren't writing, you understand, you're just piecing a few things together.  You just want to think about how this could be believable, how it could be someone's truth.

See this man-character through the waitress's eyes and through your character's eyes.  

Think about how everyone is two people.

Actually, your character is also complicated.  Think of the ways in which she is also complicated.

Don't forget the waitress was also not one-dimensional.

If you were still writing books, you'd want to do something with that, but you're not, you're just doing this one thing that isn't a book, so it's OK if it's not perfect.  It's just daydreaming.

Daydreaming that you happen to be typing because typing helps you to think.

Listen to some podcasts.  

Paint your toenails.

Open the freezer and think about cleaning it out, then close it again.  

Have another cup of tea.

Call your mum and tell her you quit writing.   "How's the book coming along?" she'll say.  Hang up on your mum.

Sit down with your laptop.  

Google jobs in your city.

Take a bath and think about how you should probably move.

Search Craigslist for apartments in New York.

Write just a little bit more about your character, the waitress, and the man, as well as the man's son and the waitress' best friend and how she's connected to your character.  Think about braiding and how all stories are just braids of people.   Tweet something about that.   Receive no hearts or retweets.  Delete it.  Think about how everything you think about is sort of embarrassing and why you should never use social media.

Retreat to your keyboard.  

Budget for a move.

Buy some lottery tickets.

The thing is that you can almost see what happened.  Have the man tell your character about the waitress.

Have your character make a decision.

After all, so many people died.  The waitress may have died anyway, when the thing happened that happened.  

Introduce your character to the waitress' daughter. 

It's all just imaginary. These people aren't real and you aren't writing a book.   

You are just typing and thinking.

You are just imagining and braiding.

Have another cookie.  (Make some more first.  Eat half the dough.)

Everything is going to be OK. 

I promise.