So You Want To Write A Book in 2017?
Get a journal. Right now. Out ya go.
Buy a pretty, interesting, edgy, funny, odd journal and start writing.
Take that journal with you everywhere as if it’s your best, coolest friend.
Write in it at least once a day.
What do you write about? Anything. Everything.
What makes you cry?
What makes you laugh?
What is the worst thing that’s happened to you? What’s the second worst?
What’s the best?
Who’s your closest friend? Whose friendship have you lost and why?
What are your secrets? How do they control you?
What do you worry about?
What do you like about yourself? What are your faults?
What do you want out of life?
What does your dream home look like?
What scares you? What do you have to change in your life to be happy?
What makes you so angry you could pluck your own hair out of your head?
Who ticks you off? Why do you hate them?
Who do you love so much you would step in front of stampeding bulls for them?
You need to pour heart into your journal as if it’s a liquid thing. Why?
Because your writing must come from an honest place. It must come from authentic emotions, tears, laughter, love, hate, vengeful thoughts, and feelings of passion and lust.
If you are laughing when you write in your journal, super. If you are crying, even better because it means that your journal is helping you find more of the true you.
You need the true you if you’re going to write. She’s gotta be sitting right beside you saying, “Be honest now. Go to those dark memories hidden around the corners of your brain and write ‘em down. Don’t lie to yourself, don’t be vague.
Write about the adventures you want to have, the hope that still glows deep inside you, the losses of the past, the failures, the plans that you can’t share with anyone else. Write about your childhood, including the shattering times. You have to. Do it. Write real.”
When you’re ready, after a day, a week, a month, look through your journal. What strikes you the most? What interests you about your own life, your own self, so much that you want to explore it further? Run a yellow highlighter over it.
If you’re writing fiction, as I do, give your character the issue(s) you deal with. Give her something from your past that you still wrestle with. Give her that horrid ex boyfriend of yours, but this time she slays that dragon, he doesn’t slay her. Give her that difficult, whiny aunt, or that whisky-drinking uncle, or that crazy cousin who works as a stripper. Give her a pet llama.
Give her a life that has completely fallen apart, as yours did last year. Give her grief or self esteem issues or a wild streak that constantly gets her into trouble, but it’s so much fun.
Go from there. Develop that character based on some of your answers above. Draw a picture of her in your journal. Then write down fifty different things about her, from where she lives to what toothpaste she uses to her pets and her job and if she likes sex or not.
(Don’t worry, we’ll talk about developing characters next month.)
Be open to visions, too, as you write in your journal. That sounds weird. But you know what I’m talkin’ about because you’ve had visions, too, I know it.
Let me share with you one of my visions. When I was in college, I had a vision of a young woman throwing a fluffy, smothering white wedding dress into a scraggly tree on a deserted, dusty street in North Dakota. She was crying and flamin’ mad. She was trying to toss that wedding dress onto a branch but it kept floating back down on her head, which made her even madder.
That vision made me ask, “Why the hell is she doing that?”
Years later it launched my first book, “Julia’s Chocolates.” I gave Julia an abusive fiancé she was running from. I put her on a farm in Oregon with an Aunt Lydia who painted her house pink, “like a vagina,” and the front door black to “ward off seedy men.” I put flowering toilets in her front yard and a rainbow bridge. I gave Julia three new friends – a minister’s wife who was suffocating in that role, a mother who was married to an alcoholic and couldn’t get the courage to leave him, and a psychic. I gave Julia a love of chocolate.
All from that one vision.
Sit quietly for a bit, every day, with your journal. First, clear your mind. Then let the visions wander through. Embrace your visions, no matter how wacky, unbelievable, or ludicrous.
Maybe your vision is a woman who makes donuts while crying. Why does she cry making donuts? Maybe your vision involves a crazy family. What are they hiding? Maybe your vision involves life in the future. What does the future look like? Is there a threat to the planet? Maybe there’s a magical element. What is it? How does it affect your characters? Maybe your vision is flat out frightening, and it would make a gripping thriller.
Write those visions down in your journal. Start playing with them. Again, which one grabs you the most? Get out that yellow highlighter again.
One more thing? Writing and art are closely related. In my journals I sketch pictures of people and cut out pictures from magazines for inspiration and ideas. Try it.
Once a month we’ll chat about writing a book this year.
If I can do it, you can do it. Truly. You can.
Write on, friends.
Cathy Lamb has written eleven novels and six short stories. Her latest book is The Language of Sisters.
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