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Amy Lou Jenkins is the award-winning author of Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting

"If you combined the lyricism of Annie Dillard, the vision of Aldo Leopold, and the gentle but tough-minded optimism of Frank McCourt, you might come close to Amy Lou Jenkins.Tom Bissell author of The Father of All Things 

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Before You Write

 by Patrika Vaughn



Writing a book is a lot like getting married. It is intensely personal, it calls for a big commitment, and it requires a sustained effort. And like marriage, it carries no guarantee of success. Books and marriages often fail for the same reasons. The most common reason is that the writer doesnít know enough about the four essential components of a successful book. It may surprise you to know that the first and most important of these components is the self.

 1) self -- Many writers get an idea and jump into writing about it, never giving any thought to the motive behind writing it. Yet why you want to write helps determine what you write. The second component is:

 2) the subject --Do you know enough about your topic to convey how your (or your characterís) experiences felt? Do you know enough to teach your readers what they want to know about the subject? The third essential component is

 3) the readers -- Are you clear about who you are writing this book for? Do you know the profile of the ideal reader of this book? The fourth component is, of course, the actual writing of the book. This includes the format, mechanics, style, tone, etc.

 4) the writing-- Do you know the writing techniques that will create and sustain reader interest in your book? If you have sufficient knowledge about your motives, your subject and your readers, youíve already solved many of the most aggravating problems of writing.


Successful writing requires a harmonious blend of writer, subject and reader. When this is achieved, an alchemy takes place. This alchemy informs the writing process, cutting through the common problems writers face. Once the alchemy is there, a writer can usually work swiftly and efficiently, avoiding many writing pitfalls and completing the book in less time than (s)he expected it to take.


Achieving this alchemy depends on knowing a number of things about yourself, the writer, and your motives; about the subject to be written about, and knowing some essentials about the people you hope will read your book. Letís take a look at each of them: WHY YOU WANT TO WRITE: Maybe youíve always dreamed of achieving fame and fortune as an author. Youíve pictured yourself chatting with David Letterman or Jay Leno, or being interviewed on Good Morning, America. You see yourself autographing books for a long line of admiring readers or standing before large audiences, telling them about your book. Perhaps you see your book being made into a movie. Do you know what kind of book to write to turn this dream into a reality?


 Maybe you want to write as a means of self-actualization. You know you have things to say that others will find interesting but youíve never taken the time to organize them into a meaningful text. Writing a book can create just the opportunity you need to organize your vast body of knowledge on a subject, or to explore your own psychological depths.


 Do you know who would be interested in reading this book? Or maybe you hope to gain immortality, to perpetuate yourself through your autobiography. Other reasons for writing an autobiography include creating a legacy for your family, to give children and grandchildren a sense of belonging and continuity.


 Your motive for writing a book might be to help others. You may have pioneered an experience (anything from a self-cure for cancer to rollerblading across the U.S.) or discovered a new or better way to do something. What youíve done or learned could help others, and you want to write a book to share.


Do you know who would welcome this information? Recording knowledge, experience or history is a valuable contribution. It can bring fame and fortune, help you self-actualize, advance your career or be a way to spend your spare time constructively. Your book could provide an important teaching tool. It is important for you to know which of the above motives are your reasons for wanting to write, because your reasons are tightly connected to whether or not the kind of book you write will be a success.


WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE First, what types of books are there? Books can be broken down into fiction or non-fiction. Fiction includes general, romance, Gothic and historical novels; westerns; mysteries; suspense and adventure stories; childrenís books. Nonfiction includes all factual books: how-toís; cookbooks; books on history; art; travel, plus academic books on any area of knowledge. There are also hundreds of professional and trade journals which print articles in specific areas of interest. These can be written in any of the following nonfiction forms: news, feature, analysis, how-to, opinion, speculation, interview, inspirational, evaluative, study, narrative, history, journal, observations, creative nonfiction, summary, list or satire.


 Now, how can your motive influence the success of the kind of book you want to write? Well, consider these facts. According to the Writerís Market, only 5% of writers earn over $80,000 a year. Your chances of attaining fame and fortune will be better, therefore, if you write the type of book that the greatest number of people want to read. It helps if itís the kind of book that will translate well into film or video format. The most popular kinds of fiction books are love stories and legal thrillers. The most popular non-fiction books are how-toís, followed by books on health care; men/women relationships; business and management advice; spiritual and psychological works, and dieting If your motive is self actualization or to help others, the popularity of your book will be a minimal factor for you. You may already know that your book will appeal to only a limited market. Who over 40, for instance, will be interested in rollerblading across the United States? How many people will be interested in reading the history of your home town, or your opinions, evaluations, or your life story? Perhaps your main motive is career advancement. Will this purpose be best served by targeting beginners in your field as your audience? Your peers? Those who have been in the field longer than you? Do you know what differences in approach are needed to write successfully for these three different markets? The same questions apply to those who want to write a book to help others. Who are these people? How much do you know about them? Is your reason for helping them to impress them, to encourage them or to inform them? These are all factors in determining the contents and style of your book. Now you need to know if you have what it takes to write that book.


IF YOU CAN WRITE Do you have the time to write? Do you like to write? Are you an idea person? Do you have patience? Do you have the training to be a polished writer? Can you make the emotional commitment to the type of solitude and perseverance required to write your book? Donít get discouraged if youíve answered no to some of these questions. By following the step-by-step approach outlined in my book, youíll find that a time commitment of as little as one hour a day can get the job done. The essential part is your emotional commitment. Youíve got to believe in your project and believe in yourself. You have to be convinced of the importance of writing this book. You have to commit to it, and the best way to do that is to make a contract with yourself. Your contract is your vow. Decide on a time of day when you can consistently devote time to writing. Then assess how much time you can spend at it daily. Donít overestimate. Itís important for you to write consistently each day, at the same time and if possible in the same location. If all you can realistically expect to devote to writing on a daily basis is fifteen minutes, then contract with yourself for fifteen minutes. Then, if it turns out that you can spend two hours at it on some days, consider that bonus time. Once youíre clear with yourself about when, where, and what time you can give to your writing, write a simple contract with yourself: Hereís an example:

I am a writer, now engaged in the writing of a book about __________________. I pledge to devote __________(minutes/hours) to this project every day, from __________ (hour) to__________ (hour). Signed: Date:

Donít over look this step. It seals your commitment to yourself to follow through on this project and solemnizes the importance of this task. It also formalizes exactly what part of your life you will carve out to make way for this accomplishment, and it commits you to getting into the habit of writing. Now inform your family, friends and associates that you will be unavailable at those times. Itís important that your writing time be uninterrupted. Other people will have to take it as seriously as you do, allowing you quality time for your work. ******


About the Author

I am your authors advocate. My business helps people write their books, publish them, or help them get published. I teach writing classes online have books and audiobooks focused on the writing and publishing process.