Advice from Published Authors

I’m in the research phase of writing my first nonfiction book, and I’ve been hunting for advice from experienced authors about how to tackle a book project. I thought I’d share some of the words of wisdom I’ve gathered for anyone out there who’s ever thought about writing a book or is just interested in the process. I don’t want to list the authors’ names, because it really doesn’t matter, and because I didn’t ask them beforehand for permission to print what they gave me. Here goes, in no particular order:

When feeling overwhelmed, “just write. Vomit everything onto the page. You can cut and edit and reorder later.”

“Take it one chapter at a time.” (In other words, don’t feel like you have to do it all at once; pace yourself, brave writer.)

In the post-James Frey environment, remember that you are “solely responsible for every word in the book. It all needs to check out and be backed up … Publishers are often indemnified, so even the legal burden falls on the author.”

“Hire a fact-checker.”

“Stay organized.”

“Don’t wait until the end to go back and plug in footnotes or endnotes.”

“Outlining the whole book, and each chapter, in detail is very helpful, even if you don’t stick to it.”

“Some of the best stuff I got was when I scribbled stuff down as I went – not trying to make it perfect, just freestyling 1000 words the night after an interview. That allowed me to go back and smooth it out and insert it later.”

Several authors also have recommended that I read a book by Robert Boynton called “The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft,” which was reviewed here. It is an excellent book, featuring lengthy interviews with authors like Jon Krakauer, Michael Lewis and Susan Orlean. I often find myself rereading various sections of the book because they provide inspiration and healthy reminders that even the best American writers face challenges that terrify them. “Fear is a great motivator,” several authors have told me.

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1 Response to “Advice from Published Authors”


  1. 1 RegoPark January 1, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Here’s what has worked for me on my own book project:

    Keep a tape recorder, cocked and ready, at your side at all times. Especially during sleeping hours and Internet research.

    Commmit to working on it for a given amount of time a day. There’s always something you can do, from “administrative” tasks (e.g. transcribing notes, Microsoft spell check) to research, freewriting or blogging.

    Flesh out fine points on a public blog. You can always censor part of it or delete it later, but be sure to “freewrite”. Committing to regular posting helps keep the project at the forefront of your mind even if there’s no looming deadline.

    Printing an advanced draft on hard copy makes the project less intimidating. It may be time-effective in the long run if not the short run.

    Compose a playlist on your laptop’s media player of music conducive to concentration on your particular book project — whether that be classical to help calm you, or a theme-based playlist to perpetuate the train of thought. This is especially helpful if it’s not possible to work completely alone during the day.

    Find a happy medium between talking about your project (which will keep you focused) and discussing it too much (which will undermine you psychologically).

    If you are approaching the end of your project and find yourself caught up in process or cold feet, sleep on the floor with a hard copy of your draft and don’t return to your regular bed until you have wrapped it up.


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