Thursday, February 28, 2013

The short way to write a biography book

By Dennis Mellersh

There is a short way to write a biography, but, alas, it is not a short-cut, nor is it an “easy” or “10-day” method.”

Normally when one thinks of a traditional biography, we envisage a full-length book devoted to examining the life of one individual.

As an alternative, there are two basic approaches with the “short” technique:

(1) Write a short biography and publish it as a small book, likely as an e-book
(2) Write a number of short biographies and compile them into one full-length book

However you decide to proceed, you will need to learn the art of writing a short biography.

The key to writing a successful short biography is to focus on a single theme in the life of the person you are writing about.

Why a single theme?

If you try to provide total biographical breadth in a short biography, you will end up writing little more than a synopsis, or factual condensation of the person’s life.

This total coverage approach provides some breadth in describing a life, but it has no depth. It will have fact-centric highlights relating to the person, but it would have little appeal to the serious biography reader – the reader you want to interest.  It might, however, be of interest to someone who simply wanted a collection of historical facts, such as for a school essay, for example. This is the type of deficiency you may find in some short biographical articles on the Internet, for example.

But, to repeat, there is a way to make a short biography interesting, compelling, and of interest to serious readers, and that is to focus on one aspect, or theme that resonates in the life of the person you are writing about.

The theme could be any one of a variety of factors that are central to the person’s life. It might be: childhood influences, education, an individual who significantly altered the subject’s life, a major intellectual or emotional focus of the person’s life, what inspired the individual, problems that profoundly affected the person’s development…any number of themes could be appropriate, depending on the life of the person you want to write a book about.

Here’s an example of the themed approach. If you want to write a book about the lives of famous writers, you could write about a famous author who did his or her best work when they were young. Or at the other end of the spectrum, you might want to write about an author who did not do their best and most successful writing until late in life.

The main point is to focus on a unique aspect of a life and then build your biography around that.

To make a full-length book from your short biographies, keep writing until you have, say 10 to 30 of them. At that point you will have enough for a full length book, depending of course, on the length of each individual biography. The individual stories of the lives you are exploring will be like the chapters in a traditional biography book written about a single person.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ten reasons for presenting your how-to knowledge in an e-book format

By Dennis Mellersh

There are a number of particular conditions under which you, possibly as a person just now learning how to write, might want to consider an electronic (e-book) format for the how-to book you are planning.
(1) You are not yet comfortable enough with your writing ability to send your work to a traditional publisher; and so you plan to self-publish your work using a service such as is available on

(2) The book you envisage would be relatively short compared with traditional books

(3) Even though you are an inexperienced writer (not yet writing at a professional level) you have the ability to express yourself understandably in words

(4) You can write with grammatical correctness

(5) You can spell words correctly

(6) You are literate in the sense of knowing the meaning of the words you are using

(7) You don’t want to incur the costs of publishing in a print format, even on a one-at-a-time print-on-demand format

(8) You have enough knowledge of the subject matter of your book, either through personal experience or detailed research to write authoritatively on the topic

(9) E-books, although they can be relatively short, with their costs to the reader usually being low, can be good value for the buyer of your book

(10) You can gain valuable experience in your program of learning how to write a book
If you want to pursue this route of writing your book and getting it into production I encourage you to do some research and learn how to promote your self-published e-books effectively.

Too much descriptive detail can hurt your novel’s power

By Dennis Mellersh

Sometimes when you are in the process of writing a book, such as a novel, it can be a temptation to include virtually everything you know, everything your research has uncovered.

To include too much descriptive detail, however, can weaken your book.

By compressing your knowledge and by leaving out some of the details that you would like to include, the writing in your book can become more powerful and compelling.

If you read book reviews and commentary (which you should be doing as part of your program of learning to write a book) you will find that reviewers sometimes criticise writers for including so much detail in their books that they become tedious, boring even – “more than I ever wanted to know.”

For example, if you are writing a novel with the action centered on a specific locale or a geographical area you are familiar with, too much descriptive detail about that location can take away from the strength of the action and the flow of the plot in your book.

Overuse of description, with detail piled upon detail, can also detract or interfere with the imaginative powers of your reader. You need enough detail in your novel to give the reader an appreciation of the surroundings in which the action takes place, but not so much that it slows down the action and plot development.

Most of us have had the experience of reading a novel loaded more detail than we want, and the result is that we find ourselves flipping pages, or reading them cursorily so we can get to where the action picks up again.

This is one reason that movies based on books often seem to move along much quicker than the books they are based on. Instead of page after page of descriptive detail, such as in a novel describing scenes where the action takes place, a movie can show these elements visually and quickly , and they are equally quickly absorbed by the viewer.

It is the quality of compression that will add strength to your novel. Although you have detailed knowledge, gained through either first-hand experience or extensive research, you will need to discipline your writing to include only the essential elements that enhance your novel’s action.

Ernest Hemmingway was noted for conciseness of dialogue and description in his novel writing, yet it was this brevity that gave his writing power. His novels are not considered long, short even, yet they are memorable, and the images his novels created in our imagination stick in our minds.

Here’s how Hemmingway once described what we might call the power of leaving things out, or the power of less being more:

“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Writing a novel? Some thoughts from James A. Michener

By Dennis Mellersh

If asked about how to learn about writing novels, many masters of the craft would probably tell you:

If you want to learn how to write a novel; read a lot of novels.

And not just good and excellent novels; read some average ones, and even bad ones. At least that’s the way famed and prolific novelist James A. Michener (1907-1997) says he learned how to hone his art.

Some of the novels he read were deceptively simple and he had to re-read them to understand how they were constructed so effectively. Other novels that he read were bad or mediocre, but Michener says he learned from those what not to do in his writing.

The excellent, outstanding, and more difficult novels, the classics, were the ones that Michener studied the most carefully. From these, he not only learned about the techniques of writing a novel, he also acquired a great deal of knowledge about life.

Here is what he had to say in his book, Literary Reflections:

“Over the decades I analyzed hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of the literary masters, near masters, and never-to-be masters, dissecting their styles and probing their techniques. What did they do to make their writing sing? What mistakes did they make which doomed them to failure? By this means I discovered elements which I could adopt to form my own style and technique or [which to] avoid…”

Michener is one of the most modest artists in the pantheon of famous wordsmiths and considers his art to be a learned craft, rather than being mystical or something in which he was gifted and which just came to him intuitively. He doesn’t believe in describing his vocation as something grand:

He simply says, “I am not an author, I am a writer.”

Is it possible to write a book in just a few days?

By Dennis Mellersh

Some people searching for answers on how to write a book want to discover a way to do it quickly.

And, on the Internet you may find websites offering to show you how to write a book in only a few days.

But is it actually possible?

In many cases, the simple answer is NO.

But it is possible, under specific conditions to write a certain type of book quickly if one or more of the following factors or conditions can be met. Here are some that come to my mind right away:
  • It will be a non-fiction book
  • You have already done most or all of the research for your book
  • The book will be very short
  • You don’t expect to submit your book to a traditional trade publisher
  • It will be an e-book – a category of book which generally has larger type, big graphics, and wide spacing, which stretches out fewer words into more “pages”
  • You plan to self-publish it.
  • You are knowledgeable enough on the topic that you don’t need to research it
  • You are an experienced writer with an existing reputation and a backlist of published books with a traditional publisher
  • Even though you are an inexperienced writer, you have the ability to quickly and accurately, if not brilliantly, write non-fiction, such as “how-to” information in a way that people can understand it.

Based on the above factors, examples of a short e-book you might be able to write quickly could be: "Six Ways to Improve Your Golf Swing", or "Ten Shortcuts to Improving Your Saving Habits".

Understand, I’m not trying to discourage you from trying to find out how to write a book quickly. So, check out information sources explaining about writing a book in a short period oif time.You may find some good, and hopefully free advice.

I’m just saying that there are certain limiting conditions prevailing that you should be mindful of.

And, most important, it may be that the type of book you want to learn to write cannot be written in just a few days.

Summing up; under most circumstances, and for the beginner writer, it’s not realistic to expect be able to write a traditional full-length book in a matter of only a few days.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Writing a book but avoiding going insane through frustration

By Dennis Mellersh

For a beginning writer, there is a genuine difficulty in learning both the art of writing and also at the same figuring out how to write a book.
So much so that it can be emotionally challenging – even overwhelming.

However, if you can accept a few realties about the profession of writing books, particularly fiction, your frustration will be much easier to deal with.

First of all you need to realize that difficulties in putting words to paper are not restricted to beginner writers; the problem plagues even experienced book authors. And not just when they were starting their careers, but also in their maturity as writers.

There is a great deal of knowledge you need to acquire involving the process and techniques of writing and it will not happen overnight; it will take considerable time, and is in fact a life-long learning process.

Writing and the ability to compose a manuscript for a book takes time to perfect. In fact, successful authors of books often comment that they never really “perfect” the art of writing; they constantly learn from their efforts and try to make the next book closer to their ideal.

Writing, for many book authors, can be an ongoing frustration because it is so difficult to translate into prose the vision, ideas, and images that you have in your head as a writer.

This creative conundrum is perhaps desirable. If a writer feels they have learned everything, it likely means they are stagnating and no longer growing. They might then start to write almost by formula or template.

The novelist James A. Michener spent years reading as many novels as he could in an effort to learn effective novel-writing techniques, and summing up this intellectual journey, he writes: “At long last, at the age of forty, when many writers have already retired, I felt that my apprenticeship was finished and I was ready to begin.”*

*James A. Michener, Literary Reflections, (paperback) A Tom Doherty Associates Book, New York, 1993

What does the term biography mean as a writing genre?

By Dennis Mellersh

Biography writing as a genre is any written material which has as its main focus the overall history and significance of a person’s life.

When the written material is relatively short it is generally described by using the adjective “autobiographical” rather than being called a biography.

Examples would be biographical essays or biographical articles, such as those published in a magazine, newspaper, or on a website or blog. However, such abbreviated biographies could also be described as “brief” or “concise” biographies.

When most people use the term “a biography” they generally are referring to a book-length treatment of a person’s life. Although it could be a full length treatment in a movie or a video documentary.

Following are some of the terms used in connection with the writing of biography.

Historical biography: This term is somewhat of a redundancy as the term biography in itself implies that the writing emphasizes a historical perspective relating to the person who is the subject of the biography.

Contemporary biography: Although generally used to describe a biography of a living person, it can also refer to a biography of a diseased person who lived in a relatively recent time period.

Sometimes the term contemporary can refer to something or someone as being contemporary with, or of the same time period, such as Abraham Lincoln being a contemporary of Ulysses S. Grant.

Autobiography: This is a biography that an individual has written about themselves.

Memoir: Similar to an autobiography, but with more emphasis on personal reflections rather than on historical data about the person’s life.

Fictionalized biography: As the name implies, this involves the dramatization and imagining of particular events in a person’s life while maintaining overall accuracy in basic known facts about that person’s life. This is a popular approach in movies and novels.

Bio: This term is a colloquial expression for a resume, curriculum vitae (CV) or career accomplishments and core capabilities outline.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why writing an introduction to your biography will improve it

By Dennis Mellersh

When you are writing a biography, having an introduction or an author’s forward can be a big help to your readers in assisting them to better understand and appreciate the contents of your book.

The introduction, prologue or preamble can be:

(a) A brief synopsis of the key events and/or developmental points in the life of the subject of your biographical book. Part of this could be a simple timeline highlighting key dates and period’s in the subject’s life
(b) A short essay by you as the author explaining why you think the life of the person written about in the biography is significant and should be of interest to the reader

Or, it can be a combination of both of these approaches.

In general, writing a prologue or preamble helps to “set the stage” or prime the reader for the main contents of your book. Providing such a guideline or series of “signposts” can help alert the reader better appreciate the content of your book as a coherent whole rather than as a collection of seemingly unrelated events.

One of the best ways to become familiar with this biographical writing technique, and without spending a lot of money on buying biographies, is to examine a lot of this type of book at your local library.

Then read in more detail and make notes on the ones that have effective introductions that you feel would help you to better understand the biography’s contents, and most important better understand the life and importance of the person the book is about.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A technique for “injecting life” into writing historical biography

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the most important attributes the author of an historical biography must have, or develop, is the ability to “bring to life” the person the biography is about and to give a strong sense or feeling for the events and circumstances surrounding and influencing the life of that person.

In other words, it is essential to supply context in writing historical biography.

This is especially true for a book-length examination of someone’s life, and is particularly true if the subject of the book lived in a specific historical period and had significant influence on that historical period.

Although a biography in its entirety must supply a contextual setting, there are a number of ways this can be done at the beginning of the book, to help the reader quickly identify with the person profiled and the times they lived in.

One of these techniques is the “day in the life of” approach as a preamble or introductory section at the beginning of the book, although it might be too obvious, and awkward to give the preamble this actual title.

William Manchester did this exceptionally well in his second volume of the life of Winston Churchill: Winston Spencer Churchill, The Last Lion, Alone, 1932 – 1940*. Manchester titled the prologue The Lion Caged and used it in part to explain the historical context of that period of Churchill’s life, when he was out of power and in a political wilderness.

By focusing on a typical day in the life of his subject Manchester was able to give the reader an excellent sense of the entire man, what his surroundings were like, who some of the main people in his life were, and a feeling for this critical historical time period.

Rather than me describing the details of the prologue, I recommend that you borrow this book from your local library, or buy it used in paperback. In addition to being instructive from a writer’s point of view, it’s a great read.

* The book is a Laurel trade paperback and was published Dell Publishing, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1988, New York.

Friday, February 22, 2013

An example of research conducted in writing a contemporary biography

By Dennis Mellersh

The ability and requirement to do research is one of the major components in writing any non-fiction book, but is particularly important in writing biography.

I have touched on the subject of research in previous posts about writing a book and writing a biography, and this article also is a brief analysis rather than definitive treatment of how to do research for a book.

Rather, I thought it would be useful to outline the research methods described in a recent biography about a contemporary individual.

In the book Steve Jobs*, the author, Walter Isaacson, outlines in considerable detail in his introduction and in the notes at the end of the book the research he conducted to write this particular biography.

Most of the seminal interviews were done before Jobs died, and during the course of researching the book the author says he “ended up having more than forty interviews and conversations with him…some were formal ones in his Palo Alto living room, others were done during long walks and drives, or by telephone. During my two years of visits he became increasingly intimate and revealing…”

At the end of the book in a section titled Sources, the author lists about 100 people with whom he conducted interviews for background information. In the Bibliography section Isaacson also lists approximately 40 books he consulted.

In another 20-page section, the author indicates, chapter by chapter, the sources for the information given in each chapter, and this includes some source material, such as articles, not cited in the previous acknowledgement sections.

This particular biographical book serves as a good example of the type research that you might need to do if you want to write a serious biography on a contemporary person.

Writing a book about an historical individual who is no longer alive would obviously be much more confined to written documentary source material.

* Information for this article was sourced from Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Simon & Shuster, New York, 2011

In writing a biography, emphasis and focus are essential

By Dennis Mellersh

Writing a successful and compelling biography of someone does not mean describing every last detail of that person’s life with equal emphasis. In fact, such an approach would result in a lifeless and boring book.

What I am writing about here is the need for you to decide on what will be the basic focus and emphasis areas of the book you are planning. The overall general concept of how to write a biography is a wide and deep topic more suitable for a larger and more definitive article.

Writing a biographical article is not as demanding a task as writing a book of biography.  Writing a book about a particular person’s life is one of the toughest assignments you can give yourself as a writer, and for the beginner writer, it can be a lengthy learning process.

In planning your biography it is important to remember that there will likely be formative and the productive periods in the life of your subject that should have focus and emphasis in your book.
There are three ways to approach writing a biography (1) You can focus your biography on a chronological basis in describing the person’s life; or (2) you can examine their life on a topical, or “area of interest” basis.

Or ideally, and (3), it will be a combination of both (1) and (2).

If you are writing about a famous musician, for example, you will want to focus on formative periods, and musicians or schools of thought that were key influences in the person’s artistic development.

The key point is that your biography will need acknowledge and draw attention to the most important parts of the person’s life, rather than just being a “history” of all their life events presented in a forward moving timeline.

For example, if particular people influenced and contributed to the intellectual development of the subject of your biography, you should focus on those people. If a particular book or historical event was a major influence, there should be some focus on the significance of that influence.

If the person’s childhood was a key factor in how their life developed, then the childhood should be emphasized, with explanations as to how and why it was a formative period in the life of the person you are writing about.

As you do research and gather information on the person you are writing about, you will become aware of the development periods and the key influences in the subject’s life. Further research will give you the additional information you will need to emphasize and focus on these areas effectively.

In discussing research, I am assuming that the subject of your planned biography is someone on whom there are already readily available “secondary” source materials, such as articles and books. Later on in your research process you may need to read more “primary” source material for your research.

One of the starting points in figuring out what should be emphasized in your biography is to read general articles on the person, perhaps starting with an article about your book’s subject in Wikipedia.

Bear in mind with Wikipedia however, that it is a creative commons resource and the articles are not necessarily written by experts, and may contain some inaccuracies. So you will need to do research involving other articles that you know have been written by experts. You should then read several authoritative biographical books on the subject, written by recognized authorities.

In doing research for biographical information, you will not be able to get all the information you need on the Internet alone. It will require going to your local library and perhaps a larger regional library with a lot of reference material available.

Once you have done this preliminary research, you should have a firm idea of the areas you should emphasize and focus on in your book and will be ready to do further reading of primary documents such as the personal letters and correspondence of your subject.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to write a biography: Do you want to write about yourself or someone else?

By Dennis Mellersh

Based on the questions and search queries  I have seen from beginner writers on the subject of how to write a book, it appears there is some confusion in people’s minds about the terminology or correct word for writing a biography and writing a biography about one’s own life.
Here are some of the common search queries:

How to write a personal biography
How to write a biography on someone
How to write a biography on yourself
How to write a short biography
How to write a biography for kids
How to write a professional biography
How to write a biography about myself
How to write a self-biography

What these queries show is that many people do not know the correct term for a self-biography or a biography on yourself, or your own life.

The correct term is autobiography.

The correct term for a book about someone else is biography.

So, if you are looking for information on how to write a biography about your own life, use the term autobiography in your Internet searches and library research. Similarly, use the term biography for information on how to write a book about someone else’s life.

Using the correct terms, biography and autobiography, will give you much better Internet search and library research results and therefore better information to help you in your program of learning to write a biography or autobiography more effectively.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How to write an autobiography: Focus on what’s remarkable in your life

By Dennis Mellersh

For most of us, writing an autobiography, or a book-length story of our own life, would result in a book that would only be of interest to readers among our family and close friends.

It is true that everyone’s life is significant and that everyone’s life is important. We all affect people in important ways that we may not even realize. Indeed, as an insightful quotation reads, “To the world you are one person but to one person you may mean the world.”

However, for the majority of people, writing a full-length autobiography about our lives and then expecting it to be of interest a wide number of people is probably unrealistic.

However, it may well be realistic to consider that certain autobiographical aspects of each of our lives could be meaningful and of great interest to a large number of readers.

For example, I am a writer, and I have made a living as a writer for all of my adult life, 25 years of which have been as a self-employed independent writer. So, earning my livelihood as a writer is a major biographical component of my life.

However, a full-length book or autobiography about my overall life in general would attract little attention.

But how about the following as a possible specifically focussed shorter book:

“How I’ve made a Successful Living as an Independent Freelance Writer for 25 years”

A smaller book like this, based on one important aspect of my autobiographical details, could be a good candidate for a book with a specialty publisher.  Or it might be more suitable for production through one of the self-publishing services such as those available on and other venues.

So, look at and examine your entire life; focus on one or more of the remarkable elements of your life and you may find that there is an autobiography-based book waiting to be written that will interest a particular element of the reading public.

In learning how to write a children’s book, you need to read them constantly

By Dennis Mellersh

If you are interested in learning how to write a children’s book, you should make it a priority to read as much children’s literature as you can, particularly books. Your reading program should be an integral part of your learning-to-write program.

When beginner writers think about children’s books the usual image that comes to mind is the typical picture book (lots of illustrations, not many words) that an adult would read to a child less than five years of age, who has not yet developed their reading skills.

However, in professional publishing, the children’s book category actually comprises books written for the 18-years-old and under market.

In order to read children’s books as part of your learning process, the best method is to go to your local library and focus on the children’s section. You should also make it a habit to periodically check out the children’s book section in your local bookstore.

The market for e-format children’s books is growing, so there are electronic versions of children’s books available that you can study on your computer or tablet. However, doing so  is not as effective a method for learning about the traditional the children’s book market  as is reading and studying as many physical children’s books as possible.

In addition to the main genre divisions of children’s books of fiction, non-fiction and those books written in poetic form, there are a number of age categories which you should investigate. Reading these books will help you decide on the type of children’s book that you might want to write:
  • The picture-book category (for pre-reading children) is for 5 years old and under
  • Early reader books are generally for children 5 to 7 years old
  • Chapter books* are for 7 to 12 year olds
  • Young adult fiction is directed at 12 to18 years old
  • * As the name implies, chapter books are divided into chapters.

Children’s books are generally written specifically for the children’s market; but some, such as the Harry Potter series are what might be called cross-over books and actually turn out to be of significant interest to many adults as well.

Learning how to write a book: The #1 misconception about the process

By Dennis Mellersh

You want to write a book, and you have been doing a lot of research on the Internet, and perhaps at the library, looking for answers about what is involved in writing a book.
But by now you may be getting frustrated at not finding the answers you are looking for.

The reason for your frustration is that learning the process of writing a book is a complicated one, and there are no simple answers.

Many beginner writers believe there may be a formula they can follow for successfully writing a book – and for a very few types of books, there may actually be a simple step-by-step process.

But for the vast majority of books, it is a misconception to think that there is a quick and effortless way to learn about writing a book.

The reality is that the first thing you must do before you can write a book is to learn the art of writing. And writing is an art; it is not a scientific or mechanical process in which a formula can lead to assured success.

Whether you are a student, or in the workforce, or a homemaker, it is important to remember that it took time, and perhaps a lot of time, for you to develop the skills you already possess for school, for your job, or for managing your home.

Similarly, it will also take time to acquire the skills you will need in order to write the book you are envisaging, and it will likely take more time than you have been anticipating.

Whether you want to write a book of fiction, such as a novel, or a group of short stories, or a collection of your poems as a book, or a non-fiction book, it is worth re-emphasising that you must learn the process of learning how to write effectively, and eventually, how to write well before you can make your book manuscript a reality.

However, this does not mean that you need to put your plan to write a book on indefinite hold. The good news is that while you are learning to write, you can also, as a parallel activity, do background research, fact-finding, and planning for your proposed book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Overcoming writer’s block: using a diversion to restart writing your book

By Dennis Mellersh

You have read a great deal about learning how to write a book; you have written a number of pages; but now on this day, you just can’t write – your mind is a blank.

In short, you are suffering an attack of writer’s block.

This can happen to book writers of all experience levels, from beginner writers to best-selling authors.

The good news is that this impasse can be overcome with a variety of techniques.

As suggested by Karin Mack and Eric Skjei, in their book, Overcoming Writing Blocks*, the inability to write when you have previously been able to write, is sometimes the result of sheer mental fatigue caused by your relentless focus on the task at end – doing the tough work of writing your book.

Their suggestion is to set up a diversionary activity to refresh your mind and give it a chance to rejuvenate your creative juices.

Their suggestion: “Switch to some other kind of activity, one that engages different parts of your mind and body for a while. Go out for a bite to eat. Make a phone call…Go for a walk. Run up and down the stairs…Anything that has the potential to offer you an engrossing break from your frustration as you sit there stuck in the web of words…”

* Overcoming Writing Blocks, J.P Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, 1979

Note: This book was available used on at the time this article was written

Monday, February 18, 2013

Editing, rewriting, or even abandoning your novel

By Dennis Mellersh

It’s tough work learning how to write a novel
And it can be even more difficult to edit and rewrite passages that are not going well. But, you decide to keep writing to bring your novel to completion.

However, what can be the hardest decision for a novel writer is reaching that point in the writing when you realize that, for whatever reason, the thing just isn’t going to work, and you need to abandon it.

Such a situation is not ‘writer’s block.’

You were in a strong creative mood during the writing – you felt inspired.

And although the writing may have been difficult, you have made every effort possible to re-work your manuscript.

But it simply is not coming together. Should you now simply abandon it – let it go?

You are not alone in reaching this creative impasse
This point in the creative process is encountered by experienced novelists as well as beginners.

Shedding some light on this are the words of Thornton Wilder, who wrote the novels The Bridge of San Luis Ray; The Eighth Day; and Heaven’s my Destination.
Wilder was being interviewed by the Paris Review* and had just been asked by the interviewer: “Do you find that the writing of fiction is a painful and exhausting process, or do you write easily, quickly and joyously.”

Wilder answered as follows: “You see, my waste-paper basket is filled with works that went a quarter through and which turned out to be among those things that failed to engross the whole of me. And then for a while, there’s a very agonizing period of time in which I try to explore whether the work I’ve rejected cannot be reoriented in such a way as to absorb me. The decision to abandon it is hard.”
Wilder on another occasion made this point even more succinctly:

“An incinerator is a writer’s best friend.”

* Writers at Work, The Paris Review Interviews, The Viking Press, 1959, New York

If you want to write a novel, you should be keeping a notebook

By Dennis Mellersh

If you are taking steps to learn how to write a novel, many experts suggest there are important reasons why you should buy and write in a notebook on a regular basis.

Lou Willett Stanek, for example, in her book, So You want to write a Novel*, suggests, “If you’re serious about writing a novel, or any type of fiction, you should zip out to buy a notebook before you read any further. A writer never leaves home without one. Ideas pop up at the weirdest times and places but often don’t last any longer then soap bubbles.”

And, Stanek emphasises, “The first step in becoming a writer is always having your notebook within reach.”

As an aspiring novel writer, the importance of having a notebook handy can be illustrated by answering the following question:

How often have you thought of an interesting idea for you’re the novel you’re planning to write, only to have the idea vanish before you are able to write it down?

Likely very often.

And the same applies to anything interesting you observe as you go about your day that could be good material for you to use as a writer, in your novel or other material.

If you have your notebook handy, you can write the idea down immediately and then reference it later and perhaps expand on it.

It’s not always possible to determine when something interesting you come across could be used in your writing, so it’s best to write it down while the information and the desire to record it is still fresh.

So, keep your notebook and a pen handy when you are: reading the newspaper or a magazine, watching TV, browsing the Internet, listening to a Podcast, watching You Tube, or in any situation where you are taking in information.

* Lou Willett Stanek: So You Want to Write a Novel, 1994, Avon Books, New York.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sometimes it may seem as if your book is “just not meant to be”

By Dennis Mellersh

As you progress in your research towards your goal of learning how to write a book, you may find yourself asking the question, “Do I really have the capability?”

Such doubtfulness is natural and can plague professional writers when they are faced with low periods in their creativity. Even experienced book writers are not super-creative and super-productive 24/7.

But doubting that you even have the capacity to achieve your overall writing goal can be disheartening.

However, you just need to remember that learning to write well and then applying your improved writing skill to producing a book manuscript is a skill that can be learned.

Every successful writer has had to go through a learning process. This process includes formal academic formal instruction such as creative writing at college or university; on the job training, such as with journalists just starting out in their careers; or with “natural-born” novelists struggling with their early efforts.

Even the most gifted novelists, who may learn to write simply by reading other author’s novels, are often unhappy with their first efforts. There are many stories of well-known authors who tell us that a good deal of their early writing work ended up in the trash can, or was put away on a shelf or in a drawer.

Here’s a bit of brief but significant encouragement for beginner writers who want to write a book, but feel they “may not really have it in themselves” to do so. It comes from the respected novelist Toni Morrison.*

“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

So, start a new page and keep on in your efforts to learn how to write well. There can be a book in your future.

* "Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; February 18, 1931) is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved. She also was commissioned to write the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. She won the Nobel Prize in 1993 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved. On 29 May 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom"
Source: Wikipedia
There is a full Wikipedia article on Toni Morrison at the link below:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Learning how to write a book requires discipline

By Dennis Mellersh

With the many self-publishing programs available today it is true that generally, anyone can write a book and have it published.
What is definitely not true is that anyone can write a well written book that will interest people, and through that interest become a successful book in terms of either free or sold distribution.
A poorly written book will be recognized as such by most people, and even if the book is available at no charge, most people will not bother reading it.
Three of the key ingredients to a successful book are:
  1. Well written
  2. Well organized and presented
  3. Well promoted
This brief article is basically a reminder that if you are a beginner writer, the first part of the process of learning to write well is to instill discipline into your creative writing efforts and into your learning process.
You will need discipline to learn and practice:
  • The rules of English composition
  • The rules of grammar
  • Spelling (abc spell-checkers are no substitute)
  • Writing something every day
  • Reading well written books and articles every day (one of the best ways to understand what constitutes good writing)
  • Using a dictionary and thesaurus correctly
  • Writing concisely and clearly
  • Writing outlines
  • Doing research
And, the list goes on…
A comment by the writer, Anthony Trollope sheds some light on this:
“There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.”
Stated another way:
There is no easy way to learn to write, nor to do this without discipline.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Before you try to write a book, learn how to write effectively

By Dennis Mellersh

Unless you are a professional and/or experienced writer, you will need to develop your writing skills before you tackle the larger goal of learning how to write a book.

Although writing your book will involve considerable work, it can be enjoyable and rewarding, but only if you first gain a comfort level and confidence in your ability to write well.

In addition to studying education materials about how to improve your writing skills, one of the best methods is to practice writing whenever you can. In other words, write often.

I have written about this before, but it is worth re-emphasizing. Here are a few brief suggestions on how to do this.

Start a free blog. You can do this at or Just start a blog on a subject that interests you. For example, write about your efforts to improve your writing. Or write about a hobby. Try to write a post each day.

Write comments on blogs or websites that interest you on topics where you might have something useful to contribute with your comments.

Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper on stories they have published and give your opinion either on the subject of the article, or whether you feel the writer did a good job in writing their article.

Do a lot of reading of professionally written material such as novels, how-to books, biographies, history books, and magazine and web/blog articles and write out passages from these that you feel handle language well. The act of writing out such passages will help familiarize you with effective writing techniques.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Writing the introduction to your non-fiction book

By Dennis Mellersh

You have done the research for your proposed non-fiction book; you have made an outline; and you have written all of the chapters.

Now you need to write the introduction and you are wondering how to proceed.

At this point, you need to remind yourself that by doing all the preparatory work for your book and then writing it, you have gained some expert status on the subject your non-fiction book is about. It may also be the case that you were already an expert on the topic of your book.

This is important because readers generally buy non-fiction books because they are seeking expert information on a particular subject – in this case the topic your book is about. Often readers may be looking for the answer to specific problems, especially when they buy how-to books.

You might want to start writing your introduction by commenting on why, you as an expert, wrote the book – perhaps outline the particular problems you wanted to help readers with.

Or, if the book provides a handy single-source for information that was previously scattered through various media such as other books and websites on the topic, you could comment on that aspect.

If there is a particular way your book should be used, you could speak about that in your introduction. Should the book be read from front to back? Or is it the type of book that readers would read in no particular order, perhaps reading individual chapters on different specific types information they might be seeking.

Overall, there is no cookie-cutter approach your introduction should follow.

As a guiding principle however, your introduction should be your personal opinion on how and why you think your book will be useful to the reader.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Writing a book review: A view from the 17th Century

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the important aspects of becoming knowledgeable about how to write an effective book review is in learning to strike a balance between discussing the merits, or what you like about the book you are reviewing, and the shortcomings, or what you did not like about the book.

This is assuming that the book you are considering reviewing has some good qualities you find worth passing on in your review. The good qualities you find in the book will be brought out in your review more emphatically and will appear more balanced by the reader if you temper your review with comments on various ways in which you believe the book also “fell short.”
Joseph Addison*, a respected 17th Century critic and essayist stated, “A true critic ought to dwell upon excellencies rather than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation.”
As a starting point, if you are reviewing a particular novel, for example, you might want to highlight for either (a) praise or as (b) “areas that could be improved” any number of aspects of the novel such as:
  • Is the dialogue natural, effective, and believable?
  • Is there enough dialogue or is there more “telling” than “doing”
  • Does the author do a good job of developing characters?
  • Are the actions of the characters natural, or false-seeming?
  • Are exposition/descriptive passages image-evoking?
  • Does the plot move along naturally or is it “forced” and improbable?

* Joseph Addison (1 May 1672 – 17 June 1719) was an English essayist, poet, playwright and politician. He was the eldest son of reverend Lancelot Addison. His name is usually remembered alongside that of his long-standing friend, Richard Steele, with whom he founded The Spectator magazine.

You can read more about Addison at this link to Wikipedia:

Discouragement is normal – keep writing your book

By Dennis Mellersh

After you have spent some time researching how to write your book, and have started to actually do some writing, you will likely discover than writing is hard work.

And, because writing can be difficult, even for experienced writers, the goal of producing a manuscript for your book may seem a distant goal, and may even seem unattainable.

In short, you may become discouraged.

This is normal for anyone engaged in creating artistic work, such as composing music, producing a painting, and yes, learning the skills required to write a book.

The difficulty you are experiencing is not “writer’s block” (a situation which can visit even established writers with a lot of experience), but rather is a normal part of the learning process of becoming a writer.

Discouragement is part of the journey.

The key to working past this “roadblock” is to realize, and then to accept, that it is a normal emotional condition in any difficult creative learning process.

On top of the tough path of learning to write effectively, there is also the task of learning how to apply your writing skills to the additional skill-set requirements needed for writing a book.

Beginning writers sometimes conclude that because they find the writing process so hard, they conclude that they simply are “not programmed to be a writer” and they give up their quest.

This is a big mistake.

Learning how to write and then learning how to apply that skill towards writing the book that you envisage is a learnable skill. It’s no different than learning the many skills you have acquired throughout your life, many of which would seem very difficult at first, but eventually success in the skill is achieved.

So, realize that discouragement is a normal part of the creative process, and get on with writing your book.

Learning effective writing techniques for your novel: The importance of reading

By Dennis Mellersh

In your efforts to learn about the process of writing a book, one of the most important requirements is to be very familiar with the attributes or characteristics of the type of book you want to write.

You already have a strong interest in writing books, or your search on the Internet would not have led you to this blog. A strong interest is vital as it will see you through the tough work needed to actually become a writer and author.

Although there is a lot of good material available describing the various types of books, such as novels, the best method for gaining the type of knowledge you need is through actually reading books – a lot of books.

You need to extend your reading to include original works (real novels) and not restrict yourself to reading material about “how to write a book” – such as this blog, for example. In other words, you learn about what makes good or quality writing by constantly reading examples of good writing.

To re-emphasize this point: if you are interested in writing novels, for example, you should read as many novels as possible. And you should read even more deeply in the particular types of novels that you want to write.

As Stephen King observes, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Read novels from different time periods and read translations of classics written in different languages. Some of the greatest novels, for example, were originally written in Russian, German, French, and other languages. Through your reading of established fiction writers, such as novelists, you will experience first-hand the techniques they use to create their books.

In your initial efforts to cover a lot of ground in your reading, don’t bog down your reading program by continuing to read a novel, which after reading a few dozen pages, appears to be too difficult for your reading experience level.

Rather, if the book you have chosen is a recognized, yet difficult classic, you can return to it after you have familiarized yourself with many other novel writers, at which point the original book you found to be too challenging will probably seem less so. At this point you can study it thoroughly and learn the writing techniques that make it an effective novel.

All of this is hard work, so do take some time to read novels purely for your own pleasure and not necessarily for “study.” And when doing so, here is some advice from Montaigne* who wrote the following in a light-hearted comment in his essay On Books, “When I meet with difficulties in my reading, I do not bite my nails over them; after making one or two attempts I give them up. If I were to sit down to them, I should be wasting myself and my time; my mind works at first leap. What I do not see immediately, I see even less by persisting.”

*p. 161, Montaigne Essays, translated with an introduction by J. M. Cohen, Penguin Classics, Penguin Books Ltd.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How long does it take to write a book?

By Dennis Mellersh

There are no hard and fast rules or formulas that you can use in figuring out how much time it takes to write a book.

Rather, time requirements vary considerably.

One writer of mystery novels, Georges Simenon, for example, wrote his detective novels in three weeks, whereas some novelists may take years to complete their manuscripts. Similarly, a well-researched biography or history can often take years to research and write.

The reason that “time-to-write” is difficult to pin down precisely is because, in terms of time requirements, writing a book is governed more by personal choice variables than by external time-driven pre-established criteria.
Here are six basic considerations on variables (and there are many more) that can influence book-writing time requirements:
  • The type of book you are considering writing
  • How much experience you have in writing
  • The anticipated length or word-count of your proposed book
  • The amount of research required for your book
  • The amount of time you can devote each day to writing you book
  • Will it be an E-book only, or a traditionally printed paper-based book?
Type of book
The first thing you should do is determine whether you want to write a non-fiction book, or a book of fiction, such as a novel.

A non-fiction book, such as a how-to guide will require considerable research unless you are planning a book on a topic in which you already have a lot of experience and knowedge.

A novel on the other hand, will primarily be a product of your imagination. The exception is if you want to write a ``period`` piece such as a western, or a you want to write about a particular historical period. In that case you will need to do research; otherwise your writing will lack authority, authenticity, and credibility.

Writing experience level
If you have some experience in writing, from your job requirements, for example, it will take you less time to write your book, than it would if you have to learn the craft of writing as you progress with your book project.

The market you are aiming for will also be a factor as there is a learning curve in gaining experience in writing for very young children, teenage children, young adults, and adults. This is true for both fiction and non-fiction.

Length of your proposed book
Generally the average novel length, for example, is considered to be in the range of 100,000 to 175,000 words. On the basis of 250 words per page (double spacing) on a word-processing program, this would amount to 400 to 700 pages of manuscript.
For a non-fiction book you might want to look at this type of book in your local library or bookstore to get an idea of book lengths. Remember that the number of pages in a published book will be fewer as compared with your manuscript because line spacing is generally closer in the published version. This also applies to the published version of novels.

The reason the proposed length is important is simply that generally speaking, the longer the length of your planned book, the longer it will take to write.

Amount of research required
The amount of research you may need to do for your book can vary considerably. If you are an expert on a given topic, such as a long-time hobby, you will already have the knowledge to write a non-fiction book on the topic, and will only need to refresh yourself on the latest information available that you will need to include in your book.

Obviously, the reverse is true if you have an interest in writing a book on a topic on which you have little knowledge.  Your interest in the topic will make your research more enjoyable but you will still need to put in the time to gain enough solid information to be knowledgeable enough to write a book about your topic of interest.

How much time can you spend each day?
In order to make progress in writing your book, you should set aside enough time each day to work effectively on your manuscript. This time segment should be long enough to “settle-in” each day to the writing task at hand.

The amount of time you plan should be realistic. If you are busy with a family and a day-job, and then set aside too much time, you are likely to find it not do-able and then give up out of frustration.

The key with successful writing is to do some each day. It’s not something that you can skip for three days, for example, with the thought of doing four times as much work on the fourth day to make up for the three days you missed. Better to set aside say an hour each weekday for writing with 1 ½ or two hours on Saturday and Sunday.

In writing a book, a steady amount of research and/or writing each day will eventually add up to a completed manuscript sooner than you might think.

E-Book or traditional paper-based printed book?
With the relatively recent advent of e-books, and particularly with the arrival of e-book self-publishing on interfaces such as, book lengths, and therefore the time required to write, themhave been shortened.

With e-books, and this is primarily because of the generally lower price of self-published e-books, a “book” can be much shorter than a paper-based printed book. People will still consider a 30-page non-fiction e-book at a low price as a book, whereas a printed version of the same thing would be regarded more likely as a “report.”