The Importance of Keeping Secrets


It’s difficult enough to write a book without your mom — or your kids, these days — looking over your shoulder pointing out every little error in every little sentence as you go along. The moms usually add things like: “Obut you can’t say THAT about HIM,” or in my own case “Why don’t you write something nice, dear?”

It’s enough to make you go play Solitaire instead.

Rule #1

Don’t ever, ever write for anybody else but yourself. This means you need to pretend that nobody will ever see it.

One way to get around this is to use a pseudonym but don’t worry about all this just yet. You haven’t even written it and you’re already worried about what folks might say about it?

Actually, this is a good attitude to have (in a way). It means you believe that this book of yours will eventually be published. Good. Want it? Dream it. But until then, do not let anybody who knows you (friends, family, coworkers) see it. Don’t let them see it until the book comes out. They can be the first to purchase copies. Yes?

The thing is, if you write well, if you capture humanity in its truest form — which is what a good writer does — every reader will recognize himself in at least one of your characters. And human nature will have him identifying with the worst of them. Uncle Charlie will be certain (as will Mom) that you wrote about him; your sister will call you a bitch for letting the world know about that night after the prom; or your wife will stop speaking to you.

Best to have the book finished, edited, published before they get started. Otherwise, you’ll never get past the first chapter.

Rule #2

Just write. Don’t worry about the correct word, about where those damnable quotation marks go (Canadians have this issue to deal with), about what you learned in school — especially what you learned in school, unless your teacher was Stephen King (or similar). Stephen King was a high school English teacher before he burst onto the scene with Carrie. Did you know that? Stephen King knows the rules of grammar.

Obviously there’s more to writing a book than knowing the difference between a gerund and an elbow, but it helps at that most-important edit stage. Which happens after you finish writing your book. Later. Write now, worry later.

Please note: No matter how long it takes you to finish that book, it’s still a “first draft” so you might as well power through it and get the sucker done and deal with the elbows later.

So why does grammar and correct spelling and all that boring stuff that nobody cares about anymore matter so much? I’ll write about this in another post.

Meanwhile, hunch over and vomit your guts onto the keyboard. Your muse will urge you on but don’t trust her with the spelling or word choices. (She has an awful habit of using malapropisms.)

Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them.


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