How I start writing a book
Plus, how the fossil fuel overlords are now duping us with plastic
It’s hit that time again for me. Time to write another book. I thought I’d share how I start the process, because I am often asked. All writers are, I think.
I’m curious first, then messy.
I should say, I don’t set out to write a book as such. I never have. I sense an ache in humanity and start asking questions, reading and seeking feedback from people around me as well as strangers in my e-community.
My bipolar mind picks up on an unresolved issue, or a collective pain, and then follows it down rabbit holes. This is one of the “superpowers” of being a neurotically sensitive and obsessed person. I’m grateful for it about 40% of the time.
I then circle like a dog trying to find the perfect spot to land in the ache, in all the information. I’m smelling the vibe of humans, I’m sifting, I’m doubting.
For a very long time in this process, there is no book on the horizon.
In fact, it very literally doesn’t occur to me to monetise or materialise my curious deep-dive until someone says to me, “Could you please write a book on it, you know put all your research and the stuff you’re keep sharing on the socials and at dinner parties in the one spot for the rest of us?”.
The book then becomes a journal of sorts of the later part of my investigation, often chronicled in real time.
I think this approach is not a bad one (if you’re looking for a “good approach”). You see, my aim is primarily to satisfy my curiosity. It’s a double whammy if a book eventuates, a triple whammy when the writing of the book cures my own ache (which it always does). The whole thing is a rather self-serving triple boon when does this way (from curiosity outwards).
I take a long time.
With I Quit Sugar I’d been researching and then tweeting my discoveries, including recipe experiments, for about 18 months before the whole darn lot became a book (I got onto Twitter before it arrived in Australia; I was sent to New York to do a story on it in 2009). I taught myself to make an ebook (I did a $100 online course ) and my ambition was to just get the information to everyone telling me they wanted it all in one spot (and to make back my hundred bucks). But it became an Amazon bestseller in 24 hours and a few months later it became a print book, which itself become a New York Times bestseller. Go figure.
With First we Make the Beautiful I took six years researching anxious theories before I felt I had a chunk of responsible, helpful information for readers. The final two years were chronicled as a journey that became the throughline of the book.
This One Wild and Precious Life was much the same. I set off hiking around the world to find a hopeful path through the complexity of the climate crisis because my initial rabbit-hold dive didn’t surface one. I wrote on the road for three years living out of a backpack.
My point here is this: Don’t fret if it takes a long time. As This American Life host Ira Glass once said,
“Anything any good takes a long time”.
I experiment and get feedback.
I’m awkwardly nervous about whether I’m on the right track when I write (with everything I do). Every sentence, every idea is fretted over. Thusly, all my books incorporate feedback from my social community (you guys!) as I go. This is the stage I’m currently at. And it’s why I launched this Substack newsletter – as a forum to flesh out big issues with you to see, once again, exactly where the ache resides.
All this said, I do eventually work from a marketing plan backwards.
Once I determine that my curious investigations might help others and could, indeed, become a book, I am all business.
I do this:
I write out one paragraph that outlines what I want the book to do and how I want it to reach people. Will it need to be presented as a book that resembles a journal? Will it need a national bookclub tour so that the complex, hard issues can be fleshed out in an IRL human way? What’s the USP that will grab TV producers? I jot down intersecting PR/social/above-and-below-the-line techniques that will need to weave together to get the book beneath eyeballs. Why? Because if it doesn’t “sell” as a marketable concept and product, it won’t sell into a reader’s heart and mind. It has to sing from the outset.
If you’re wondering how exactly I go about this, here you go:
I imagine myself discussing the book on a morning TV program, having to explain its worth in a bunch of soundbites. With Beast, I imagined NBC’s Today program in the US. As it turns out, two weeks before the book came out in the US I got a request to appear on the show with Carson Daly. Freaky!
As I say, I’m at the stage where I’m wrestling with this gnarly, awkward start process.
Everyone subscribed here, I’d love you to be part of the journey with me.
To topline where I’m heading: I’m trying to find a way to adapt to the new normal as the climate crisis rips through our existence.
I’m swirling around in ideas of: metamodernism, post-doom theory, stages theory.
I’ll be doing things differently: I’m one of a gazillion artists who has been done over by their publisher recently. The industry is gripping viciously as it fails to adjust to the new ways of content creation. The gripping sees some horrible gaslighting and abusive treatment of their assets (the artists). Needless to say, I’m going to be stepping out on my own, finding a model that can pay fairly, and ensure that my ethics - and mental health - are not compromised.
As part of all of this: I’ll be doing some fun interactive stuff with subscribers. If you’re keen to join the process of rabbit-hold diving with me, do feel free to chip in if you can spare the coin. (We’re talking $5 a month.) Paid subscribers you might have noticed I’ve started the process already with some QnA threads.
A stonking quote from Mary Hegler
justify that climate rage!
You might love following Hegler’s work. She’s a climate justice writer who speaks brutally compassionate truth (from time to time I’ll introduce y’ll to Great Voices to Know About). I gel with her take on climate rage which picks up on the five stages of grief theory that says we must pass through a bunch of emotions (denial, pain, depression etc) until we can reach acceptance:
“The thing about climate grief is that you can never get to the final stage of acceptance, because that’s the kiss of death. So you cycle in and out of all the other phases. Me? I like to stay in anger.”
And some little sign-off notes…
My Wild podcast chat this week is with the irrepressible Fearne Cotton. You can click here to be taken straight to your favourite platform (Apple, Spotify etc).
Can’t wait to see you at my Live Nation show. Tickets are selling fast, as they say. And if you’re in Sydney…I just confirmed you can use your NSW Dine and Discover voucher to buy your ticket! At the time of payment, open the Service NSW app on your phone and present your voucher QR Code.
Maintain Your Beautiful Rage,