As my book makes its way around the world, I have really enjoyed seeing everyone’s Improv ABC selfies, and I cannot thank you all enough for the overwhelming support (you can learn more about the book here). So many of you have asked a lot of great questions about how the book came to life and shared really positive reviews and thoughts. But one of those comments really stood out to me. A friend of mine said he was excited to buy the book because it was the closest he’d ever get to writing one of his own.
The comment surprised me because I knew that if he really wanted to write a book, he totally could.
After going through the process myself, I’ve come to realize that it isn’t actually all that difficult. It doesn’t require any special tools – just Google docs or old school pen and paper – and it doesn’t require specialized knowledge – we’ve all been writing since kindergarten. Each of us has a story to tell, an idea to share, or something to teach. And really, that’s all you need to write a book.
Sure, you may not be the veritable Hemmingway you wish you were, but at its core, writing is no different than walking. You just put one word in front of the one that came before it until you’re done.
HOW TO WRITE YOUR BOOK IN JUST 3 STEPS
STEP 1: GET OVER THE MYSTIQUE
There’s a lot of mystique around the idea of writing a book – that it’s something tortured, starving artists do in a lakeside cabin in the forest. That if you’re not some bearded professor with elbow patches, you’ll never write the next great American novel.
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you don’t believe me, take it from Amy Poehler:
“Everyone lies about writing. They lie about how easy it is or how hard it was. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea… Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.” – Amy Poehler, Yes Please
There is nothing magical about writing or the process that surrounds it. All of the “writing rituals” people blab about are really just cute procrastination techniques to make them feel better about what writing really is – a long, arduous process full of twists and turns. It’s hard work and frustration punctuated by short bursts of joy that make it all worthwhile. And anyone willing to put in the hard work can write a book.
STEP 2: FIND SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT
There is a book out there about every topic you could possibly imagine – from semiconductor device fundamentals to Nazi erotica. So don’t worry about doing something completely original and never-before-imagined. That shouldn’t stop you because total originality doesn’t exist. Amazon lists no fewer than 4,636 results for “improv,” but I didn’t let that scare me away.
You are a singular stew of ideas, experiences, and perspectives. In the same way your contributions to your improv team matter because you are unique, your book won’t turn out like all the others because no one else can share your story the way you would.
STEP 3: DO THE DANG WORK (IN MANAGEABLE CHUNKS)
This is the horrible, no good, very bad part of writing. The part I hate the most.
“An annoying thing about writing is that you have to make everything up, then write it down.” – @jakefogelnest
The parts that come before are those we fantasize about – the bottomless mugs of coffee, brainstorming with whiteboards, crisp afternoons inside the sidewalk café. Step three is where a lot of would-be authors fall off.
The chasm between the great idea in our head and the fully finished book is massive. The work seems insurmountable, so it’s easier to quit than put pen to paper.
Even I experienced those feelings when I was first starting Improv ABC five months ago.
But what made the book possible was the fact that the alphabet only has 26 letters. That meant I could create a checklist, 1-26, and keep ticking off boxes, until, one day, there were no more boxes to tick. I had done it. I had a fully finished book.
The work doesn’t have to be done in one huge, creative flurry on a fall Sunday morning. That would probably lead to a really crappy book. It takes time, effort and editing to write a book of substance. The easiest way to get through it is to find a way to break the whole into a series of parts and check them off one at a time.
Maybe you know your book will have ten chapters and you’ll write one a week. Maybe you write whatever you can in one hour before work each morning. Maybe you write three pages a day until it’s done. Or, if you really wanted, you could limit yourself to short 140 character writing bursts.
Having come out the other side, I can assure you that I am, in no way, special or different. I don’t have superpowers (aside from super snark). The fact that you’re not a professional or that you don’t think you’re good enough shouldn’t stop you from putting pen to paper. It didn’t stop you when you were five, so don’t let it stop you now.
If you can tweet, you already know how to capture a complete thought in a concise sentence or two. That’s all writing is. If you just do that 2,500 times, then you and I can go grab a bottomless mug of coffee on a crisp September morning in our elbow-patch jackets and drink together as authors.