If Writing Your Story Makes Somebody Look Bad

ShhhMuch to my mother’s disappointment, I’m not an attorney, and nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice. 

What do you do when you feel called to tell your life’s story by writing a book, but there’s a good chance you’ll hurt or offend people who were involved in your life in some way?

Easy answer: Write your truth first. You don’t have to show it to anyone, so no self-censoring. Just finish the book, and then you can decide how to proceed. At that point, you have a few options:

1) Go ahead and tell your truth. If you’re naming names or writing in a way that people are easily identifiable (how many mothers do you have?), I highly recommend getting their sign-off, and whether you do or not, you need to get the advice of a qualified attorney.

2) Changes names, places, and other identifying characteristics, so no one could possibly identify who you’re talking about. For example,  the behavior of a sister might be attributed to a made-up school friend. A simple disclaimer that tells readers you’ve made those changes will keep you safe from claims that you made it all up. (Remember James Frey?)

3) Ask people you care about to sign off on whatever part of the book involves them. Understand that some people will say no, and that’s their right. But others will surprise you by saying yes.

4) Fictionalize the story. Write it as it happened, and then go back and change the names of people and places and alter elements of the story, so it reads as a novel. You could also decide from the start that you’ll do it as fiction, and write accordingly.

NOTE: Obviously, you want to avoid any hint of libel. You knowingly put lies or half-truths about real people in writing, you’re asking to get sued, and you deserve what you get. Always have an attorney review your completed manuscript if there’s any chance you could be stumbling into lawsuit territory. Here’s an article that addresses the legal consequences in reference to fiction, much of which applies to nonfiction.

Don’t let fear stop you from writing the book only you can write. There’s always a way.

Go write something!

How Long Should It Take You to Write Your Book?

Last week I met with a  busy entrepreneur who’s been talking about writing her book for some time. The meeting started off well (especially since she offered to treat me to lunch).

After a little time spent lifting fork to mouth and talking about our pending business ventures, I asked her when she planned to finally write her book. She explained that she didn’t really have time to “figure it all out.”

“We could have another lunch date, and you’d have your book outlined and planned by the end of our meal,” I told her.

“Well,” she said, “it looks like I’ll be buying you lunch again.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Like most people, I’m happy to enjoy a free meal. But I was sort of surprised by how excited she was by the prospect of having help as she writes her book. She’s a brilliant, business-savvy woman. Does she not already know that she’s perfectly capable of writing anything she wants?

Most of the people who come to me for help writing a book are super-smart and accomplished in their fields. But I sometimes forget that even the brightest folks can feel overwhelmed by the idea of writing page after page to finish a book. It’s easy for me to forget that writing a book only starts to look doable after you know how to do it.

By the end of lunch, the lovely entrepreneur and I agreed that I’d coach her through the writing process. She has a lot to offer, and not everyone can afford her professional services. Her book will reach people who can’t or aren’t yet ready to invest in her high-end products and services.

But how long will it take her–or you–to get a book written?

The truth is that it’s up to you. But if you’re writing a personal story or a how-to book based largely on your own experience and expertise, you can have a finished first draft in about 90 days. A more leisurely, but still committed pace will have you done in 6 months.

What does it take to finish your book in 90 days?

  • a commitment to write regularly (preferably daily)
  • a specific plan for your book (otherwise known as an outline)
  • some knowledge of basic writing skills (Can you write a coherent sentence?)

That’s all, folks.

If you don’t make time to write regularly, you’ll probably never finish your book.

If you don’t have an outline, you’ll wander from topic to topic, take months to finish, and likely end up with a muddled mess of a manuscript. A writing coach or developmental editor can help you lay out the structure of your book.

If you can write coherent sentences with some sensible connection between them, a good editor or writing coach can help you with the rest of the mechanics. (And no, you don’t need to be great at spelling. Thank goodness for “spell check” and proofreaders.)

I’m looking forward to helping that entrepreneur get her book written and in the hands of readers. Even more, I’m looking forward to seeing her relief when she realizes how manageable the whole process is after we’ve broken it down into baby steps. Her second book will come even more easily.

Go write something!




5 Easy Ways to (Re)write Better

You type the final words of your manuscript, click save, and sit back with a sense of pride and relief. You’ve finished writing. Woo hoo!

But don’t get too comfortable, kid. After a few days (or weeks) away from the work, it’s time to rewrite. (I love this phase—love, love, love.) The choices you make here separate the amateurs from the professionals.

What to do? What to do? What to do?

 Put these tips into practice when you rewrite.

1) Minimize use of adverbs. Adverbs have their place, but you can cut most of them by choosing stronger verbs. Saying the character “stomped across the room” creates a more vivid image than saying she “walked angrily across the room.” Don’t wuss out here. Do the work and elevate your writing above what you did in middle school English class.

2) Replace forms of “to be” with active verbs. Of course, you’ll sometimes use is, are, and were, but replace them with active verbs when you can.

Our chocolate cake is loved by customers.
Customers love our chocolate cake.

He is a marathon runner.
He runs marathons.

Lame examples? Maybe, but you get the point. Rather than simply describing things, the active options tell a story.

3) Use “said” in place of fancier attributions. Sometimes writers use words and phrases like “replied grumblingly” or “whined” in an effort to illustrate the speaker’s emotions. It’s a shortcut that fails to pay off. Instead, stick with “said” most of the time and show the speaker’s emotions and tone through his actions and dialogue.

4) Watch out for verbal tics. When I edit a manuscript, I typically spot these overused words or phrases in the first few pages. Adverbs such as literally, simply, just, quite, actually, really, and very are among the most overused words, but some writers have more unique phrases they can’t seem to get enough of in their prose. The best way to find out what yours are? Ask someone you trust to read a passage and mark the words or phrases that you’ve repeated with obnoxious frequency.  Keep your writing fresh by eliminating those verbal tics.

5) Take ownership of your ideas. Please don’t rely on phrases such as “I think,” “I believe,” or “I know.” You’re the author, dude. The reader realizes the thoughts or ideas belong to you. (Unless you think your reader is stupid, which presents a different problem.) The extra wording not only acts as a verbal speed bump, it sows a seed of doubt about your knowledge. Which sounds more authoritative to you?

I believe prices will rise in 2014.
Prices will rise in 2014.

 I think she handles the office of president with more grace and competence than her predecessors.
She handles the office of president with more grace and competence than her predecessors.

 Perhaps the rare genius exists who doesn’t have to rewrite her work. Brava for her! For the rest of us mortals, the sharpening and polishing we do in the rewriting process raises the work to the ranks of the professionals. It’s worth the time and effort.

Go write something!

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Finishing Your Book with Anita Paul, the Author’s Midwife

Anita PaulIn this interview, I chat with Anita Paul of WriteYourLife.net. Anita’s known as “the Author’s Midwife.” She works with authors and authors-in-the-making to help them take their book ideas from concept to publication. She has coached and consulted with authors of how-to books, memoirs, novels, children’s books, and more. One thing I love about Anita: she’s quick to remind us that our books won’t market or sell themselves. Publication isn’t the end of the journey, and she helps her clients figure out next steps.

Anita is also the author and co-author of several books including How to Market Your Book Free and Write Your Life: Create Your Ideal Life and the Book You’ve Been Wanting to Write.

In addition to her writing and coaching, Anita also hosts Book Your Success, an internet TV show with weekly author interviews. The woman keeps busy!

In this episode, we discuss the excuses many of us have for not completing the books we plan to write and how to get past those obstacles. Anita also shares her 1-3-3-1 outlining system, a simple way to focus on and support the central theme of your book.

Enjoy the show and go write something!


GWS 001: How Writing for TV Prepared These Writers for Indie Publishing

The Promise Woo hoo! The premiere episode of the Go Write Something podcast! I can’t wait to get some more interviewing experience under my belt, so I can look back and laugh at how dorky I sound in the early episodes.

Dawn Comer Jefferson and Rosanne Welch are writing partners who’ve done most of their work in television. (Their full bios are below.) In this episode I interview them about their first novel, based on historical events, The Promise.

We talk about:

  • how to collaborate with another writer
  • how to write faster
  • how writing for television influenced their novel writing journey
  • how to create your own writing lifestyle
  • and more.

Resources mentioned in the podcast include:

 More about Dawn and Rosanne:

Dawn Comer Jefferson is a television writer whose credits include Judging AmySouth of Nowhere, and the Los Angeles Holiday Celebration for Public Television. Dawn was nominated for an Emmy Award for Our Friend, Martin, an animated family film about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  With Rosanne Welch, Dawn co-edited the nonfiction book, Three Ring Circus: How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work, and Family (Seal Press).

Rosanne Welch, PhD has written for television (Touched by an AngelPicket Fences) and print (Three Ring Circus:  How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work and Familyand The Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space).  In the documentary world she has written and producedBill Clinton and the Boys Nation Class of 1963 for ABC NEWS/Nightline and consulted on PBS’s A Prince Among Slaves, the story of a prince from West Africa who was enslaved in the 1780s, freed by order of President John Quincy Adams in the 1820s and returned to his homeland.

I hope you enjoy the podcast. Go write something!