This might sound a little ridiculous – writing a book without even trying – but since I’ve done it myself (that’s how I wrote Project December: A Book about Writing), it’s not as impossible as it might seem. The key for me was not realising that all the little things I was writing were adding up to a whole book (I thought I was simply writing blog posts). That might be harder for you since if you’re reading this post, then you’re probably already thinking about writing a book. But the further you can push the idea of the book out of your mind, the easier the process will be.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. There were some casual flirtations with other career options during my teenage years: lawyer (I did work experience at a suburban law firm), political operative (I studied Australian and international politics as part of my Bachelor of Arts degree when I was 17, 18 and 19) and strangely even a hairdresser when I was in primary school (I think there may have been some peer pressure involved with this one).
But most writers don’t earn enough to just write so even after finishing my Bachelor of Arts and going on to finish a two-year writing and editing qualification and start a master’s degree in writing, I forged a career elsewhere. I started in administration (isn’t that where everyone starts?) to get some office-based experience and wrote in my spare time. I moved into an editing role in the same industry that I gained my administration experience and continued writing in my spare time.
And then finally I got my first writing job. A corporate job in a sales and marketing department in a new industry, writing tender responses and sales proposals for corporate clients as well as a variety of other types of content aimed at convincing people to hand over fistfuls of money. And I stopped writing in my spare time.
This is the titular chapter from Project December: A Book about Writing, the one that hopefully makes it clear why I called my book Project December.
So if Project October is all about the first draft and Project November is all about editing, rewriting and polishing your manuscript, then Project December is about what to do when you finally have a completed book.
I’m certainly not an expert on the publishing process – I’d probably be a lot more successful, wealthy and famous if I were – but I’ve learned a few things along the way through publishing my own books. This is what I know.
In preparation for an upcoming blog, I was leafing through my copy of The Elements of Style, which is generally considered a writer’s bible. It was originally written as a textbook for a Cornell University English course by Professor William Strunk Jnr in 1919. In 1957, the author EB White (who coincidentally took that course) was commissioned to revise it for general publication. Yes, that EB White. The one who wrote Charlotte’s Web.
As I leafed, I was struck by how much of the advice is now irrelevant or ignored. Plenty of it is still important and even now I recommend it to anyone who is serious about writing well. But nearly one hundred years has passed since its advice was first committed to paper and all languages evolve. Not just new words coming into usage and old ones falling by the wayside but the meaning of words changing and rules being completely subverted.
So I thought it would be interesting to explore the advice in The Elements of Style that is no longer as definitive as it once was.
Over the past year and a bit since starting this blog, I’ve written a lot. At the beginning it was easy. I had so much material that had never been seen anywhere except writing classes and quite a bit more that had never been seen at all. Bit by bit, I would dole it out along with whatever else I came up with along the way.
I still have plenty of novel chapters, poems, song lyrics, creative pieces in reserve. But posting them all would be indulgent. So I try to sprinkle them sparingly throughout blog posts that offer something more to others who also write.
And I always have opinions, so a steady stream of articles and advice on writing and editing was the inevitable result. Until this month. The ideas boards were starting to get empty. The remaining ideas on them were starting to get less inspiring. I had to admit a hard truth. I was running out of ideas for blog posts…
I probably shouldn’t be writing this. Not because I’m about to say something controversial. But because I’m sick.
I was reading the writing tips of a published author recently and amongst rather a lot of them was the advice that almost all dialogue attribution should use “said”. If the dialogue is a question, then “asked” is acceptable and if someone is responding, then “answered” is also okay. But nothing else. And even better, don’t use dialogue attribution at all.
Leaving aside questions of verb tense, I can’t tell you how much I disagree with this advice. Because while it tells me that a character was speaking, it gives no indication of how the character said the words. And often the words themselves just aren’t enough for me to know.