1. For your first book, have no idea whatsoever until the very last minute, then sit down and write it effortlessly in three months (before, during and after work, and after your small child has gone to bed).  Do very few revisions. This book will be a bestseller.

2. For book two — have a great idea, take nearly a year to write a first draft, show it proudly to your English and American editors, who will reject it out of hand, actively discouraging you from bothering to revise. Spend another year fixing it before anyone will agree to publish it or award it the Carnegie medal.

3. Book three will take a year or so, without giving too much trouble. The ending will prove stubborn, causing months of delay, but the rest will more or less flow.

4. Book four will be your worst yet, not coming together, remaining two-dimensional, requiring outside assistance and a great deal of head-banging — until the day it snaps into full colour and just works.

5. Book five will be a complete nightmare, taking three years and threatening never to work. This book will inspire loathing and self-loathing in equal measure and convince you that you should never have started this stupid writing game.

6. Book six will not want to be started, until the moment you sit down to write it, at which point it will flow out more or less without problem. It will not impress early readers, but you will have faith in it, despite it being a mystery plot with a mystery that stubbornly refuses to resolve. You will revise it in thin layers that eventually add up to a satisfying story.

7. Book seven has not yet been started.  But will inevitably follow the simple formula laid out above.

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16 thoughts on “How To Write A Book

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      Hadn’t thought of that…

  1. Jackie 5 years ago

    This was my road the writing.
    1. Do a painting for a calendar for Greenpeace that inspires a publisher to suggest a picture book that goes on to sell 300 000 or so books but at such a discount that you end up earning 0.2p or less for most of the sales.
    2. Have an idea that takes about 20 years to germinate until nagged into writing by a friend, because you are an illustrator not an author. Win a prize.
    3.About five years later have another idea that also wins a prize but also discover that if you write and paint then you get paid twice as much if you are working in picture books.
    4. Discover that you actually like the place that writing takes you more than painting and begin a novel. Gather a series of rejection letters until eventually a very well respected publisher asks to see the whole manuscript. Explain to publisher that you have 2 kids, mortgage and are a single parent and need money in order to finish book, ie, an advance, and go back to writing and painting picture books as publisher shakes head at very idea of putting any money up front.

    Write a couple more picture books which make the Greenaway long list and then stew over an idea for four years hunting for the words that will fit. Finish the pictures for a nursery rhyme book, put down brush, walk up hill. Write New text in half an hour with cat stuffed up jumper.
    Think about making the time to resurrect the novel.
    Words are tricky creatures, and we hunt them like cats hunt mice. Sometimes you have to watch and wait and pounce, other times you have to stalk. I look forward greatly to your number 6!

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      Stalking seems to be the greater part of writing, though I wouldn’t have thought of it like that. Perfectly said, Jackie.

  2. Amanda Lillywhite 5 years ago

    I think I made the mistake of starting with book five *sob*.

  3. Nicky Schmidt 5 years ago

    I have been dutifully following your advice. It’s not working. Is there an alternative path, oh wise guru, or should I just take up professional knitting?

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      The road is long, my child, and filled with potholes and coffee shops luring you in to eat biscuits and sip cappuccino when you should be banging your head against a wall hoping your plot might work someday.
      Do not despair, enlightenment is over the next hill. (Or maybe the one after that….)

  4. Mieke Zamora-Mackay 5 years ago

    Wah! Is there no hope for me? I missed Book One, and went straight into Book Five.

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      If I’d started with book 5 I might have given up. I do think that half the battle is getting to the end, but occasionally it might be worth putting the book aside and starting a new one. It might be the easy one — it’s worth finding out.

  5. Catdownunder 5 years ago

    I think I may have started with four or five and my confidence that I can actually do this decreases with each rejection slip. The second attempt now needs final adjustments and a third attempt is in the pipeline. It is quite possible it will all be a complete waste of time. Why then am I driven to write? What do you mean you can’t answer that?! Purrowling off to – well, write.

  6. E.J. Runyon 5 years ago

    1. For your first book, have no idea whatsoever until the very last minute, then sit down and write it effortlessly in three months (before, during and after work, and after your small child has gone to bed). Do very few revisions. This book will be a bestseller.

    Oh My! you’ve been following my first book effort! *fingers crossed*

    Sigh. Too bad, #’s 2 through 7 are yet to come….

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  10. Coco 5 years ago

    This has really helped me, how many books have you written so far?

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