I saw a Buzzfeed article in my Facebook timeline this morning. Titled '18 Things All Writers Wish They Could Say' I clicked to have a look and found a long list of clichés about writers. Almost every one of the aphorisms on the list suggested that the greatest wish of a writer is that they might one day be able to write.
Now this is all very funny, but sometimes writers do actually write. I got a knock on the door from FedEx this afternoon and inside the parcel they delivered was the very first printed copy of my latest book.
It's an exciting moment to see your own book up close in paperback. It had already been published for the Kindle, but there is still something exciting about a physical book that I can sign and hand out at a business conference.
I have written quite a few books now. Some were for traditional publishers, some were direct to Kindle e-books, and some were published using Lulu. But regardless of how they were published - and ended up being transformed from and idea to an object I can hold - they were all exciting. They all give me an opportunity to be heard by an audience across the world.
But as the jokes in Buzzfeed allude to, there are a lot of people out there who say they are writing and yet produce nothing. We are surrounded by more distractions than ever today. Social networks offer endless opportunities to publish short thoughts without the effort involved in crafting the 200-pages of content you might need for a book.
So with this in mind, here are five lessons that I have learned over the years on how to write and actually complete what you set out to do - publish a book:
1. Distractions don't matter. 16 years ago the horror writer Stephen King was laid up in hospital recovering from a road traffic accident - an out of control driver hit King while he was out walking and left him for dead. King was bored. He started writing some ideas about why he writes, how he writes, and it became his memoir 'On Writing.' One of the most important lessons King offers in his book is that if you have a great idea then you can write it down even if you are living in a trailer park with six kids screaming all night. Your writing does not get better because you are enjoying a writer's workshop by a paradise in the sun. Just write.
2. You need to read. Another important lesson from King's memoir, although something that almost every writer will echo, is that if you want to write then you need to read. Don't sit around reading self-help books on how to get published, just read as many books as you can. Those writers got their books published, now do something just as good as that yourself.
3. Facebook isn't writing. I was watching the English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg on stage once and between songs he talked about activism and politics. Over the years Bragg's songs have often touched on social issues and the politics of the time and those words live on. Bragg argued that books and songs and poems all live on, yet has anyone ever claimed that a fantastic Facebook status update made all the difference in the last election? Social networks are great for communication, but the message is ephemeral.
4. Stop planning, just start writing. I wasn't a professional writer earlier in my career - I worked in technology for a bank. When I was first trying to get published in the 1990s I wrote a letter to the poet laureate Ted Hughes. He responded with a charming personal letter that said you need luck to be published, but you also have to write, rather than say you are going to write - "the stuff has just to be written" were his final words to me.
5. Ignore the detractors. Sometimes a negative review may contain advice that will improve your work in future, but most of the time negative comments are not driven by a desire to help you improve. Remember this, because otherwise you will never want to create anything that is published and available for the public to comment on. My first book was about doing business with India and at the launch party in London a prominent Indian businessman came up to me offer congratulations, then he said "of course, being Indian myself, and with my business experience, I'm sure that I could have written a better book." I just responded by reminding him that I have actually written and published the book that was the reason for the party he was attending - he can invite me to his party when he writes his own book. He never did.
Great writing is an art. I make no claim to be able to craft fiction that would rival Kazuo Ishiguro, but when I think of a subject I want to write about I do more than just talk about it. I plan the book, write it, and get it published.
You can also do it. Stephen King really did write his first few novels dirt-poor in a trailer park surrounded by noise. In the words Ted Hughes wrote to me: "...if you haven't written the work, of course it will never happen."