How to NOT write a book in 30 days.

This column first appeared here in the Sunday Times on Sunday 23rd November, 2020.

How to NOT write a book in 30 days – By Paige Nick

There’s a lot of writing advice out there. I just rewrote that first line seven times based on two tips I came across earlier: ‘Keep your opening line short.’ And, ‘rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.’

I’m not sure if it’s because there’s so much writing advice out there, but there are writers everywhere. Tell anyone you’re an author and they’ll instantly tell you about the book they’re busy writing, have written or are absolutely, definitely going to write some time soonish.

Go on, try it. Right this second, your Uber driver is sitting on the first thirty-three pages of a legal thriller, your dentist is five per cent into a horror about a serial killer who does terrible things to his victim’s teeth. And you don’t know it yet, but someone in your family has a memoir in them, and I’m sorry to say, you don’t come off so well in it.

We’ve managed to collectively ignore the dire sales, low returns, excessive hard work, extreme unlikelihood of getting published, and other downsides of publishing, and kept the illusion alive that being an author is sexy and somehow cathartic and life-changing.

But what about those of us currently working really hard to NOT write a book? Where are all the tips, advice and step-by-step guides to help us excel at that?

When being interviewed, quoted, or Wikipedia-ed, we measure how many books an author has written. But what about how many books they haven’t written? I was up to seven books not written at last count, and those are just the false starts I remember. I must have drunk-false-started at least nine others.

And what about worstsellers? For every bestseller I’ve managed, I’ve racked up at least two of those. Where are the tips for writing those?

After writing a book a year for a decade, I’ve been working really hard at NOT writing one for the last two years. And through sheer dedication, focus and daily practice, I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. So, I thought I’d share some advice on how to NOT write that book in thirty days, or sixty days, or if you’re feeling ambitious, in the whole rest of your life.

Tip #1:

Be sure to tell as many people as possible that you’re writing a book. You could even put it on your email signature. That way, every conversation you have will include a query about how your book is coming along. Then you’ll have to fess up that you haven’t gotten to it the way you’d planned. There’s nothing like lack of progress to stymie a writer’s progress.

Tip #2:

Write two hundred and fifty words every day to put towards your word count.
Then the next day, before you pick up where you left off, do a quick read-through, decide it’s all terrible, and delete two hundred and forty-nine of them. Before you know it, you’ll have no words at all. Success!

Tip #3:

This one’s a no-brainer. Ensure you have no access to tea, coffee or snacks. It’s scientifically proven physically impossible to write a book without regular breaks for tea and anything shoved into your mouth while standing in front of the open fridge or at the kitchen counter.

Tip #4:

If you’re really serious about not writing that book you’ve been thinking about for years, just get up every day, get dressed in smart clothes, do your hair and put on make-up. Everyone knows that creativity only kicks in when you have unwashed hair, matted with peanut butter, and you’re in your seven-day-in tracksuit bottoms. Or at 1am when you have the biggest presentation of your career at eight the next morning.

Tip #5:

Spend lots of time on the internet. Mostly scrolling through social media, picking fights with trolls. Also try to follow as many successful and hard-working authors as possible, preferably ones who post often about their extreme writing achievements, and all the TV and movie deals they’re signing, books they’re writing and festivals they’re attending. That kind of not-writing-when-you-should-be guilt and bottomless jealousy will do wonders for your non-productivity.

Tip #6:

And whatever you do, if you’re absolutely sure you want to not write a book, don’t read any local fiction, don’t go to book launches, and don’t Google the submission guidelines for the publishing houses in your country. In fact, make sure you have no idea which local publishers exist, or what kind of thing they publish. 

Tip #7:

In addition to the glut of how-to books and courses out there, you can’t throw a pug without hitting a #WritingTip online: ‘Write drunk, edit sober.’ ‘Write every day.’ ‘Write what you know.’

How about we hand out some #NotWritingTips too, such as: ‘Write drunk, edit drunker’, ‘Write every fifth day or so’, or ‘Write what know absolutely nothing about’.

These are just a few nudges to get you not started. Hopefully they’ve inspired you to get going on not writing that book once and for all. I can’t wait to not read it.


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