Space to Dream: Planning a Book over the New Year Lull – Mandy Gibbins-Klein | Guest Post

The end of the year gives us something which often feels in short supply these days: time. This period of relative stillness between last year and next year is the perfect time to plan ahead. Having time also gives you space. Away from the typical demands of the year, we get a chance to establish an environment where we can hear ourselves think a lot more clearly than at other times.

Joyce Carol Oates argued against the idea that success in writing comes down to an author’s process by stating that “Writing is a consequence of thinking, planning, dreaming… this is the process that results in ‘writing’.” The short period of quiet between Christmas and New Year, when we have the time to think and dream, might be the best time of year to start planning a book.

Ask yourself: do you already have a book, waiting to be written? Kicking off by outlining the way in which you might get from start to finish is a great way to get an overview of the project you’re beginning, but you can’t start a book with a plan, putting the structure in place and then as it were simply filling in the boxes. You need to start with an idea you’re passionate about, with enough well-understood content to develop that idea and effectively communicate it to an audience.

Don’t write something to please publishing agents; your options for publishing are more varied than ever, and self and co-operative publishing can allow you to sidestep traditional publishing’s preoccupation with commercially safe material. Whether you’re writing a novel or a work of non-fiction, there are elements of approach every writer should consider.

What are you trying to produce? If you’re mainly interested in creating something fresh and original for its own sake, it’s particularly important to focus on content before style, form or tone. As so many writers advise: “just start writing”, getting your ideas on paper and progressively exposing your idea to yourself. If you’re trying to achieve a purpose beyond aesthetic or narrative value (e.g. marketing a business) then you might benefit a lot from a considerable amount of research-based planning.  Either way, you need substantial, considered ideas before you can start to put any sort of plan together.

Don’t be too judgmental of yourself at this early stage; if you feel like something has to be good just to be included in a draft, you’re likely to deprive yourself of the opportunity to develop interesting ideas, as well as increasing the chance that you’ll be intimidated by blank pages. Rough drafts of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone feature a list of suggestions headed by “he-who-must-not-be-named” (which is crossed out with the note ‘too wordy!’) and includes the suggestions “he-who-killed-people” and “he-who-we-call-Tod.” Drafting can be an arduous task, and it’s something you’ll have to do with yourself, so don’t be difficult to work with. Being accepting of your own ideas, genuinely exploring them rather than trying to forge a straight-line path to well-ordered, refined concepts, above all having fun with what you’re writing can make the process an awful lot easier.

If you’re struggling to bring the content of your potential book out of your head and into the world in the first place, you may need help to get truly alone with that blank page – whether it’s made from dead trees or pixels – and simply write what comes to mind. Freedom, Cold Turkey, Writer’s Block and a number of other apps allow you to block out certain webpages, other apps or just the entire internet. These can reduce distraction and temptation, keeping you focused on your work at that critical time when ideas alone rule the process.

Once you have the building blocks of your book – now no longer a premise without substance, but a wealth of genuine, considered content to draw from – the need for refining and shaping both the basic ideas and the overarching structure of the book take centre stage. It’s at this point where you might need to expand your resource pool a little by introducing someone else to the process. Just getting the secondary ideas, different perspective and emotional support available by introducing a friend to the premise and structure of a book can really help you to think about where you’re going with it, and how to get there.

If you’ve got to that point where you can see that you’d benefit from the input of someone with experience in writing and editing – even (and in fact especially) if you’re not yet stuck in the process – you could look for the right book coach to help bring your vision to life. It can be difficult to find the right guidance; friends are often encouraging, but lack the impartiality that can really help to refine an idea. Too often, seeking feedback from people with whom you have close attachments either serves only to reinforce your own opinion of the work, or identifies problems and room for improvement, but without any input on the form that improvement might take.

A book coach brings a number of things to the party, and the first thing they’ll do is get you to define what sort of help you need from them. Just sitting down and having a proper think about where you need assistance can give you a better understanding not only of the book, but of your own approach to writing it. A book coach will have professional experience in editing, and the benefits of this are far greater than simply saving you some time: editing your own work is notoriously far more difficult than editing someone else’s. Something which might not have occurred to you might jump out at someone else.

The power of second opinion can’t be overstated. One of the publishers to whom J. D. Salinger submitted his magnum opus returned it with a rejection note which read, “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” Taking this piece of advice on board turned Holden Caulfield into one of the most powerful and engaging characters in literary history, making The Catcher in The Rye into one of the most iconic books of all time.

The power of a book relies on a whole bunch of things, but one of the most important factors is the author’s ability to communicate ideas to the reader in a way which pulls that reader in, draws them along and invites a meaningful response. It stands to reason that the more you communicate your ideas during the process of writing – both to whatever support groups and individuals are along for the journey, and to yourself – the better the book you’ll produce. It’s impossible to define what a good book is, but we know one when we see one: a truly good book can make us feel as strongly as a life event, can introduce us to pressing concerns and consuming passions. At a time of the year so strongly focused on change, it’s worth remembering that while a great book can change minds, lives and even the world, all books change their author.


Mindy Gibbins-Klein.jpg p.22About the author

Mindy Gibbins-Klein MBA FPSA FRSA is a multi-award-winning international speaker, author and thought leadership strategist. Her flagship book 24 Carat BOLD outlines the four attributes found in true thought leaders.  Her latest book The Thoughtful Leader takes thought leadership to a new level. 

Founder and CEO of REAL Thought Leaders, The Book Midwife® and Panoma Press, Mindy has authored and co-authored eight books. She is also a regular contributor to the business press on thought leadership and raising your profile.

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