The title has a dual meaning: how I earn my living and the lessons I have learned along the way about life. This is a memoir of my surprising career that began with little more than a vague dream—to write—and proved that with a little talent and a lot of determination one can achieve any goal, no matter how improbable.
Tell us something about yourself.
I am originally from New York, grew up in Chicago, and have lived in St. Louis for the past 47 years. I have been writing and freelancing for more than forty years with the last twenty-one as an independently employed writer and consultant. I finally decided to tell the story, which surprised me as much as anyone.
What inspired you to write this book?
I teach and coach aspiring authors about how to write, publish, and promote a nonfiction book. I decided to test the process by writing a book in a very public way—on my blog. I did all planning and the first draft on “The Writing Life” before I turned it over to my editor. It was a great experience but far more difficult than I would have predicted. I wanted to be able to say to my students and clients, “OK, I know this is tough. I just went through the whole process. If I could do it, you can do it!”
How did you choose the title?
I’m not usually very good at titles, but this one just popped into my mind and refused to dislodge. At first, I only intended to convey the way I earn my living; it was one of my editors who asked, “But where are the ‘words to live by’?” When I went back and rethought the chapters, I discovered the hidden meanings in each one.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
I formed my own publishing company, so the biggest challenge was choosing the right printer. My biggest obstacle (if you can call it that) was marketing the book. I had two books published at the same time, and I confess I concentrated more on the other one, which was a “how to” book that was already selling.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I always compare my experience to Michael Corleone’s, when he was hit by a bolt of lightning” and fell in love. I didn’t do anything to prepare; I just knew. Once I decided to write, I never looked back. When I started, I didn’t know what to write about, how to begin, or where to send what I managed to write. “Write about what you know” was the conventional wisdom. My life at that time consisted of cleaning, grocery shopping, doing laundry, cooking dinner, and taking care of little kids. This was 1967. Everyone I knew was leading exactly the same life. It didn’t seem worth putting on paper. When in doubt, read a book. That’s what I did. I went to the library and armed myself with books on writing.
Do you have any writing rituals?
No, I really don’t, unless you count straightening up my whole condo (I work at home) before I walk into my office. Also, if I can write something frivolous and non-remunerative (a blog post, a bunch of e-mails, anything but income-producing), I will do that first.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book?
I learned several things: My process works, it takes a lot of effort, and there are no shortcuts. But the most important lesson was something I thought I knew: If you don’t promote your book, you won’t sell your book. Why this was news to me I don’t know.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
The writing, editing, design, and publishing processes all went well. In fact, from start to finish, those steps took only six weeks. The weak link in the chain was adequate marketing. If I had it to do all over again, I would reread my other book and take my own advice to heart.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Maybe because I teach and work exclusively in nonfiction, I read a lot of fiction, especially mysteries. I do like memoirs, books on writing, and any books that help me understand my clients’ subject matter. When I wrote business books, I read relevant books on business-related topics.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I am working on the seventh edition of How to Write a Nonfiction Book: From Concept to Completion in 6 Months. This is the textbook I use for my classes and with coaching clients. I am thinking about collecting my best blogs from “The Writing Life” and compiling them into a book.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
- Don’t make your first book your first experience with writing. That would be like going from grammar school to graduate school.
- Books are a labor of love. The first thing you must love is your subject. If you are casual about it, you won’t make it through the long haul.
- If you have never written a book, the process seems mysterious and maybe even impossible. It is neither. It’s logical and orderly.
Who is the perfect reader for your book? (Please do not say “everyone.” ;o) )
My ideal reader is anyone who works (or wants to work) with words in her life and career. (This was one thing I did right in my marketing plan: identify my book’s mission and ideal reader.)
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My main Website is http://www.writeanonfictionbook.com. It is loaded with information, articles, and blogs—all free.
The Words To Live By Website (which badly needs redesigning) is http://www.words-to-live-by.com.