so you want to write a book…

Richard ArthurWriting

This is the latest article from Neil on writing. If you want to create compelling, unputdownable writing. And feel fulfilled by the process, read on below:

There’s one question I get asked more than anything else.

Especially lately. Perhaps while we were spending more time at home, some goals on the back burner began getting moved forward.

And that question is: I want to write a book/screenplay/article, can you help me

Most want help writing, especially finding where and how to begin.

Or they need accountability to finish the project they started.

Others want help making what they’ve written better, with the potential to reach a mass audience.

And some want help finding an agent, publisher, buyer, or just understanding the business.

So after receiving what must have been the ten thousandth request, I thought I’d make a change from our usual discussions on deep inner growth, success, and self-improvement here.

And discuss writing, whether that’s a book, an article, a blog, or a social media post.

Beginning this week, I’ll be kicking off a series that breaks down my 12 best pieces of writing advice.

However big or small the project, these are my secrets anyone can use to create compelling, unputdownable writing. And feel fulfilled by the process.

I’m excited to share my passion, the work I need to do every day to feel fulfilled.

The journey has led me to…

  • 10 New York Times bestselling books, published in over 40 countries

  • Dozens of Rolling Stone cover stories with major celebrities

  • Thousands of articles for The New York Times

  • 1 #1 Audible-only audiobook

  • 1 #1 podcast on iTunes, with over 60 million downloads

  • Deals with HBO, CBS, Sony Pictures, MGM, FX, Warner Bros., and a few that I’m not allowed to share (just yet…)

In these upcoming blog posts, you’ll learn the most useful lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

A few were uttered to me across the desks of the best in the business.

But most of them were earned and learned the hard way.

Through sleepless nights and caffeine-fueled marches against deadlines. Panicked phone calls from celebrities. Long sessions with brutal editors. Feedback sessions with other bestselling authors whose names you all know.

And internalizing every lesson along the way.

For those who are currently writing their own project, or aspire to one day, I know you’ll find some invaluable advice to help your process.

And these days, we are all writers, whether it’s a text message or a Medium article, a Tweet or a journal entry, a screenplay or a school report.

Or that book you’ve always wanted to write about your life so you can share the lessons you learned along the way.

For those who are simply avid readers, I think you’ll enjoy getting a glimpse behind the curtain to see how things come together.

It begins today.

Welcome to the first of several blog posts in answer to your requests for writing advice.

Note: Some of these will be worded more for those looking to write books, because that’s what so many of you were curious about. But know that each point universally applies to any length and formats of writing. And all forms of storytelling and creativity.

Before we begin, let’s discuss motivations: It is best if your aim is not profit, acceptance, or success.

One of the best motivations is: I must do this. For me.

Writing is self-expression. So it all begins with the self.

If you really want your writing to be great, then our first guideline has to be…

#1. Write about something you deeply care about.

If you’re not truly interested in what you’re sharing, then no one else will be.

When you choose to write something based purely on passion, you stand a much better chance of adhering to the cardinal rule of writing: Be interesting.

(The cardinal sin is to be boring.)

Perhaps more importantly, you’re setting yourself up for true success.

Because your audience is not an imaginary adoring public. It’s you.

Imagine that you write about something you don’t care about because you think it will be popular, or you change parts to please people or avoid criticism: If it doesn’t do well, you have nothing you’re proud of to show for yourself.

If you write the book that’s in your heart, and you like what you write, whether or not it does well, you will always be excited to share it with others. And you will always be proud of what you accomplished.

Popularity or lack thereof can never take that from you.

Sometimes the best writing gets no recognition in its time or gets censored. This is the price of art.

When I wrote The Game, I thought no one would ever read it. But it was an experience that changed my life, and the story was so intense, so new, and so bizarre, that I had to do it. When it was released, Hurricane Katrina hit and almost all the press was pre-empted. Yet, despite all this, it went on to sell millions of copies.

At the time, I had to do it because it checked my three criteria for picking book projects:

  • It has to be the book I want to read, or the one that I need

  • It must explore something I deeply care about at the present moment in my life

And, most importantly…

  • Even if there was zero financial reward—ever—I’d still write this book, because it feels like I need to write it.

And there’s a secret fourth rule for me: It has to be so honest and vulnerable that I’m afraid to release it.

It just so happens that all of the best books I’ve done, which were both popular successes and personally transformative, followed these criteria. Which, to me, is proof of something Joseph Campbell once said,

“If you follow your bliss, you will have your bliss, whether you have money or not. If you follow money, you may lose the money and then you don’t even have that. The secure way is really the insecure way”

In that spirit, the project with no risk may be the riskiest one, because it won’t stand out. So take that leap of faith in yourself!

I hope this post helps some of you stop thinking about that dream project and begin bringing it to life.

From this solid platform and starting point, we will move on to rules #2 and #3 in the next blog post.