Writing a book is a mammoth task. There are several components to the successful writer path:
- Managing to find the time and discipline to write amid a busy life and practice.
- Finding your writing style and voice.
- Finding the intersection for your expertise, your passion, and the needs of the marketplace
- Learning about and handling the business and marketing aspects of publishing in order to ensure that your book finds its intended readers.
Last week I came across an interesting concept from Bill O’Hanlon’s book, Becoming A Published Therapist. Bill O’ Hanlon is a psychotherapist who has written 30 books.
Being a psychologist, it was automatic that he would try to get to the bottom of why it is hard to write books and how to conquer that.
He concluded that it takes a particular kind of energy to get through the process of writing a book, getting it published, and then getting into the hands of the readers.
Passion for a book is like an electrical impulse traveling down a wire, and that electrical impulse has to be strong enough to affect a lot of people, from the writer to the agent to the editor. Then from the editor to the publicist who needs to get the book reviewed, the art director who is responsible for coming up with the right cover, the sales reps who sell the book to the store buyers. Then from the store’s main buyer to the individual booksellers and, eventually, to the customer. — Lee Boudreaux, Senior Editor, Random House
O’Hanlon reckons ideas aren’t enough. The book must have some driving force that turns it from an idea into action. The essayist Annie Dillard has the same view.
“Writing a book is like rearing children — willpower has very little to do with it. If you have a little baby crying in the middle of the night, and if you depend only on willpower to get you out of bed to feed the baby, that baby will starve. You do it out of love. Willpower is a weak idea; love is strong. You don’t have to scourge yourself with a cat-o’-nine-tails to go to the baby. That’s the same way you go to your desk. There’s nothing freakish about it. Caring passionately about something isn’t against nature, and it isn’t against human nature. It’s what we’re here to do” — Annie Dillard, “To Fashion a Text”
The Four Kinds of Energies
In O’Hanlon’s view, there are four main energies you can tap into when you write your book.
- Blissed Energy
- Blessed Energy
- Pissed Energy
- Dissed Energy
Your primary writing energy maybe just one of the above or a combination of more than one.
These energies are split between “what you love and what upsets you.”
The first two represent the “positive energies”, and they arise from what you love; the last two, are the “negative energies,” and they come from what upsets you.
Let’s have a look at what they are.
Blissed is the excited, deeply joyful energy that some people get when they think of or pursue specific endeavors in life.
If you love music and it brings you joy to the point of taking you to the state of ecstasy, music may be your bliss. Or it might be sports that do it for you.
Anything that you find profoundly soul-satisfying or fulfilling gives you blissed energy. You can tell what blisses you out by what kinds of things you can’t keep yourself from doing, thinking about, or sharing with others.
I get into a state of trance when I sketching. For George Lucas, it is movies.
“You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, jump over the hurdles, and breakthrough the brick walls that are always going to be placed in front of you. If you don’t have that kind of feeling for what it is you’re doing, you’ll stop at the first giant hurdle.” — George Lucas
There is a Hasidic saying that, everyone should carefully observe which way his heart draws him and then choose that way with all his strength.
The way of following your bliss into writing is to observe what you are drawn to and then follow that passion.
Bill O’Handon was drawn to Solution-Oriented Therapy, a form of Solution-focused brief therapy, and has written over 30 books on the subject.
I wrote my first books because I had to. Something inside me insisted, and while I could have resisted the call, I knew that I would be letting myself down as well as shirking an important contribution I could be making. So, I guess that is the first reason to write: because you feel you have to write. — Bill O’Hanlon.
Blessed energy involves people or situations that have bestowed grace or encouragement on you in life.
Perhaps you had a friend who believed in or encouraged you. Or a parent or grandparent told you that you could do anything that you set your mind to or that you were smart or talented. Or a colleague has always encouraged you to follow your dreams.
The paranormal mystery writer Charlaine Harris has a husband who believed in her even more than she believed in herself. He gave her an electric typewriter on their wedding day and suggested that she quit her job and start. She still couldn’t bring herself to do so. But her husband’s continued to nudge her. Today she is a writer of many successful novels. One of her series, The Southern Vampire Mysteries, has been made into a popular television show, True Blood.
Pissed (meaning “pissed off” in this context) refers to the stuff in life that upsets you, gets you angry, or makes you righteously indignant.
The best-selling business author Tom Peters was asked whether his book, In Search of Excellence, which caused a shift in business practices worldwide, was written for that purpose. His response was:
“When I wrote [it] . . . I wasn’t trying to fire a shot to signal a revolution. But I did have an agenda. My agenda was this: I was genuinely, deeply, sincerely, and passionately pissed off!
Another writer who used angry energy to write was the author J. A. Jance. When she tried to enter a creative writing class in the 1960s, the professor told her that “girls don’t become writers” and that she should become a teacher or nurse instead. Jance’s then-husband was also an aspiring writer and he declared, “There will only be one writer in this family, and it’s me.”
Some years later, after divorcing and becoming a single parent, Jance got up at 4:30 a.m. daily to write for several hours before her kids awakened, and she had to get them to school before going to her job.
What gave her the energy to get up so early and persist in her writing until she got published?
She was pissed.
She got her revenge in print. She made one character in the book a husband who drank too much and declared himself the only writer in the family and never published anything, and she made the crazed killer a creative writing teacher.
The best-selling mystery writer Sue Grafton did something similar after she went through a terrible divorce in which she got legally trounced in a very unfair way. After spending time fantasizing about the perfect undetectable way of killing her ex, she decided to do it in print, leading to her first best-seller, A Is for Alibi.
Dissed means two things: dissatisfied or disrespected. Dissed refers to the areas of life you were, or someone you care about was disrespected or mistreated. It also refers to those areas in which you are dissatisfied with the status quo, including when you were wounded, hurt, or traumatized.
Being wounded in a certain area can help you be more sensitive to others who have suffered similar hurts. Martin Luther King was moved to social action by being disrespected and by seeing people he cared about disrespected too.
Billy Connolly’s grew up in Scotland and was a very poor student, in part due to some unrecognized learning problems. His teachers beat him and generally humiliated him in front of the other students. When he became a successful film star and internationally renowned comedian, he used to drive by those former teachers’ houses and feel a smug satisfaction that he had proven them wrong in their prediction that he would grow up to be a failure and worthless. Disrespect and humiliation made Billy Connolly the person he is today.
A variation on this dissed energy is being wounded. The novelist Anne Rice’s 5-year-old daughter died of leukemia. She grieved mightily, of course, but when the time came to go back to her work as a legal assistant, she found she just couldn’t do it, even though her family needed the income.
Her husband suggested that delay going back to the office and work on that novel she had always wanted to write. The novel that emerged from that period was a compelling dark novel about vampires called Interview With the Vampire. It featured a 5-year-old character who became a vampire (and therefore could never die). Rice imbued this character with all the qualities and features of her dead daughter, in the hopes of never forgetting those aspects of her as time marched on.
O’Hanlon suggests not starting on your writing project unless you have enough energy to pull you through the rough bits, the dips, the discouraging moments, and just the sheer amount of time it takes to see your book through to publication and get it successfully out into the world.
My first book was written from a combination of “Pissed” and “Blissed” energy. I was “pissed” at my inner critic for constantly telling me that my work was not good enough. But I was equally driven by my passion for writing.
But my future work will come from “Dissed” and “Pissed” energies. Dissatisfaction in me leads to curiosity to find out if there is a solution and a kind of stubbornness to get it done against all odds.
I have several books in the draft mode. I would start a book as soon as I get the idea. I get energized about a topic or a story. Every idea has an energy associated with it. If you don’t tap into it, the energy subsides and the idea disappears. I work on the book and take it as far as I could with that energy.
But as Bill O’Hanlon discovered ideas aren’t enough. The book must have some driving force, some special kind of energy to take it from idea into action.
What energy you can tap into to write your book?
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Credit: Credit to concept of four types of energies goes to Bill O’Hanlon and many examples came from his book Becoming a Published Therapist.