How to write a book: Part one

People are forever tugging on my drinking arm at receptions and saying:? “I’ve always wanted to write a book. How do I go about it?” I used to have a long and complicated response but I could see their eyes glazing over at the two-minute mark.

So I devised a two-sentence answer. Here it is: “Write 500 words a day. At the end of a year you’ll have more than enough for a book.”

People look at me in disbelief, but it’s true. Writing a book is all about discipline. Those who say they plan to start when they go on holiday or reach retirement will never get launched. The only way to write a book is to get under way and keep at it until you’re finished.

For most of the dozen books I’ve written – whether it was The Eatons or Who Killed Confederation Life? – I’ve done a combination of research and interviews. Research can consist of secondary material (newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, blogs) or primary material (archives, letters, authorized histories).

With interviews, my first step is to sit down and make a list of everyone I know who might be able to tell me something about the topic. Then I start phoning and arranging interviews. At the end of every interview, I always ask: “Who else should I talk to?” People usually are helpful, if only to get me off the line so they can get on with their lives.

If my subject is an individual, I hope that by the time I’ve done thirty interviews, he or she has heard about my project. By the time I’ve done sixty interviews, I hope they’re itching to talk to me when I call.

As soon as research and interviewing begins, so does the writing, if only to lay down the spine of the story. Such daily activity not only gets you in the habit but also shows you the holes that you need to fill.

Fantasy in Florence was a very different project than any I’d tackled before. Set up as a diary, I counted on events to present themselves, but I also created opportunities. In the days ahead, I will blog about the process of writing Fantasy in Florence in ways that I hope will illuminate interested writers and intrigue potential readers to buy the book.

If you do buy it and don’t like it, I hereby undertake to refund your money. Just send an email to me at and I’ll put a cheque in the mail. What could be better than a money-back guarantee?

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