The First Step in Writing Your First Book
Salty Snippet, July 16, 2021
What a plush job! All I had to do was think of subjects to talk about so he could practice his American pronunciation. His last name was Gustafsson, his sister’s last name was Gustafsdotter, which caused problems when they arrived at immigration to visit here together. But I cannot remember his first name. His grammar was perfect, and I learned many amazing facts about Iceland.
For example, I was intrigued to learn that the actual religion of Iceland, underneath the façade of being Lutheran, was “The Dead” – they believe in the dead, and one in three Icelanders will go to a séance sometime in their life. He had many intriguing stories on this…
But he really caught my attention when he said that one in four Icelanders will write a book sometime in their life. As a would-be writer myself, all kinds of questions jumped forward in my mind.
“Well. Who reads all these books?” I began.
“Oh, de valls of our houses are lined vid books,” he said. “De vinters are long; ve read a lot.” (Many years later, in a trip to Iceland, I saw this was true!)
“Well, what kinds of books do people write?” I continued, questions stumbling over one another.
“Vell, whoops, WELL,” he said carefully, “Some people write ‘bout science or nature. Or history. Or love stories or novels. Lots of people write der own life stories…”
Hmm! Surprising to me. How many life stories would publishers publish? I asked him about this – “How do they all get their life stories published, and who wants to read endless life stories?”
“Oh, if someone cannot find a publisher, dey print it demselves in der basement,” he described. “And everbody who lives in der valley vill buy it ‘cuz dey vant to know de gossip in it!”
Now I was really stopped. Here in the U.S. of A., I had the impression that if you don’t know that your book will be a best seller, attract a big New York publisher, there’s no point in writing it at all. You must somehow be sure that you’re going to be a success; then you write the book! It is a bit of a conundrum for a beginner.
Young Mr. Gustafsson had given me a new platform to stand on: Just write whatever interests me, or whatever I’ve learned in my life and want to share. It doesn’t have to rock the world. But if I’ve found it interesting there may be others who will, too.
I have learned that there is a craft to telling a story in a more (or less) effective way. As with all crafts, one learns it by doing it, accepting feedback, and noticing how others do the craft. But the first step is to not worry about final “success.” Writing is, above all, a learning for the writer. What has interested me most in my life and experience? If something grabbed me, all I have to do is write it much the way I experienced it, honestly, humbly, completely and sensually, and then others may find it as interesting as I did.
Just go for it, make a stab. We can try to share what we have to share; then let that sharing have its own life to find others who may also be enlivened by it.