How I wrote over 30 books (and how you can use the same methods to get your writing done) – Bill O’Hanlon

I’m honored to introduce a guest blogger today, Bill O’Hanlon 

He has been published by such mainstream publishers as HarperCollins, Penguin, John Wiley and Sons, Pearson, Rodale, W.W. Norton and others. He was featured on Oprah with his book Do One Thing Different. He now coaches and teaches people how to write their books in record time and get them published despite the odds. 

 I met Bill last year at a writer’s convention. He was absolutely fascinating in person and I wanted to know more. I signed up for his mailing list, which consistently delivers inspiring and useful information, on topics related to writing and otherwise. Click here to become a part of his mailing list or here to receive his free report on how to focus your book and find the right title, something we could all benefit from.

 Bill has published an insane amount of books and is truly an insider when it comes to writing and publishing. Thank you so much, Bill, for agreeing to share your knowledge with us today.

 And now, Bill!


How I wrote over 30 books (and how you can use the same methods to get your writing done)

 I have just written my 36th book, to be published next year by W.W. Norton. When people find out I have written and published so many books, they are amazed and ask me how I have been so prolific.

 I didn’t start out with ambitions to be a writer. I have met many authors and would-be authors who knew from an early age that they wanted to write, but not me. I did like reading, but never imagined I would write a book someday.

 I started writing for one simple reason: I was profoundly and deeply pissed off!

 I was trained as a psychotherapist and even before I became officially licensed and finished my graduate degree, I met and studied with an eccentric psychiatrist in the Phoenix area named Milton Erickson. (I was actually Dr. Erickson’s part-time gardener while in graduate school, since I had no money to pay him for his teaching and mentoring, and we agreed we would barter.)

Dr. Erickson was almost psychotically optimistic in his belief that anyone could change. He developed weird and creative ways to help his most challenging patients to overcome their serious emotional, psychological, behavioral and relationship problems. (You can read about his inspiring work in the books An Uncommon Therapist by Jay Haley and My Voice Will Go With You by Sidney Rosen.)

 At the same I was studying with Dr. Erickson, I was finishing my graduate studies and hearing some of my professors express a more pessimistic view of the change process.

“Nobody wants to change but a wet baby,” intoned one of them.

 I dismissed these discouraging views since most of my professors were academics who weren’t doing any actually psychotherapy with people – they only knew the theories.

But I became more disturbed when I got my first job in a community mental health center. We would have weekly clinical staff meetings in which we would talk about and get help with our psychotherapy cases.

In those meetings, I began to hear some of my more burned out or seasoned colleagues say things like: “People love to be miserable. They don’t want to get better, because then they would have nothing to complain about.” Or “People are getting secondary gains from being sick. They won’t give up their problems because they get some goodies from them. Or, even worse in my book, “This person is too damaged to change.”

I was, at the time, a peaceful long-haired post-hippie type, but hearing these comments, it was all I could do to restrain myself from standing up, running across the room and throttling these colleagues when they said this stuff.

I wisely decided that doing so would only land me in jail and wouldn’t fundamentally change their views, but I found I couldn’t sit still another minute while these kind of discouraging  views were so common in my field.

“Who do they listen to?” I thought. Experts. Of course, they listen to the people who teach seminars, give lectures and write books.

And right there, I knew I had to write a book.

No matter that I didn’t have a clue how to write or publish a book. Or that I wasn’t a very good writer.

What pulled me through the early years of my writing and publishing career was that I had an abiding passion and energy for getting my book out into the world to change the views of my negative thinking colleagues – to show them a different way.

Lee Boudreaux, former Senior Editor, at Random House said: “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.” [quoted in The Making of a Bestseller, Brian Hill and Dee Power, Dearborn Trade Publishing, Chicago, IL, 2005]

I now coach people to write and publish and I start with the energy, the passion, that they have for their topic or their book.

It’s damn hard to sustain one’s energy through the writing, the pitching, the many edits your book will go through, and then, when it is published, to do what needs to be done to get the word out about it to interested readers that if you don’t start with a great and abiding, almost unstoppable energy, you will likely stop somewhere along the line.

I just wouldn’t stop until I got my book written and published.

Okay, that explains one book, but 36?

 Well, that is a different story. I find that it is much easier to write a book now for several reasons.

1. I sell my books before I write them. I write nonfiction and one of the joys of nonfiction is that one doesn’t have to, really shouldn’t, write the whole book before a publisher buys it. All I have to do is to put together a proposal and some sample writing and I know whether my book idea is a go or not.

2. Because I sell my books before I write them, they also come with an advance. That is, the publisher pays me money and I promise to deliver a finished manuscript by a certain date.

I have found this is highly motivating. First, if I promised myself I would write a book, I might or might not keep my promise. I have made many promises to myself through the years, mostly having to do with being a better person, eating more healthily and exercising more regularly and vigorously, yet I notice I have broken many of those promises I made with such good intentions.

But I break fewer promises to others, especially those that have signed legal contract and an exchange of money attached to them.

3. Like anything, one gets better the more one does it. My first book took me three years and thirty-eight revisions.

My last book took one month to write and a few days to edit twice.

It’s nice to get paid to write and get better at writing.

So, what are the takeaways for you as a writer (or as an artist)?

·         Find that deep well of passion within you for your art. I think there are four strains of energy and passion: Blissed (what you love and what brings you alive), Blessed (what others recognize and encourage in you), Dissed (where you have been sensitized by being wounded, disrespected or hurt) and Pissed (my specialty – righteous indignation against injustice or wrongs turned into art – not AK47s at school or work).

·         Find a way to get paid for doing your art. It is no surprise that many novelists (Neil Gaiman; Carl Hiassen; Michael Connelly; to name a few) started as journalists.

·         Trap yourself into due dates and promises that mean something to deliver your book or your art. Author Seth Godin calls this “having a ship date,” from his experience in the software industry in which the techies would endlessly add features and tweaks to the product until the company finally announced a firm ship date on which the product would be released. Godin noticed the product always got done, miraculously, by that date.

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