Maybe it was 9/11, I don’t know. But in the fall of 2001 I started getting restless to work on another book. After all, it had been a couple years since my last resounding thud–I had almost completely forgotten how useless and unfulfilling creating for its own sake could be.
But now, I’m kidding. Actually, after a dozen or more years of writing occasionally-inspired-but-mostly-insipid radio and TV spots, print ads and direct mail, I felt the urge to create something more “important.” I had kids now, and if they were going through the box of my life in the attic decades in the future, I didn’t want them to find nothing but literally unplayable audiocassettes and VHS tapes of McDonald’s commercials.
And I finally had an idea that seemed like it could sustain itself for more than 30 seconds. Ironically, or maybe not, it involved advertising. In that sense, I was going to “write what I knew.” But everything else would be made up.
I couldn’t wait to start procrastinating, so the first thing I did was read a bunch of books about how to write a book. I found Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Anne LaMott’s “Bird by Bird” to be the most down-to-earth and practical ones out there at the time. Since then, I’ve also read Larry Beinhart’s “How to Write a Mystery” and Carolyn Wheat’s “How to Write Killer Fiction,” both good as well. John Gardner’s books are incredibly dense and valuable, I’m sure, but he made me feel like I lacked the requisite elbow patches that would make me worthy of being a bonafide “author.” Let’s face it, my ambitions weren’t all that high–I just hoped to finish it eventually.
The last fiction I had written (aside from advertising–zing!) was in college, and those were only short stories and first written in longhand. How could I possibly sit down at a computer and crank out tens of thousands of words?
One word came to mind: outline.