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Caleb James Tells You How to Write a Book in Thirty Days

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Among the many things I do, I give a lot of workshops, including ones on writing. I often do these with a good friend and fabulous editor, Elizabeth Fitzgerald. Truth is, many people want to write a book. But stuff gets in the way.

“I don’t have the time.”

“I’ve got this wonderful story that everyone says would make a great book. I just don’t know how to do it.”

“I get started, and it’s crap. So I throw it out.”

“I need to be inspired.”

I’ve heard the excuses. And while there aren’t a lot of absolute truths about writing and creative process, here’s one you can take to the bank—writer’s write. It’s that simple and that hard. As I watch my fifteenth, possibly sixteenth or seventeenth book—Dark Blood—head to market with DSP Publications I know what it takes to get the job done. You sit down every day, preferably at the same time, and you write. Its’s what published authors do. Sure, you might take off a day here or there, but that’s the exception.

Next up, rough drafts are total crap. What matters is getting the words out and shutting up that negative part of the brain that needles with, “That’s no good,” “Oh, my God. Could I use any more gerunds?” or “Stephen King says I’m not supposed to use adverbs,” and all the other twaddle that shuts down creative process.

“What?” you might ask. “How does my internal English teacher stifle my creativity?” It goes like this, and trust me, I’m a psychiatrist who’s spent a lot of time teasing apart what makes us tick. When I was a resident, I learned something important as I provided therapy to doctoral students at an ivy league university. They all had to write a thesis, and I quickly saw the difference between those who whizzed towards their two to three-hundred-page carefully footnoted finish line and those who were dead in the water.

The ones who were going to make it were filled with enthusiasm and confidence. The others would write a page or two, decide it was garbage, and rip it up. Those poor souls were filled with self-doubt. Some became quite depressed as their doctoral dreams got pushed further and further away. In some instances there was an outside influence, typically a renowned supervisor with lots of letters after his/her name, who made things better or worse. Working with these articulate young men and women, I learned about creativity, what makes it flow and what makes it back up like an opiate addict’s bowels.

So, to write a book, you sit your butt in a chair every day at the same time and you write. If you find negative thoughts slowing you down, or you feel some need to make it perfect the first time out of the gate, gently remind yourself that you can always come back later and edit. Now is the time to get that icky sticky chewy gooey rough draft onto the page.

Next, set yourself a quota. How many words or pages will you do a day? I split my time between being a medical director of a multisite mental health agency, giving workshops, and writing—not necessarily in that order—so I do a few pages before I go to the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. On the other days, I do either a chapter or ten pages. And, when I take long vacations, which usually involve some kind of conference where I’m presenting or attending, I stick to the ten-page thing. So… in two weeks, that’s one-hundred and forty pages.  My typical rough draft, about three-hundred pages, is done in between one to two months. This is not rocket science.

I write when I’m motivated and when I’m not. It’s just like exercise. You have to do it whether you feel like it or not. Chances are good that when you’re done, you’ll feel better than when you started.

So what about outlines, voice, beautiful prose, plot and…? Yes, yes, yes. All of that is crucial, and none of that matters if you’ve got nothing on the page. I’ve written books with dense outlines—my current process. And I’ve written ones with just an idea and let the manuscript meander where it will. Voice, a compelling story, and musical prose are necessary and will come as you rewrite and rewrite and rewrite some more. I have no clue how many drafts there were of Dark Blood. And this is before three DSP editors and two proofreaders got their hands on it.

So for today’s tutorial on unclogging your creative colon, let me summarize. Butt in chair at the same time every day. Put a ball-gag on your internal editor and write. Set a quota, meet it, get out of chair, and have a cookie. Wash, rinse, and repeat, and in no time at all, you’ll have your very own rough draft. Sure, it’s going to be crap, and that’s wonderful. I’ll discuss how you too can spin turds into gold in a subsequent post.


Blurb: Dark Blood by Caleb James

Handsome, brilliant, and surrounded by good friends, twenty-three-year-old medical student Miles Fox has a secret. It’s not that he’s gay, though he harbors a crush on his straight best friend, Luke. Miles, like his grandmother Anna, possesses the healing gift, an ability she’s made him swear never to use or divulge, lest horrible things befall those he loves. It happened to her when her family was butchered by Nazis.

It all goes to hell when Miles heals a terminally ill father on a New Orleans cancer ward and wakes to find himself on a locked psych unit. Worse, news of the healing miracle has spread. For millennia, its carriers have been hunted by those who would steal it. Dr. Gerald Stangl and his teenage son, Calvin, know what Miles possesses. They, like their predecessors, will stop at nothing to take it, including kidnap, torture, and murder. As the Stangl’s noose tightens, Miles and Luke are trapped in a death match, with stakes higher than they could ever imagine.


DSP Publication :


Review by Debbie Attenborough

Miles has a gift, a gift of the ability to heal. But after his childhood dog was injured, and Miles healed him, Miles’ grandmother made sure Miles not to use that gift ever again. He hadn’t meant to, really he hadn’t. Seeing the dying man’s little boy beg Miles to save his father’s life just broke his heart. Miles then finds himself in the fight his grandmother warned him about, one that might well kill him, and his best friend Luke.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this book, and I really don’t know why.

Its dark, it has some gruesome places, some somewhat twisted minds, some paranormal elements. All things that usually work for me. It’s told from all the main players points of view, in the third person. Event the previous mentioned twisted minds get a say. Again, all things that usually work for me.

I just…struggled…in places.

I liked the idea of the story. I liked its delivery. I liked that this is part one, and there are more to come. I just can’t figure out what did not work, and you know how much that stresses me.

So, for the things I did like, and that I did indeed finish it

3 stars.

Caleb James is an author, member of the Yale volunteer faculty, practicing psychiatrist, and clinical trainer. He writes both fiction and nonfiction and has published books in multiple genres and under different names. Writing as Charles Atkins, he has been a Lambda Literary finalist. He lives in Connecticut with his partner and four cats.

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