Write is a Verb–An Interview with Author Bill O’Hanlon (Part 2)

In part one of my interview with the inspiring Bill O’Hanlon, he gave some steps for overcoming writing procrastination.

Since O’Hanlon is so successful as an author, I wanted him to give more of a background on himself and the strategies he uses to keep writing.

JB: So Bill, tell me a little bit about yourself–how did you get into writing?

BO: Two main things that got me writing. One is that I got pissed off about the way things were in my chosen profession (psychotherapy) and I wanted to tell people that there was a better way. That and, since I was already speaking about the same stuff I would later write about, people who heard me speak urged me to write.

I had no plans to write. Unlike some writers, I did not have childhood (or even adult) dreams of being a writer.

I was a poor writer. I generally had little patience and didn’t like to sit down. I was very active and writing didn’t appeal.

But getting to people with my ideas did. I realized at a certain point that I could reach people I had never met through my writing and that gave me a lot of motivation to push through my reluctance to write.

Once a woman wrote me and told me she had used one of my books (Do One Thing Different: Ten Simple Ways to Change Your Life) to get off pain pills she was addicted to. This, to me, was very moving.

A person I had never met had her life affected in a positive way by something I wrote. That made all the struggles and hours and frustrations associated with the writing I had done in my life all worthwhile.

I was trained as a psychotherapist and began writing in that narrow field (it was easier to break into writing in that small area than it is writing for the general public).

Some years later I got an agent and began writing for the general public. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the advances were better for “trade books.”

It took me the same amount of time to write those books as it did the ones I got paid ten times less. Those trade books also reached so many more people than did my professional books.

One of my books (the aformentioned Do One Thing Different: Ten Simple Ways to Change Your Life) was featured on Oprah and that helped sales (but didn’t make me rich or guarantee future book sales). Being on Oprah impressed my family, as well.

After writing 27 books in as many years, I finally wrote a book about how to get oneself to write, called Write Is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses (Writer’s Digest, 2007).

These days I teach and coach people to write and get their books published through my intensives and online courses at www.getyourbookwritten.com.

You can also learn more about the blah, blah, blah details about me and my other work at www.billohanlon.com (I’ve been in the pubic eye as a speaker and writer for so many years that I find my own life a bit boring; I’m much more interested in others).

Lately I have become fascinated with the web, as a vehicle for inexpensive marketing and as a source of passive income, My goal is to create a work life that doesn’t require my presence, time or effort.

JB: Ok, one last question, what are your personal strategies for getting writing done?

BO: There are many “writing rules,” put forth by professors and writers, but I believe each writer has to sort out the best way to getting words on the page and finishing projects.

For me, having signed a contract with a deadline and taken an advance was
highly motivating. If I had promised myself I would write and finish a book, I might have and I might not have.

But making a promise to someone else, especially a promise bound by a legal contract and money, ensured that I would finish that first book and turn it in on time. I have only written one book without a contract so far.

I initially found that the best way for me to get my writing done was to listen to loud rock music while writing. I’m a bit distractible and found that the music would surround me with a bubble and I could more easily focus on writing. Later I developed enough discipline and ability to write without music.

I also found that not having special places or times to write worked for me. I had a very busy life (four kids, a busy psychotherapy practice and speaking career), so I just grabbed whatever opportunities I could to write. Five minutes here. An hour there.

I also developed an ability to write with many different tools. I began with a typewriter and later moved to a computer. I have also written longhand. Mostly a computer works these days, but isn’t essential.

I do find that I outline better longhand with pen and paper than on computer. And that if I have a clear outline (and a clear, well-though out central theme/idea) the writing is easier and faster (I typically finish my first drafts in a month or two these days–down from three years for my first book).

When I haven’t thought out or outlined the book, it usually takes closer to a year to write that first draft. Big difference, eh?

For more from Bill, visit his Web site: www.getyourbookwritten.com.

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