How To Write A Best-Selling Book

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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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Have you ever experienced the sense that the sky is endless — blue skies curving to meet the horizon all around you, surrounded by 360 degrees of sky, spilling over to the edges of the world – and just known that life is full of infinite possibilities?

I awoke into that space the other day.

tropical paradise by the pool

I was sipping a mimosa by the water in sunny San Diego, palm fronds waving and seagulls swooping overhead. It was the end of a month of travels for me:  two weeks in Argentina for Christmas, NYC for New Year’s Eve, and a week on Florida’s Gulf Coast with my family.

Now, granted, maybe it’s easier to feel a sense of endless possibilities with a mimosa in hand after a month like that, than if I’d been, say, shoveling snow off my front porch in upstate New York. I’ve made travel a high priority in my life, and am astonishingly grateful for my itinerant lifestyle.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow…
I woke up happy, and headed to the hotel restaurant for brunch. That’s when I spotted a shimmering patch of color in a soft wash of clouds, airbrushed onto the sky.

It wasn’t a full arc, just a swatch of bright stripes on a single sweep of cloud.

No rain in sight, so why the rainbow?

Who knows. Anything is possible.

I felt the sense that life is bigger and more beautiful that we can ever comprehend, and that dreams do come true.

Now, a few days later, I’m back in the midst of a New York winter, feet planted solidly back on the ground in my winter boots. I am also back on track with my big dream for 2010: completing my first book.

How Does One Write A Best-Selling Book, Anyhow?
Stick with me this year, and hopefully I can show you how.  Of course it takes some serious chutzpah to say so, because this is my first book, and as with the rest of life, there are no guarantees of success.

More to the point, as best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert (whose book Eat, Pray, Love was a surprise runaway success) writes in the introduction to her new book, Committed, “How in the world does one go about writing a book that will satisfy millions?”

“In the end,” Gilbert continues, “I found a certain comfort in recognizing that I could not — cannot — write a book that would satisfy millions of readers. Not deliberately, anyhow.”

“The fact is, I do not know how to write a beloved best seller on demand. If I knew how to write beloved best sellers on demand, I can assure you that I would have been writing them all along, because it would have made my life a lot easier and more comfortable ages ago.”

“But it doesn’t work that way — at least not for writers like me. We write only the books that we need to write, or are able to write, and then we must release them, recognizing that what happens to them next is none of our business.”

Believing in Infinite Possibilities
So, I will do my part — write the book I need to write now, tell the story that I have promised myself I would tell, then send it out into the world. Right now, as my writing coach said when commenting on my first chapter (along with a lot of positive feedback, which makes me feel like I am at least on the right track), I just need to “keep going!” Keep writing!

Then, we’ll see what happens next…

What is your biggest dream for 2010? Can you find the magic in yourself to make it happen?

Perhaps more importantly, can you take the steps toward your dream and let go out of the outcome? I honestly believe the way to write a best-selling book, or to do anything that becomes a wild success, is to follow your heart and create what you feel called to create.

Of course, there is more to it than that… writing craft, and marketing, and timing, and a host of other factors – not all of which are under our control. Yet what we can control is doing our best work, and doing it in a way that showcases our unique voice and talents.

Pursue your passions, and do what makes you happy, since happiness gives us the energy to fuel our dreams.

Wishing you a sense of infinite possibilities today as you pursue yours!


Lisa_avatar(Lisa has launched her dream by signing up for Ellen Sussman’s “Memoir-in-a-Year” class, speaking her story out loud at a Take Back the Night rally, and committing to a regular writing schedule – 50 pages completed by December 5th, when she also turned in her first book chapter! Her next milestone is to have 100 pages completed by February 6th. Being invited to join was a dream come true, and she looks forward to chronicling her writing process. Lisa is currently bi-coastal with her home in historic Troy, New York and her heart in San Francisco.  Lisa’s post day is Tuesday).


  • Thad Martin

    This is a very good post. Will you please write much more about this subject? I’m a struggling writer myself. Thanks!

  • Audrey

    Thank you for s great read – I had fun reading this. I always enjoy this blog. So pretty and fun! ♥♥♥♥A♥♥♥♥

  • travis smith

    nice post. u are a talented writer. pretty too.

  • Kim, the traveler

    Sounds like you had an amazing vacation! Lucky you!

  • Wendy

    This post spoke to my heart. I am there with you in that endless blue sky and infinite possibilities. That is how I knew I was an artist. It’s those moments of pure joy and beauty.

  • Deany Brady

    Dear Lisa,

    I have so much enjoyed all your special pieces the past Tuesday. You are a very intelligent, warm, lovely young woman whom it is my great joy to have met in our writing class.

    Do you remember our first conversation as we were meeting in writing class. I do. When you said you were writing a memoir, I answered,”How can you? You are not old enough to have a memoir to write.”

    That young face and heart of your has a lot of powerful stuff to write and share. I look forward to more and more of you, Lisa, dear.

    love, Deany

  • Rachel

    Yup, Lisa, I loved what you said about writing what’s right for you, and letting the results go. It’s what we all have to do. But how great when it turns out that does please others! I think we have the best shot at actually doing things others will like, when we go with what comes from our own hearts.

  • Hi Julita, great list! I will tackle those I haven’t read yet this year (Proust, Chekhov’s collected works)… The others I read years and years ago, may be time to revisit! :) I do read and write in Spanish – haven’t used my French in a long time. I am working on achieving fluency in Spanish this year – it’s a current goal (I can do so at a conversational level, proficiently, yet am not where I want to be). I can still read French, yet haven’t spoken it actively in quite a while… Could pick it back up!

    I *do* have a real gift for languages, speaking and learning them, have a great ear, and am *so* grateful for that…

    Cath, I feel incredibly blessed to travel – you can just live vicariously through mine for now ;) while yours are temporarily on hold, until that Ireland trip! :) (And other adventures!). I figure that I have the freedom to do it now, and who knows what life will bring in the future… My sister and her husband still travel frequently with their one-year-old yet at some point they will likely settle into one place for most of the year for her to go to school… So they are enjoying the opportunity to do it now.

    Thanks for your kinds words and support – being part of 8womendream is such a huge boost for me and my writing and I’m so grateful! Looking forward to helping you and the whole crew live your dreams, too…

    And Rachel, as always, I love your thoughtful commentary… So true. Writing and dance are *both* forms of communication, and yes it is nice to hear something back about how we are doing… To know that we are having an impact in the world, and that our efforts are pleasing to someone else.

    Without that a book would have no audience… Writing is absolutely about connecting with others (as is dance, too!). I think what I am trying to remind myself of along the way is that the most important thing is to do the best job I can do in telling this story in a way that hopefully touches, moves and inspires others… I do not have total control over how the book will move into the world, can just do my best and do the work.

    Feel so lucky to have these passions – dancing and writing – as ways of moving through the world…

    Love to all!

  • Rachel

    So glad to hear you got positive feedback!

    Doing what you need to, for the joy of it (or whatever reason you have) is great (and necessary, I think.) But when you write, you are communicating something, and it’s impossible not to care what you audience thinks.

    I was just saying roughly the same thing to someone else about dance. I dance for the sheer joy of it, but learning to do it well is hard work, and the kind of dancing I love involves communicating with a partner. If it weren’t for the occasional compliment, I don’t think I’d be able to keep going with it. I don’t need them all the time, but it’s such a needed boost when someone, somewhere, loves what you’re doing.

  • Catherine

    Great post. It’s almost like I am sitting there with you. I put my travel life on hold in 2003 for my son and boy do I miss it. I was one of those odd people who loved traveling for work. My son didn’t like it so much – now he is in those years where he just wants to hang with his friends, but I do have high hopes to sell an ebook and make enough money to take him to Ireland before he goes off to college. i am excited to see what you do this year and looking forward to doing whatever is in my power to help you get there.

  • Julita

    Lisa, so wonderful to hear that your writing is coming along and you are getting positive feedback. all I can say is that you are a phenomenal writer and I can’t wait to read your first book.

    as for me, I can only read not write. for some reason God gave me numerous talents but creative writing is not one of them. so, to compensate I will read as many novels as I can get my hands on. I will start with the top 10 greatest books listed in Time magazine:

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    Hamlet by William Shakespeare
    The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
    In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
    The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
    Middlemarch by George Eliot

    Read more:,8599,1578073,00.html#ixzz0cPI1KwGF

    then, I will keep on reading in both of my languages that I like to read. question for you, do you read/write in other languages? I remember you were big on French in High School.

    all my love,

  • p.s. to all: What a fun, wonderful month it has been… Although I did take a break from my regular writing schedule, I am getting back on track now that I’m back in NY.

    Love what Elizabeth Gilbert has to say about doing the work and letting it go… which fits in with my Buddhist practice and life philosophy as well.

    I have set the intention to write a book that will touch, move and inspire millions… Yet agree with Gilbert that I don’t know *how* to do that exactly.

    I only know the story I need to tell, and that I need to commit to writing it the best way I know how… and of course, editing, editing, editing.

    It was exciting to get comments back from my writing coach this month, and to hear that she has really enjoyed reading it so far! “YES I will take this journey!” she said.

    Woohoo! :)