Dear Dr. Boli: I was thinking of writing a book, but I’m not sure how to go about it. I’m a good speller, if that helps. Do you have any other advice? —Sincerely, A Country Lawyer Who Has Seen a Lot and Thought He Might Write a Book About It.

Dear Sir: The easiest way to get a book together is by plagiarism. In the United States, at least, plagiarism is quite legal as long as the material plagiarized is old enough. You could probably sell quite a few copies if you decided to write a book called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

If, however, you are set on producing an original work, Dr. Boli would advise you first to establish a projected word count. This is important, because it is easier than you think just to keep writing and writing until you have a fifteen-volume scribble that you need a motorized cart to carry. Use a word processor that keeps the word count constantly visible at the bottom of the screen, and stop when you hit your projected word count. You will save yourself a great deal of trouble that way.

Next, you should make an outline. If you divide your book into ten chapters, it is a very simple matter to calculate the appropriate word count for each chapter by dividing your projected word count by ten. Then you can divide each chapter into ten subheadings, each of which represents 1% of the entire book. That way you will always know exactly how far you have come and how much further you have to go.

So, you see, writing a book is mostly a matter of simple mathematical calculations. The only other thing you need is a cover with big words on the front, since all books are bought on line these days and your cover will be seen as a tiny picture on a Web page. Once you have that, the thing is done. The actual content of the book is irrelevant, because no one will read it anyway.


  1. Bob Pegritz says:

    Words to live by.!!!

  2. Clay Potts says:

    It seems perhaps that among the greatest challenges in writing (fiction, anyway) is the proper naming of characters – I prefer names that are unique, humorous, but believable – I think Dickens was particularly adept at naming his characters – is there a secret to naming characters without assigning them all tired old monikers such as “Smith, Jones and Wilson”?

  3. I’ll keep this to fifty-one words: “all books are bought on line these days” should read “all books are bought online these days,” right? If not, I’ve exceeded my word limit! (Asterisks don’t count, and a contraction counts as a single word, I say, as does a hyphenated word.)

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    • Dr. Boli says:

      To Horace Jeffery Hodges: Dr. Boli makes a subtle distinction, reserving “online” (or “on-line,” if you prefer) for the adjectival use of the term. The distinction corresponds to a difference in pronunciation. “Online” (as in “online banking,” for example) is pronounced as one word, with the accent on the first syllable. “On line” (as in “bought on line”) is pronounced as two words, with “line” emphasized.

      Many an editor has gone mad trying to make distinctions like these stick, so Dr. Boli will only tell you what he himself does, and will not make any dogmatic statement about what anyone else ought to do.

  4. Martin the Mess says:

    To Clay Potts:

    Naming characters is difficult. Here are some hints.

    1.) As yourself what that character’s parents were like, and what sort of name they’d bestow upon their child. You can name your character Moonflower Benson if her parents were hippies, but probably not if they were an investment banker and his D.A.R.-president wife.

    2.) If you’re like me and write a lot of science fiction, or prefer to stick to the real world but still want a good mix of ethnicities in your character names, swing by your local hospital and find the corridor where they put up motivational notices to the employees. Between doctors, nurses, and support staff, any hospital is gonna have hundreds or thousands of staff, many of them immigrants or the children thereof. It’s a great place to find Jewish, Asian, Hispanic, Islamic, and European names all in one place. Mix and match first and last names to avoid lawsuits from people Googling themselves. Not that they’d WIN such a suit, precedent is firmly on the side of authors who snatch character names out of the phone book and so forth, but they can still be an annoyance.

    3.) Avoid names ending in S, as they make pluralization, possessives, and even quotation marks more awkward than they might otherwise be. Even if you have no problem keeping such issues under control, some of your readers and/or editors are gonna get a niggling little voice in the back of their head saying, “That just doesn’t look right for some reason, and I can’t figure out why.”

    4.) Try to avoid inadvertently using the name of a celebrity. New celebrities are hatched all the time, so this is very difficult. I was once reading the novel upon which the classic cold war movie “Failsafe” was based, and couldn’t get past chapter 2, when a character named Peter Buck was introduced, since I kept imagining in my head the musician of that name from Alt-rock group R.E.M., and thus could not take the character seriously.

    I hope this helps.

  5. Clay Potts says:

    Dear M the M,

    Thank you so much for your very helpful tips! It is very kind of you to share a few of your own naming secrets. However, after careful consideration of my dilemma, I have decided instead to skip over character description and character naming – I will write a story about an invisible man who shall remain nameless…

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