I am often asked how to write a book. My answer is rather simple - sit down and type. It reminds me of my first year as a law student and I was not your average first year student. I sprouted a rather wild beard, packed a loaded CZ pistol and was quite ready to kick the (you know what) out of any third year student who would be silly enough to try any kind of initiation procedures on me. I was 24 years old and spent the previous six years in the South African Police, on the mean streets & borders fighting against terrorism and criminals. I knew more about the practical side of criminal law and criminal procedure than the professors and my high marks showed it clearly. Of the rest, I knew nothing and learned civil law, it became my first love, far removed from the evil which is criminal law.
I was used to being obeyed. In those days, if a police sergeant told you to do something you better do it or face the logical consequences. It was a hard school and we saw more violence in those six years than what most soldiers would in two life times. Hence it was not to be wondered at that no senior student ever tried his luck with me, some even called me oom (Afrikaans, uncle) and all stayed far away. Luckily I was not alone, there were quite a few "elderly" men and one woman (we were on average eight years older than the school leavers) between us and soon we formed our own group. Only one, a former intelligence officer, remains in the legal profession and typical of me, I lost all contact with university friends. Ships and night and all that and I have a new life anyway which is not as boring as law inherently is. I don't really get this "let us be clingy for life" movement. I consider a good friend someone I don't need to call in twenty years and then just pick up where we left.
The learned professor gave us great advice that first day. He said we were not the brightest lads at the university (we were not, indeed not) - the medical students claimed that spot followed by the engineering nerds. Then came us, the law boys, followed by the farmers studying what their dads could have taught them at home. On the other side of the ladder were the prospective teachers and the BA MAN VANG (Afrikaans, BA catch a man) variety. Most of them got pregnant before the end of the year.
My professor also said law is pretty simple and we only need to sit down on our asses and study diligently. Certain things in law you simply have to know by heart. These included all definition of laws and believe you me; we did know it by heart when he was finished with us. We could even quote at length from famous judges and cases after five years and two law degrees further and we still knew nothing. As with most things in life, experience is the mother of all wisdom. Law is simple, yes, but lawyers make it ridiculously complicated. You have to have some sympathy here. Lawyers don't (it is the odd one who is the exception) have any personality to speak about, they are boring people. Hence they need to impress their dates (if they can find one) with Latin sounding crap and talking in endless circles sounding very learned (not wise, just learned, if wise he would explain the law in terms you get). How else must they charge their high fees if you understood that it is not rocket science to begin with? Yeah, we need to be more sympathetic.
Now writing a book is the same. Just sit down and type the story. For me, and I accept I may be "otherwise" it is rather simple. I imagine my late wife across me (sometimes she is really there) and I tell her the story. The book writes itself and unless non-fiction I have no idea where it will go to except that the main characters will not die. Why not? I don't like unhappy endings and am the puppet master regarding that. I could not prevent life from cheating me from my soul but I sure as hell can prevent sadness to my characters and if that makes the books "shallow or one dimensional" I don't care. I have command here and will not surrender it. I also leave on average fifteen messages in code for my late wife in each book, it is our secret. :)
When you read a book it is like a movie inside your head. Probably the most brilliant way of escaping from reality, well, there may be one other way too which is meant for grownups on Sunday afternoons and if lucky in the week too. Writing a book is the same. You actually see that picture which you want to convey to the reader. Then it is for you to type what you see. I read an interview with Stephen King the other day (oddly, I do not read his books) and he said he is first a story teller - a man who wants you to be so captivated by his stories that you will not stop reading. I suppose that summarise the basic idea behind a book very well. You want people to enjoy it, to say to you, wow, we loved reading that.
So just type your book, you cannot be rejected by publishers. Those days are gone now and as you go along you learn the tricks of the trade. You know you may not be the best writer ever but you are enjoying yourself and perhaps you do have a message or a story to tell. Yes there will always be the moaners who will find a few grammatical errors in a book of two hundred thousand words and write snotty reviews on the internet to show how educated they are. Such is their right under freedom of speech, make peace with it. Most of them are such sad human beings that they will always complain. You learn that in law also, certain clients simply cannot be kept happy. They have to bitch and moan and complain because it makes them feel good - for them you add what is called an aggravation fee. Then they have reason to complain and if you are independent, like my legal consultancy, you will get away with it. But you know what, there is a better way. Choose your clients like your book collection. Such clients are not welcome at JKLS. I refuse to help them and then everyone stays happy.
It is not difficult to write a book or to publish it. I am often astonished when people "ooh and aah" because they finally wrote a book as if that is their greatest achievement in life. It is not, let us get real here, being a good mom or a good husband showing you fear our Lord is much more important. Going to work every day and smiling at your idiotic boss is a great achievement. Writing a book? Nah, hear my words, you can do so too and though some authors has a natural ability which is frightening (and from God) the rest can learn it. Just sit down, and type. If you need help, read my article called "Start Typing that Book!" or sent me an email. I at least can tell you what not to do.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. During his police years, he was awarded the South African Police Medal for Combating Terrorism twice besides lesser awards. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a commercial law attorney for eight years. These days he is the owner of JKLS Africa and Associates, a specialist legal consultancy which specializes in reducing legal risk in sub Saharan Africa. He wrote several books on business, law, counter-terrorism and security issues. At times he is asked to participate on the Voice of America regarding legal forensic matters.