How to Write a Book in Your 20s (Interview with Todd Foley)


College grads are great at wanting to do things, but never doing them.

I want to start an Etsy shop!

I want to create a podcast!

I want to go to grad school!

I want to save money!

I want to write a book.

Meet Todd Foley, one of the rare 20-something’s that managed to follow through and actually write a book! It’s a novella called Charades, and it’s awesome. I devoured it in a couple hours.

I had a chance to interview Todd about how he was able to write a book while taking care of his pregnant wife, little baby, and work a full-time job. Here’s what he had to say.

  1. Tell us about the process of writing a book. What does that look like? Can anyone do it?

This was my third time writing a book, so the process has become a bit clearer each time. With today’s tools and technology, anyone can write and publish a book about anything. Amazon’s CreateSpace platform (which I used for Charades) is incredibly user-friendly, and the platform and distribution is amazing. That being said, you can’t publish a book until you have written it. I am a perfectionist and that has always stopped me from making progress.

Once you determine what type of book you want to write (fiction, memoir, essay, coaching resources, etc.), you have to get that first draft. The most liberating lesson I’ve ever learned is from author Anne Lamott in her book Bird By Bird: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” So that’s where you have to start: writing that first draft, and not letting perfectionism get in the way. Once it has been drafted, then you can hack it apart, edit it, re-write it, unearth the story. Have fun with your first draft!

Another big thing for me was to learn from people who had already written and published books. I made some awesome connections through this and really benefited from learning what worked well for them and what didn’t work so well.

  1. I have a really busy schedule, but I’ve always wanted to write a book. How do I make time for it with work, grad school, and family/friends?

I struggle with this every day. Charades is less than 100 pages, but it took me FOUR YEARS to write it! A lot of this had to do with big life changes that occurred in those four years (changing jobs twice, moving and having a child). Also, my job requires a lot of creativity and ideas, which is awesome, but after spending all day generating/refining ideas, it’s a struggle to be creative on my own personal projects.

To keep making progress, I had to break the project down into smaller, more manageable pieces: character profiles, chapter synopses on index cards, etc. I committed to drafting (not completing, just drafting) a new chapter every month or so, and then editing/re-writing those chapters. Smaller tasks are less daunting, and they add up to the bigger picture.

  1. Does it cost a lot to publish? Does it pay a lot?

It doesn’t have to cost much! The biggest cost was hiring a designer to do the cover art. Other than that, CreateSpace is a super cost-effective way to publish. After you get your files uploaded and they’re approved, you don’t have to pay anything up front. Books are only printed when a customer places an order (this is called Print On Demand), and it works like this: Amazon takes the cost of printing your book out of your royalty, and pays you the difference. It’s that easy!

  1. What is some advice you’d offer to a millennial who wants to write a book, but has no idea how to start?

Learn by consuming. I did my undergrad in professional writing and communications, but had no training in writing fiction. So I decided to learn by consuming fiction. Books, movies, TV. Keep a pen and notepad handy. Write down a quote that you find compelling, and then write why you find it compelling and how it made you feel. I highly recommend responsible Netflix binges (yes, that’s a thing!) because it gives so many opportunities to learn about character constructs, human nature, plot development and (most importantly) dialog.

I found the biggest obstacle with Charades was making the conversations believable, so I had to learn how real people talk. I also observed how people can talk without saying a single word. One of my favorite recent examples of this is season 2 of Bloodline. There are some incredibly written scenes where the characters probably say a handful of words, but their eyes and body language speak volumes and you can feel the incredible tension and suspense and all those powerful emotions that are left unsaid. That is brilliant storytelling. There is so much amazing content out there, and it’s a great way to observe and grow as a storyteller. Just make sure you do some writing!

Todd chisled
Todd Foley is an American who made the move to British Columbia, Canada, where he lives with his wife and growing family. He finds inspiration for storytelling via his unorganized bookshelf, a non-sequiter Netflix queue and using public transit.

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  1. I’ve had so much fun reading books that I have yet to develop the desire to write my own book. I highly respect the process though that others go through. I guess I’ll just have to settle with being someone with book recommendations. Right now I’m reading ‘Dispensing with the Truth: The Victims, the Drug Companies, and the Dramatic Story behind the Battle over Fen-Phen’ by Alicia Mundy.

    • Todd Foley says:

      Having fun reading books is an incredible thing! It means that someone’s work has found its way into the hands of a grateful reader. Keep up the fun!

  2. Great advice! Thanks, Todd. I’ll definitely be thinking about the Anne Lamott quote this month while I tackle my first ever Camp NaNoWrimo. 🙂

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