So I've Been Thinking . . .

I've wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. I made little books with construction paper and paste as a kid. I said I wanted to be a writer when I grew up if asked. I thought about the types of books I could write.

But I've never had what it takes to really do it. I've started a chapter or two here or there, but never persevered.

Part of it is being lazy. Part of it is being afraid. Part of it, at least for the last 14 years, is the cyclically appearing black dog, who sits and stares for a while before he clambers noisily to his feet and ambles away.

But other people do it. Other people have challenged themselves and set a goal and met it, and even have written about the process.

I've been telling myself that it would take too long, that I'm too busy, that I couldn't commit to meeting output goals.

But this morning it occurred to me that when you exclude quotes and hmtl stuff, I've written around 8,000-9,000 words on this site this week. The quality varied, and heaven above knows that I'd benefit from a patient editor. But I kind of liked the Bigfoot thing.

The average novel, I'm told, is around 70,000 – 100,000 words.

So how, exactly, is output volume an excuse I can fall back upon?

I'm under no illusions that writing something remotely publishable is as easy as writing one-off blog posts. I don't think that sustaining a coherent narrative is as easy as writing isolated snark that relies heavily on words like "twatwaffle."

But I've been dreaming about this my whole life. I tell my kids that they can do anything they want. Shouldn't I give it a real try?

So — I'm going to give it some thought. If I move forward, maybe I will write about the process occasionally. I've always thought that I'd like to write a legal caper novel — something in a style inspired by some odd combination of Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, and Dave Barry.

We'll see.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    At the risk of encouraging another s/u/c/k/e/r/ aspiring writer to break his heart, you might put together a "Best of Popehat" essay collection to start. Then use that experience when writing the novel I'm guessing you want to do.

    You have enough Internet visibility that you might be able to get a publisher to notice you. If not, there's always the POD/self-publishing route (in which case, consider anyone but Amazon).

    Disclosure: I've been known to edit books and format them for self-publishing for pay. I've even done cover art.

  2. says

    @Carl: the problem with my Popehat posts is that many are very link-dense; linking is part of the writing. But I see your point.

  3. says

    I'll certainly get a copy. If your protagonist utters the phrase "snort my taint" at any point in the novel, I'll get copies for my parents and in-laws as well. Good luck, Ken.

  4. Turk says

    A legal caper? Isn't that an oxymoron?

    It seems to defy every definition…unless you have Charles Carreon meeting Crystal Cox meeting Paul Cristoforo meeting…

    ca·per 1 (kpr)
    1. A playful leap or hop.
    2. A frivolous escapade or prank.
    3. Slang An illegal plot or enterprise, especially one involving theft.
    intr.v. ca·pered, ca·per·ing, ca·pers
    To leap or frisk about; frolic.

  5. Mark says

    Scott Adams of Dilbert wrote one of the best business books I've ever read… and it was drenched in funny.

    If I were to look at your work online and pick out one strong, common theme that would make a good book it would be titled "So You Want To Start Your Own Law Practice". Chapter titles like "Avoiding Asshattery 101", "Your Feet Taste Bad, Take Care When Speaking in Public", and "Advertising Online for Douchebags" would make for a great book.

    IANAL, and I'd probably buy that book.

  6. TheOtherMatt says

    You could call it Twatwaffle! Make it about a blogger who discovers a murder by a Senator of another blogger
    joking of course but

  7. PhilG says

    I would read a novel about your group of Bigfoot hunters. Write it in installments on popehat and then publish all together later. (Look at Scott Sigler for how to do awesome web installments to book publishing,

  8. Tim says

    If I had words of encouragement, I'd say this: Write whatever you can. If it ends up being short, you'll be a short story writer. If it ends up being too risky for a publishing house, you can self publish on Amazon. There is no barrier to entry, the only obstacle is yourself.

  9. says

    Seconding the recommendation to try NaNoWriMo. You're all but guaranteed to turn out a terrible, hurried draft of dubious merit and low readability, but having the deadline and friendly competitiveness of the NaNo experience should help nudge you in the right direction. You'll probably wind up shoveling a lot of crap, but there's usually a few salvageable gems that turn up in the middle of the word-churning sprint. It's a lot of fun, if you keep your expectations about the quality of your output low. Go search for Anne Lamott's "Shitty First Drafts" essay from Bird by Bird for some good perspective on making that first draft.

  10. Margaret says

    I would also read a novel about Bigfoot hunters who sue each other. Or possibly anything else that you might write.

  11. Jo says

    Like you said, you have no problem with output volume. You also don't seem to have a problem finding things to write about. Editing is a huge part of the writing process because nothing ever comes out right the first time. I think you might surprise yourself if you were to sit down and write and write and write and find two or three people whose opinions you trust to help you pare it down after. A first draft of an entire novel or other book that needs to be rewritten a dozen times is more of an accomplishment than a few pages that would be perfect if the book they're a part of were ever written.

  12. Jess says

    I like Marks idea but would change the title to "So you think you can just "practice" law?"

    You could also do a book of a biographic non fictional nature called Asshats of the 21st Century.

  13. Beth says

    I'm not a lawyer, tend not to keep up on current events, and generally don't read blogs. I only stumbled across Popehat while watching the Paul Christoforo trainwreck. I keep coming back because of the writing. I'd buy whatever you published.

  14. Chris says

    I'd buy a collection of 100 legal letters (or maybe the letters that you wished you had written) with your brief overview on why the topic is important/frustrating/irritating. You tell a good story, use what you are good at (snark, opinion, law) to drive the dream.

  15. says

    Sir…trying to write a book that moves away from your core strengths as a writer is a mistake. Name the book Twatwaffle. Fill it with snark.

    And you'll sell millions.

    We love your writing as it is; give us more and and a link to buy it at. You're famous on the internets for what you write and how you write it. Cater to that audience. Let us take your works (in book form) and given them to friends, family and coworkers.

    Let us point them at your website and show them a world beyond the polite, socially circumspect world they traditionally inhabit. This is the internet, damn it. This is our uiniverse. This is a world where we can finally, truly say what we mean, how we mean, and inclue whichever vexatious and alliterative expelitives we so choose.

    There are 7 billion people on this planet. At least 3 billion of them online. If you only ever appeal to the top 40% of 3 billion people, and see a market penetration of 1% you are still selling your book to TWELVE MILLION PEOPLE.

    If you sell that book through self-publishing e-book (and print?) methods for $3, keep $1.5 of that after costs, you are sill looking at 18 million dollars.

    Even a tenth of that (seeing only 0.1% penetration from a possible addressable market of the smartest 40% of internet-connected planetary citizens, or about 120,000 people) is still $180,000.

    You can sell 120,000 copies of an ebook for $3; your readership here alone – before you take into account the fact that folks like The Oatmeal and pretty much all of Reddit will probably tweet about it – are enough to make up that number.

    But name the thing Twatwaffle and fill it with “nuclear snark” and I’ll bet you sell that Twelve Million.

    To put it in context for you, that is approximately the total readership of Ars Technica. And sir…a book called Twatwaffle, filled with snark, sold at $3 will sell to nearly every single person who reads that site. And The Register. And Slashdot. And Reddit. And The Oatmeal…

    …so where’s my goddamed twatwaffle already?

  16. i love a good tale of ass-hattery says

    don't worry about the linking – that works very well in epubs…

  17. Jack says

    If you do decide to write a book, and go the non-fiction route, feel free to email me and I'll give you an example proposal template and connect you with my agent. He also represents fiction, but only a few genres (like hard sci-fi)

  18. Mr. A says

    Go for it. You've got the chops, and obviously the self-discipline (evidence: law firm, successful blog, family). I suspect it just requires a different sort of focus from what you usually have to bring to bear on a day-to-day basis, that's all.

  19. Jim Hall says

    I'd tell you to go for it, you can be funny and write reasonably well. With that said, I expect the blog would suffer if you went in that direction. Megan McArdle put her blogging on hiatus so she could work on a book, and I miss her blog posts.

  20. says

    I'm a romance writer (snigger if you like, but werewolf lovin' is paying for my daughter's excellent private education); for 20 years I said "You, know, I think I could write a romance novel" and then one day I looked around, and I was approaching 45, and I thought "oh, shit." So I wrote a couple and then I got published. And I'm soon (okay, as soon as I finish it) going to self-publish a steampunk. (My werewolf books are published by a leading romance e-publisher). I could talk forever about the seismic shifts in the publishing industry these past 3-5 years, of the superiority of e-publishing to print, and of the previously undreamt-of opportunities aspiring authors have today, and I will if you don't stop me.

    It's like eating an elephant or walking 100 miles or emptying your hoarder MIL's house; if you keep thinking about how big the project is, you'll never start. So don't worry about finishing; just start.

    Start writing, keep writing, and at some point you'll realize you're done. One last analogy: driving slowly through a foggy night with your low beams on. You're only going 5 mph and it will take you forever to get home – but eventually you will.

    I leave you with three pieces of wisdom from The Great Nora Roberts, bestselling romance author of all time, from now until probably forever:

    1. There is no muse, there is only the job.

    2. Butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard.

    3. You can't revise a blank sheet of paper, but you can revise crap.

  21. Grifter says

    The suffering of the original site is a common thing for those who start making the books…but then, badass of the week is still awesome and updated regularly, so it's by no means a certainty.

    Just please make sure you do some kind of ebook format, preferably DRM-free…

  22. says

    I've always thought that I'd like to write a legal caper novel — something in a style inspired by some odd combination of Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, and Dave Barry.

    I'll read that.

  23. MTO says

    I haven't read the Blogess' book yet, but I don't see why she can do it and you cannot. (aka Joe Spolsky) has published a few books that are not much more than a "best of" his blog, and they're great reads. I don't know why you cannot do the same. Think of it as: if you're a new reader to my blog, and don't have the time to start at the beginning, these are the important highlights."

    I'd buy it.

  24. Jo says

    I stumbled to your blog via the Charles Carreon clusterfuck and I would be happy to fill my kindle with your writing.

    I salute you, sir, and wish you the best.

  25. Katryna says

    (Delurking to comment :D)

    If you want a good book that makes it a bit easier to understand why it's so hard to write, there's Bruce Holland Rogers's essays on writing entitled Word Work. He has a lot of essays on ways to overcome resistance to writing, the ways in which procrastination is beneficial and how to work with it, and how to write under the pressure of a deadline. Although disclaimer: I haven't published anything (yet). ;)

  26. Kelly says

    Yes please! I could repeat everything that has been said already, but won't. Just give it a go and know that there are (at least) hundreds of thousands of us that would buy anything you wrote…especially if you named it 'twatwaffle' and included 'snort my taint' somewhere – even once- along the way.

  27. Rick Robinson says

    I just finished reading your articles about the great Oatmeal legal debacle and said to my co-worker "Ken at popehat should write a book, his level of commentary is fantastic". Then I found this post.

    Make it happen. I'll buy it. Keep up the great work.

  28. says

    Hey, I already read the shit you post here… I suppose I would read shit you made me pay to read too… :)

    This has been your daily dose of Ego Boost by Scott Jacobs.

  29. darius404 says

    So I've Been Thinking . . .

    Now see Ken, there was your first mistake. Thinking is very depressing work, that's why I never do it.

    Seriously though, I think you could write an excellent book. As you point out, volume isn't a problem; a book doesn't have to be written all at once.

    And personally, I think you could make either a great fiction or nonfiction book. I'd personally prefer nonfiction from you, as I think you write superbly on real-world events and the issues they involve. But fiction would be great too.

    I'll second the suggestion of "write whatever you can". You don't even need to pick one particular thing to write about straight away. Perhaps write a little bit about multiple subjects, and see which one inspires you to write the most. I don't write myself, yet I have dozens of stories rattling around my head I would love to see on paper (my only problem being that I would like to READ them, not WRITE them). Once you hit a topic that really makes you want to think, talk, or write about it, I believe you won't want to stop. I know that's how it works for me, and from your writings I suspect that's the case for you as well.

  30. says

    It took Jenny Lawson ten years to write her book. It was absolutely worth waiting for.
    Having a blog gives people an opportunity to 'hear' your voice, your style, gives them a chance to get to know you. That, in turn, makes them curious when you tell them you are thinking about writing a book.
    Hell, I've only been reading you for a week or so, and I'd check out your book.
    Think of it like a job, dude. Deadlines, etc.

  31. Ara Ararauna says

    Hope all the people that had any kind of veteran experience about X subject would always write a book about it and showcase their opinion about it. I like books that explains things from the point of view of someone who is versed in X subject, as they are quite informative, eye opening and sometimes, "drenched in funny" *eyes post above*.

    If you get the time to do it, why not? It is not a matter of thinking if to do it or not, it is a matter of when and how to start, drafting and doing a mental composition of the subject you want to cover in that book, then let your magic fingers to do the rest, in a figurative manner (without mixing pixie dust and sparkles please).

    And if it is written by you, chances are I gonna fetch a genuine copy without waiting for our "academics" to translate it to my language.

  32. VPJ says

    Go for it, I say. I'd certainly buy a book featuring the adventures of Mitre K. Taintsnorter: Asskicker Attorney Extraordinaire.

    Or even something else just as awesome.

  33. says

    I would buy a book you wrote for sure! I'm sure it would be awesome! And the Bloggess's book is amazing, why not go for something like that? Make it about you blog in a way that's more in depth. You already have a (mostly) common theme here. It would take some work to fill out the stories instead of having links in them, but I bet it would be worth it!

    As an avid blog reader, I can assure you that we all want to know *more* about all of the stories written here, and especially about any that you might have written about but didn't :) But if you go with the caper novel style I'd still buy it!

  34. Secular Absolutist says

    OK. We love your writing. Your knowledge is deep. Your passion is deeper. So, really, it seems the issue is you need a little nudge (pronounced nooj but not nuge).

    My sis-n-law just announced a series of e-books she is publishing. 60,000 words seems to be a good ballpark for e-books.


    Set a goal to write 1500 words per day, 5 days a week. The math is simple. Promise yourself to, and then keep this goal. With a small amount of edit and re-write you will have a book ready in 10 weeks.

    This is a results oriented approach that has worked very well for Steven King (heard of him?). If he can do it for 40 years, so can you.

    Do it for a year and then you will have a new habit. Making money.

  35. Justin T. says

    An author who writes 250 words a day will produce a 90,000+ page novel in a year. A lawyer who writes 250 words has probably been at work for about 15 minutes. You can definitely do it.

  36. Personanongrata says

    You could always type twatwaffle 100,000 x's that would make for one hell of an incipient expose.

    Hell, if you were serious about it you could mix in douchebagery and snortmytaint every third or four word.

    Imagine the possiblities.

  37. VPJ says

    100000 times would be a but much, methinks. But a collection of snort my taint hiaku…

  38. Booa says

    Please, please, write a book! I think lots of Ravelry would buy it. :-) And Regretsy readers. And popehat readers. And other awesome folk.

    I would definitely buy it. I want Twatwaffle to be a reality! :-)

  39. says

    Ken, think about how much money the guy who turned "F U Penguin" into a book made.

    And if you use my trademarked psuedonym ("SPQR[tm]), I'll sue.

  40. AlphaCentauri says

    You can definitely do it. It's only a question of whether there is a book inside you waiting to get out, and what kind of book it is. A legal novel would be cool, but so would a book of short stories or anecdotes ("Tainted Snort for the Soul," lol). "Marley and Me" sold a gazillion copies just being a beginning, an end, and a lot of funny short anecdotes in the middle. Not much different that what you do blogging.

  41. says

    Recent reader (came for the Oatmeal, stayed for the awesomesauce) delurking to say (thought it's probably presumptuous of me):

    Nora Roberts, romance writer, author of over 200 published novels (and she also outsells Stephen King, for comparison purposes), has been known to say that writing starts with BITCHOK (short for: but in the chair, hands on keyboard).

    I am acquainted with at least three different readers/bloggers who did just that, consistently (300 words a day, say) and are now published–both traditionally, Big 6/New York, and electronically/digital first (or only).

    Talent is a requirement for success (or at least for something that last more than a first book hitting the right spot at the right time *cough50Shadescough*) but without commitment it builds nothing.

    /off soapbox

    Erm.. and all that self important rambling basically to say: I'll read it.

  42. Narad says

    So how, exactly, is output volume an excuse I can fall back upon?

    It's comparatively simple: You show the existing stuff to an acquisitions editor and knock some ideas around. You already have the credibility to get in the door. It's what they do.

  43. gbasden says

    Hell yes you should. I believe we've been telling you this for at least a decade.

  44. Narad says

    (I'd further note that the first choice is probably selecting a either university or trade press to approach. I recommend starting with the former. If the project really belongs with McGraw-Hill or something, they should be courteous enough to say so. Then again, there's a decent chance they'd bite in the first place; these guys are not in an easy position nowadays, if seeing a CFO going on a rant about exactly how much mustard gender studies was cutting is any example.)

  45. says

    Outline the whole thing before you start. Spend a few days or weeks outlining everything that will happen. Once that's done you just write from your outline, your able to write write write, instead of hitting a blank wall and getting yourself stuck.

  46. EvilSoupdragon says

    You should write about the sort of topics you write about here; ridiculous lawsuits and free-speech issues. Ben Goldacre of wrote an excellent, and witty, book on the topics that drive his website, and it is clear from your writing that you are more than capable of doing the same. I don't come here to read how many times you use the word taint, I come here because you are an intelligent, well-informed writer, who uses wit to discuss serious issues (don't I sound like a fanboy). Write about the topics that drive you to continue to publish here and use examples from your site to illustrate the point. If you aren't writing about what you are passionate about it just won't have your distinctive 'taint'.

  47. b says

    My two bits: You can certainly accomplish it!

    Heck, you can always put together an e-book blog-post collection and sign over the proceed to FIRE or the EFF. Better yet, get all the brilliant and acerbic blag all-stars to write an expose/critique of U.S. law education or on anti-SLAPP law and cases.

    If you want to write is a novel, then sit down and work on it. Don't do "safe" and write nonfiction if that's not what you want to write; you do enough of that here. (If you were so inclined, I think you could easily write a great, short book on the legal/civic topics in your wheelhouse, but that smells suspiciously like, well, work.)

    I'd be sad to see your output and advocacy and general the-Lord's-work here suffer, but you gotta chase those dreams too.

  48. says

    I wrote a complete Fantasy novel quite by accident. The thing I needed was -readers- who were willing to ask me what happens next but wouldn't let me tell them orally. My friend Blake going "no on _paper_" was all it really took.

    So I'd say these are the steps to writing:

    — Find something you want to say.

    — Find someone you want to say it to.

    — Do it on paper (or electronic equivalent).

    — While telling that them, periodically read it out loud to a friend, real or imaginary.

    — Bind.

    (My follow-up books, yes plural, are stalled because Blake got married.)

  49. says

    Comedy life observation book titled:

    Twelve Awful People: The Jury of your Peers.

    Then write twelve three-chapter sections about the worst people by kind that inhabit the average human experience. Each section is "who they are. What they did. Who it cost what."

    But don't make it fact based, make it rime with fact by having each person be a composite you can "example out too" in variously real-ish sub-stories.

    While I describe this as a comedy it can be self-helpish or deep and still be a comedy. If you want to glue it together make up a simple legal case and then really put the twelve people on the jury and have them deliberate etc. Tell the story of a simple case boned up by a bad jury. (The one jury I was on was an effing nightmare. This cannot be too hard for you to imagine a worst-case of a case. 8-)

  50. AlphaCentauri says

    If you feel you would be constrained by how it may affect your reputation in your day job — writing a book mocking jurors would not be a good career move for a defense attorney, for instance — you could make up a new sekrit identity and write under a pseudonym.

  51. says


    Don't write a book. It's a trap. And certainly don't go to and read Chuck Wendig's copious articles on how writing is HARD WORK and why you really shouldn't do it, or how he hates your main characters.

    (Note: Wendig is one of my favorite fiction authors, as well as one of the snarkiest people I've ever read. You'll like him.)

  52. Scott says

    My wife writes books for a living…they are young adult fiction….its a killer business and not for the faint of heart, especially with the the DOJ going after them for price fixing….that being said if you need some help with representation etc do not hesitate to contact me.

  53. Davefla says

    How I wish we could have at this point the advice and counsel of the late Joel 'Jdog' Rosenberg! Count me in for a copy, sir.

  54. says

    BTW (shameless self promotion… light…) if you want to read my book click my name… 8-)

    Do comment. There is no link to comment or any blog, but its pretty easy to find my email in the text. /doh.