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Aug. 28--Of all the people who talk about wanting to write a book, few actually start, fewer finish, and next to none actually get published. Why? Lack of time, lack of talent, lack of drive.
But Lisa Cotoggio accomplished all of the above. After 15 years and 11 rewrites, her first novel, "A Spirit of Evil," was published last month by JoNa Books. It's a crime novel set in the Whitestone Park area, near where she grew up.
The moral: If you have the drive, you make the sacrifices and find the time. Apart from her 30-hour-a-week job doing promotion work and Friday night bartending for the Mirage Night Club in Westbury, she devoted all her time to writing.
"I live two different lives," says Cotoggio, 44, of Bayside. "There's the girl who talks to everybody at the club, laughing, arranging events, booking VIP rooms; then, there's the girl who comes home, turns off the phone, puts earplugs in her ears and stays holed up in her apartment, possessed with characters that fill her head." And that's not even counting the time she spends promoting this new book, seeking out an agent for her second and researching her third.
She likens it to having endless homework that saps all time for socializing. "I could have been married and raised 2.5 kids by now," she says. Still, "I chose a different path, a lonely path. I think it's all been worth it, and I would do it all over again."
That kind of stamina is at play with those who truly need to write, as opposed to those who need to talk about it. Indeed, Laura Berman Fortgang, a career/life coach, has helped plenty of people make that distinction.
She hears from as many as 15 people a month looking for help with a book project. But she whittles the number way down by posing a few questions: "What do you hope to gain by writing the book?" If the answer has anything at all to do with fame and the red carpet treatment, she tells them to "get real."
She asks, too, what they have to share "that the world can't live without." And sometimes people find they can share it without going through the arduous writing process. A would-be children's book author who's been procrastinating for years might get satisfaction, instead, from volunteering in a storytelling program at a local school or library.
As for her, she's written three books, this while running her Montclair, N.J., business and raising a family. She drafted her most recent book, "Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction," in -- you guessed it -- 90 days. She did so by setting the alarm for 4:30 a.m. to get in two hours of early morning writing and at night shooing her three kids off to bed by 9 p.m., so she could turn in, too.
"No one can give you the motivation," she says. "In the end, you have to deliver."
As for John Marco, he suggests people not slack off on their day jobs. The likelihood of actually making a living from your writing is pretty slim, he says, even though he is one of the few who does.
He started work on his first epic fantasy novel in the late 1990s. That's when he was still a technical writer for a Long Island software company, often working 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. so he could keep weekends free for writing. His wife-to-be took care of all household needs and chores. He put on hold his part-time classes to earn a BA degree. "You name it, it was given up," he says.
The payoff -- the sale of his first novel, "The Jackal of Nar," which came out in 1999. Because his agent also cooked up a lucrative overseas deal, he was able to resign from the software company seven years ago and focus on his next five novels, with the latest, "The Sword of Angels," coming out next month from DAW Books.
To see a book through, "you need to have the juice to keep going," he says. "It's not about becoming a superstar author. First and foremost, it's about writing, and if you truly want to be a writer, you know that in your heart."
For those who do know it, here are some further suggestions.
Seek out supporters and listen to them. Marco, 39, of Kings Park, tells of his co-worker and friend, Tim Xidas, who encouraged him even when he was down on himself. "I resisted at first," says Marco, but his buddy told him, "You absolutely can do it."
Minimize contact with naysayers. And be prepared, says Cotoggio, not to take to heart digs people make, such as, "Oh, are you still doing that?"
Organize your time efficiently. "You write at night, in the morning, on your lunch hour, while you're in the bathroom," she says. "You carry a tape recorder and talk into it in the elevator, in your car, in the bathroom, waiting for a train, when your friend visits the bathroom during dinner. You make notes on little Post-its and stick them everywhere so you don't forget your story line."
Figure out your writing process. People get stuck, says Fortgang, when they "don't know what to do when they sit down." Some writers let ideas emerge as they write and are surprised to see where the story goes. Others, like Marco -- and "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, by the way -- outline plots ahead of time. Before starting a new chapter, he jots out in a notebook what has to happen: X meets Y, don't tell too much about Z.
Try new technologies. Cotoggio, who's turning "A Spirit of Evil" into a screenplay, suggests software programs, such as Movie Magic Screenwriter, which is easing the process.
Allow yourself a little downtime. She relaxes with a bubble bath each evening -- OK, she reads at the same time. She gets to the gym a couple of times a week, works in a vegetable garden and even lies out by her building's pool on Sundays to unwind and recharge.
Cotoggio found that otherwise, with all the complexities in her life, she can get "so stressed out I have little mini-breakdowns and just start crying." Even this dynamo admits, "I can't go nonstop."
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