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Ivan Coyote: 11 things I learned while writing my 11 books

Author and performer Ivan Coyote wrote 11 books in 17 years, from the 2006 novel Bow Grip (winner of the ReLit Award) to the YA title One in Every Crowd (2012) and their* latest book, a collaboration with author and musician Rae Spoon, Gender Failure. Turns out each book Ivan's written over the years has offered the writer some important professional and life lessons. In this post, Ivan shares with us the personal ups and downs of writing one book after another.


From my first book I learned that I could write a book, and that people might read it. People I didn't even know and some who weren't even related to me. 

During the writing of my second book I learned that doing it again was scarier than the first one in some ways, because I went in with the knowledge that someone might read it. And then there was the wondering if I could do it again.

While writing my third book I learned how hard it is to believe that you can think of things to write about that you didn't already write about in the first or second book.

In the writing of the fourth book I learned that I rushed through the writing of the third book to prove to myself that I could write a third book, and that it showed. I had to make sure the fourth book was good enough to make up for the third book. So I learned some patience, and a lot about editing. 

My fifth book was my only published novel so far. I learned that I could write a novel and that novels are hard in a whole new kind of hard way. I also learned that it is sometimes when you are really making it up, when you are truly writing fiction, that you can really tell the truth about some things and sweep some juicy secrets under that imagined carpet. 

During the writing of the sixth book I learned how to keep writing even when I was teaching at a university. Some days it felt like a few of those students were going to suck the life force right out of the 28 invisible life-force nipples I had magically grown in the night right after I signed the teaching contract.

During the writing of the seventh book I learned a lot about my family, and about the true power of telling a story about difficult things with love and compassion and patience for the less-than-good guys (and the less-than-good parts of myself as well). This was one of the most important writing and life lessons I have ever grokked, even if only for a few moments. I will always carry this lesson with me, and learn it again, and bring it into everything I ever write, I hope.

My eighth book was an anthology that contained the work of 42 writers, including my then fiancée (now my beloved wife) and myself. I co-edited this book with my partner, while she was working full-time, finishing her PhD, during a very trying period where we were simultaneously planning our wedding, and I was out of town doing a writer-in-residence gig. I don’t even know where to begin to list everything I learned while putting that book together.

In my ninth book I learned that even if you state very clearly on the cover that this book contains many essays and stories previously published in earlier collections now gathered with some new material—with the express purpose of putting together a collection appropriate for young adults and targeted at high school libraries to hopefully bring comfort to marginalized teens struggling in a sometimes hostile school environment—someone is still going to take the time to complain on Goodreads that they have already read most of these stories already. That was a tough lesson for me. I'm sensitive.

My tenth book gave me the strange and exhilarating feeling of working in the double digits. I learned that if you write a book called Gender Failure you are going to have to field a lot of inappropriate questions from reporters. 

I am working on my eleventh book right now. I am learning to really have fun with it all now. I think I am finally starting to kind of get the hang of it. But maybe check back in, closer to when the first draft is due.

Photo credit: Robin Toma Photography

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Ivan Coyote is a writer, storyteller, performer and teacher who grew up in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Their books include the ReLit Award-winning Bow Grip and the anthology Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, which was named a Stonewall Honor Book by the American Library Association. Ivan's latest book, Gender Failure, is a collaboration with the author and musician Rae Spoon.

*Ivan Coyote uses the gender-neutral pronoun "they."


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