People often say to me, “I or my [friend, cousin, father] want(s) to write a book.” The writer-in-waiting usually has no experience with writing. I also hear, “I told my [friend, cousin, father] that you might be able to help them get started.”
In the past, I’ve given either a weak two-cent reply or a lengthy discourse on writing and publishing. The last two requests I’ve ignored while I simmered on how to respond.
My hesitation comes from the frustration I feel when folks believe they are able to write a book just because they can put together a few sentences into a paragraph. It’s not fair for me to feel this way because fifteen years ago I might have asked a published author the same thing.
With that confession out of the way, I want to answer all those would-be-authors in this way: I didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll write a book today.” I’ve been writing stories for most of my adult life. I’ve been a life-long reader. I have some training and experience with the English language. I’ve worked as an English teacher, journalist, publisher, editor, and communications specialist. I have nearly thirty years of experience with writing and being paid for my expertise. I’m not saying a person can’t write a book without my experience, but I am saying that writing a book requires a bit more than simply thinking you have a great story to tell.
I’ve spent years studying the craft of writing fiction and nonfiction. I don’t mean through formal training – although I have some of that – I mean through self-educating myself by reading other novels, seeking out conferences, studying books on craft, finding websites and blogs with writing information, and interacting with my fellow authors. When I entered the new world of e-publishing, I sought out every source I could to teach me how to proceed. I’m still doing that because I haven’t met my goals for success . . .yet.
I don’t want to discourage anyone, but I do want others to understand that it’s impossible for me to teach anyone else what I’ve learned. I can only point in the direction and the rest must be done through hard work. I stress that you just don’t sit down at the computer and write the instant best seller. Perhaps the Shades of Gray author did that, but I’m not interested in writing a poorly written smutty novel. If you are, then you don’t need to read any further. Open the cover on your laptop and begin.
Now for some more practical steps for beginning the journey to writing a book, if I haven’t discouraged you so far.
Why do you want to write the book? Are you interested in publishing for public consumption or do you want to provide a memoir for your relatives? If you want to publish for your family, that’s fine. You don’t need much more than desire. But you’ll still have to decide how you’re going to publish the book. That’s for another post.
What’s your ultimate goal for writing a book? If making money is at the top of your list, then I recommend you seek employment elsewhere. Most writers I know write because they have to write. The stories don’t leave them alone. They write because there is no other choice. Chances are you won’t make a whole lot of money from writing a book no matter which method of publishing you choose. I remain hopeful that my passion will one day pay the bills
Are you willing to bare your soul on the page no matter what type of writing you choose? If you’re afraid of honesty, then perhaps you’re not ready to write. I don’t mean you have to confess the time you stole a cookie out of the jar. I’m talking about the type of honesty about life and people that makes your writing universal and enduring. I don’t ever give specific details of my own life in my fiction, but I do write about the emotions an event might have elicited. I choose different details to express it.
Are you willing to work hard learning and perfecting your craft with only the intrinsic satisfaction writing gives you? For many years in my writing career, I pursued the golden apple of success that grows from the limbs of those who read my books. I thought that would make me successful. In the past few years, I’ve left that type of temporary satisfaction behind and enjoyed success in a different way. That type of satisfaction and pride lasts longer than the time between good reviews.
Are you ready to put your work into the world for anyone to scrutinize and criticize? Here’s one of the dichotomies of being a writer. Most writers I know are rather reclusive at times and just a little bit shy in public. I know that some folks who know me might shake their heads and say I am not in the least bit shy. Those folks would be wrong. I may be sociable and even be the life of the party at times, but that behavior comes at a great cost to me either before, during, or after a social event. I’m much more comfortable attending one of the parties thrown by a character in a novel. But here’s the two-sided trouble. As authors, we usually want to publish, which means we’ve opened a bit of ourselves to public view. Over the years, I’ve had to develop a tough hide. It’s harmful when I start believing both the good and bad reviews. By far, the bad reviews – very few in comparison to the good reviews – stay with me and haunt me. However, they are easier to take now. I also stopped preening every time a childhood friend or colleague wrote a glowing review of my work. Now, I know the legitimate reviews from strangers are important, but not as important as the confidence within me that I’ve written a book just the way I envisioned it.
If my questions didn’t quell your thirst to write, then you’re probably ready, not to write the next Great American Novel, but to get busy educating yourself on the business of writing a book. I’ll save that for the next installment.
Besides doing research and study, keep writing. Start a blog if you don’t have one and set deadlines for yourself. Write down any ideas that come to you. Sketch out characters. Write dialogue. You won’t be wasting time. Some of the stuff you might use one day; some of the stuff may just serve as practice .
What other questions or issues should someone address before seriously embarking on writing a book?