“Do you think I can write a book?”
I had just spent a pleasant hour with the young realtor who is selling us a house. We talked all about the books he read, what he learned, and what he liked. He was an avid reader and his question wasn’t unusual. People ask me that all the time.
Here’s the short answer. If you can read a book, you can write a book. Your brain is probably big enough to write a book. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Here are three things that many would-be authors find difficult.
You Must Be Willing to Learn the Craft or Hire Help
The good news is that writing is a craft, so you can learn it. The bad news is that writing is a craft, so you must learn it or hire help. There are books about writing you can read. There’s software that can help you write better. There are coaches you can hire. There are ghostwriters who can do the “hands on keys” work for you.
Writing a book differs from other kinds of writing, too. Books are larger than most other writing projects, and they’re complex systems. Change one part of it and you almost always have to change others. You can learn to do that, or you can hire a developmental editor. Sometimes the developmental editor and writing coach are the same person.
That’s just the writing. Once you finish your book, you must hire an editor to whip it into shape. You’ll must either master the self-publishing process, sign with a traditional publisher, or get help. And then? Then you must promote the book. That means you must learn something about that craft.
You Must Stay with the Project Even When It’s Not Fun
Authors always start out with great enthusiasm. It’s not too long before reality hits. Writing a book is hard work. You go over the same bits of writing time after time after time, changing things to get them right. You carve out time from your already stuffed schedule and spend it writing instead of doing something you’d rather do. After several drafts, you’re not done. The book must go to the editor and through the publishing process.
You Must Take Criticism
I tell first-time authors they will get a lot of criticism and it will be uncomfortable. They all nod, pretending to agree with me, but inside, they’re thinking that might be true for others, but it’s not true for them. It always is.
We’re not wired to like critical comments about our work. But when you write a book, criticism is part of the process.
If you work with a coach or developmental editor, he or she will tell you things you do not want to hear. If you send your book out to beta readers, they will tell you that some ideas you thought were crystal-clear make no sense. They may tell you they don’t like your book at all. That’s like they’re telling you your newborn baby is ugly.
Get through that, and you pass your manuscript on to an editor. If he or she is any good, you’ll hear about many things you could have done better.
Your editor or coach may suggest that you a eliminate some writing you love. He or she will point out that it doesn’t move the book forward. You will cry out that it’s a great bit of writing. This happens so often that writers have a term for it: “killing your babies.” It’s incredibly difficult. Even if you understand the wisdom in it, you won’t like it.
What makes writing a book hard isn’t the intellectual challenge. You can handle that. But you must master the craft or hire help. You must keep working on your book even when it’s not fun. And you must hear and evaluate criticism that makes you uncomfortable. If you’re up to those challenges, though, you can write a good book.