There are three kinds of people in this world:
- Those who are going to write a book.
- Those who are not going to write a book.
- Those who are going to fail in their attempts to write a book.
I'm an editor, and it's my job to help turn potential failures into potential success stories.
For more than 25 years, I have helped authors through every stage of developing manuscripts on topics as diverse as children's books to church history to short stories to first-hand accounts of Hurricane Katrina to inspirational self-help books.
In this blog post, I'm going to share what I've learned from a quarter century of working with writers.
The Most Common Trait Among Authors
As with most ventures in life, those who complete a manuscript are not necessarily the most talented, the best educated or the most charming. The single most common trait among people who have written a book is they didn’t give up.
If you are a quitter, you should choose something less complicated, frustrating and tedious than writing a book. Sorry.
Do you want to write a book? Great! Go for it … but don’t give up.
Who Should Write a Book?
Anyone who wants to. Even you.
No, you don’t have to be a grammar geek. You probably know someone who fancies himself or herself as an editor. Buy them a couple of pocket protectors and a box of red pencils. Then, flatter them with the lie that you respect their opinions. Buy them dinner and convince them that you’ll take their advice, if they’d be so kind to offer it.
You won’t of course. You’ll become so attached to your “baby” that you will treat anyone who would deign to revise your uniquely inspired writing with the same contempt as you would a person who says your mother should grow a mustache.
Learn what you can from their advice and keep going.
“Real” writers will tell you this advice is crazy, but don’t worry about grammar. Writing is an art. I could train a duck to use proper punctuation.
At the beginning, focus on the substance, not the form. Begin to write, then continue.
Note to Those Who Disagree: Pffft. Write your own dang blog post.
Where Should I Begin?
As with most ventures in life, examine your motives. If you want to write a book to become loved and adored, buy a puppy. If you want to get rich quick, buy a lottery ticket. If you want to become famous, find a cure for cancer.
If you have a story that burns within your soul that you feel eerily compelled to share with anyone who will listen, write it down. You have the beginnings of a book.
Where Should I Not Begin?
Abandon the absurd folly that you do – or ever will – write as well as your favorite author. Can you learn from other writers? Sure, but you’ll only be worth reading when people appreciate the way you express yourself. In that way, you’ll be better than your favorite authors.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary says the word “author” means: “One who originates or creates.” “Copycat” means: “One who imitates or adopts the behavior or practices of another.”
I love the award-winning writing of Dave Barry. Dave follows the same pattern in his columns so consistently that one wag came up with a fill-in-the-blank “write like Dave Barry” website.
Being similar to someone else might be flattering, but why read a clone when you can read the original?
Develop your own style. You may write in iambic pentameter or refuse to use capital letters or write the world’s longest single sentence. That’s your business. You’re the artist. Write any way you’d like. Nobody tells painters what to paint or singers what to sing. As an amateur, you have the freedom to choose your own way of putting your thoughts into words.
As with most ventures in life, “be yourself.” Be original. Be brave.
What do you have to lose?
What Should I Write About?
Choosing a topic might be your most difficult choice. Whatever you choose:
- You must have a mastery of your subject matter.
- You must have a mastery of the points you want to make.
- You must have a mastery of how you will communicate your message.
Otherwise, readers will think:
- You have no idea what you’re writing about.
- You either the lack the skill, preparation or sense to communicate.
- Your writing isn’t worth their time.
Choosing a topic, however, might be simple because there’s only one thing that you KNOW you MUST put into print.
It doesn’t matter if your book is about the way your grandmother’s house smelled, those mean kids in middle school, how to turn cornbread into gold or Nine Things You Didn’t Know About Drawknives.
Pick something that brings out your passions. Sooner or later, the joy of writing will become a tedious rut. Choose a rut you’ll enjoy being in for the long bumpy ride to your destination.
Write some more.
And don’t give up.