I used to think people who write books live on another planet.
Stories were so sacred that I never thought of writing one as a child or during my teen years. Even when a few characters popped up in my head with superpowers, I didn’t feel the need to write their stories.
Years later, my daughter wrote a story for her Year 10 assignment. I helped her. It was an eye-opening exercise. I watched characters come to life. And my mind opened to the possibility — anyone can write stories.
The writing bug had bitten me. I learned that it is possible to create stories from the beginning.
But I didn’t start with short stories. I started with a novel.
I enrolled in a year-long course at the local writer center, where I floated a story idea going through my head for some time. Everyone in the course gave the story idea their thumbs up.
With whatever little knowledge I gained during the course and whatever little time I scraped from full-time work, teenage children, and aged parents needing care, I managed to develop that idea into the first ‘‘shitty draft.’’
Then I left it in the proverbial bottom drawer of my desk.
I had lost my shoshin.
Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism which means “beginner’s mind.”
In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind, there are few.
Shoshin refers to the idea of letting go of your preconceptions and having an attitude of openness when studying a subject.
When I started writing the novel, I was in the beginner’s mindset. I was curious about the process of creating characters, putting them in trouble, let them make decisions, and then watched them react.
It was all fun and games.
But soon, I started doubting myself. I wondered why anyone would want to read my book? A book takes years to write; do I have the time to go through the process? What if I don’t find a publisher?
It was a time when book publishing was going through a revolution. Amazon had announced Kindle Direct Publishing (November 2007), and in just five years, ebook publishing hit its peak.
It took another ten years to change my mindset. Like everybody else, I had preconceived ideas about writing books.
Many of you, reading this article, still might have them. So let’s tackle a few of them here.
- Books are too hard to write
- Books take years to write
- Why would anyone want to read my book?
- There are already too many books in the world
- It is too hard to get published.
Books are too hard to write.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
— Ernest Hemingway.
Although in the past few decades, “writing” used to be considered as “bleeding on the page,” it is not the case anymore.
Have you ever written a university assignment or a thesis for your Masters’s degree?
What did you do for that?
You selected a topic (or given a topic), researched, hypothesized, made an argument supporting your hypothesis, gave supporting examples, wrote a conclusion, and you were done.
That is all there is to writing a non-fiction book.
Make your first book a trial one.
Choose any topic that either you know about or want to know about. Research it. Look at it from your point of view, add bits of your own story, and you will give the topic a unique angle.
If you are a blogger and have written many articles, you might already have a book in them. Put together many articles with similar themes and then weave them in a coherent manner.
Books are nothing more but a collection of blogposts telling a coherent story.
Books take years to write.
That is what most people think. However, talk to any professional writer, and they will tell you they write the first draft very quickly.
If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them in the bargain. By following my formula your write 2000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks.
— Ian Fleming.
There are many advantages of writing your book fast. First, you are in a flow state. Second, you are not seeking perfection but getting the story on the page.
You are not messing with your sentences, searching in vain for the right turn of phrase. You know you can always improve a sentence in the editing process.
You are not agonizing for weeks, changing back and forth, getting to that perfect prose at the initial stage of writing. You are in the discovery phase and want to figure out where the book is going. You can always go back and connect the dot.
It is not the writing of the book that takes longer, but the other stages. Two of the most time-consuming part of the book writing process are — research and editing/rewriting.
As a new writer, I also used to think that accomplished writers write a book in one go.
Nothing was far from the truth.
Accomplished writers have a process they follow. In that process, they allocate time for each step.
How long it takes you to write a book depends upon how good your process is and how polished your skills are. Both are achieved by writing several books.
Many self-published authors are releasing several books a year.
There are already too many books in the world.
Thousands of books on every topic have been written. Every human emotion has been explored, and every piece of advice has been given. All human experiences have already been cataloged in countless books.
Then why should I write a book?
The answer is no one can explain as you do.
There are countless books written on writing. I have read many of them and some of them several times. These books are written so well and never fail to inspire me. If I look at them, I feel I could never write like them; why I should even bother.
But the truth is my learning is not just from one book but several books. Repeated reading, deconstruction, and repeated usage have helped me understand concepts, which I now explain in my own way. In addition, I have learned to put my own spin on the topic.
Let’s say ten new writers are given the assignment to write a book on writing, and each one of them is given the same ten books on writing as reference material; each one will come up with a different book. Each one of them will be inspired by the different bits of the same book.
It is like ten chefs cooking the same dish with the same ingredients following the same recipe. Even then, each chef’s dish will taste different. Each chef will do something different, which will make her dish different from the other one.
Why would anyone want to read my book?
Your voice and your perspective.
Your take on a subject might be different even though slightly. But, on the other hand, your arguments might make more sense. And combined with your story, it might impact someone.
Your story, your voice, and your perspective will make your book original even if the topic has been explored countless times before.
Your creativity and viewpoint will make your book stand out from a thousand others on the same topic. So trust your instincts and write your book in your own way.
It is too hard to get published.
“It provides some kind of primal verification: you are in print: therefore, you exist.”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
When I took to writing, it was drilled into me to concentrate on writing and not worry about publishing.
Because getting published was not only hard but next to impossible.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about collecting rejection slips as a badge of honor.
But then the world changed right in front of my eyes. The Internet came, blogging started, and some daring writers started self-publishing.
The publishing industry has changed forever. We live in the internet age where everything is online, yet most of us, when we think of publishing, think of physical books.
Today, readers are purchasing more books as e-books and audiobooks than print copies.
You don’t have to go through the gatekeepers such as agents and traditional publishers to get your book published. Instead, you can publish and sell your book yourself.
Having a dream to write books and to be able to write them is just the mindset shift.
Once you identify that, there is enough knowledge around for you to be able to do it on your own.
Surely it helps if you do it with other like-minded people.
Join Whimsical Writers, and let’s achieve our goals together.
Want to go quickly, go alone, want to go far, go together. — African proverb.