Monday 5 April 2010

Everyone has a book in them...?

People often say to me either: "I've always thought I'd like to write a novel", or "everyone says I ought to write a book about my life/experiences/brilliant idea"(or whatever).

Why do so many people think they can write? And if they really believe they can, why don't they just sit down and do it? It's because that's the really hard part; that's why. The sitting down and doing it. That's what so many people don't seem to get. Ideas are easy. Everyone has ideas. Nearly everyone can string words together. Telling stories is relatively easy. But sitting in front of that blank sheet of paper (or worse, that blank screen) is the really hard part. How many potentially brilliant writers have never written a book because they never sat on that chair and got stuck in?

And yet...another part of me thinks, what makes you think this is so easy? What makes you think that anyone can write a book? A friend of mine, a successful actress, is infuriated because the cast of her present production includes a "celebrity" who has never acted in her life before. 'I think I'll go and spend a day as a brain surgeon' fumes my friend. 'If X thinks she can act, why shouldn't I have a go at digging away at somenone's grey cells? Do years of training and experience count for so little?'

To get back to writing, a great many people think they can write. But can they? Those of us who have been published are fortunate; I know this, and I'm very grateful. I could well have spent all my writing life keeping the slush piles of agents and/or publishers in business. But like most writers, I have served my apprenticeship. I have worked hard. Writing may be compulsive, but it's not easy. It's lonely, frustrating, and often heartbreaking, and unless you are very successful, it doesn't pay particularly well. As an occupation, it is not to be taken lightly.

There seem to be two reactions to people who write. One is: "Gosh! You write books! How wonderful!" The other is: "I could do that. I think one day I'll have a go."

Well, make up your minds, all you would-be writers. Either those of us who write are all geniuses, or writing is something you can do, too. So for goodness' sake, get on and just do it.


  1. I've heard a great many writers complain about this.

    A funny corollary is that many of those same people who think they might dash off a book at some point believe that the writing is the easy part, and that the crucial bit is having a great idea for a book. You'll find a lot of these people offering to collaborate with you--they'll come up with the ideas if you'll just scribble it all down.

    I'd just like for those folks to know that I have almost never heard of a book that was intrinsically a great idea. It's all about execution.

    I'd also like to tell those people that, no, the story of their lives really wouldn't make an interesting book, either.

    But I suppose those people aren't reading your blog, are they?

  2. Hi David. I totally agree. I've just read McCarthy's The Road; a relatively simple (if very bleak) idea, but a brilliant book.

    And how do you (politely) reply to those people whose life stories are going to make such riveting reading? I haven't found the asnwer to that one yet.

  3. Definitely linking to this! That line drives me mad.

  4. Someone said that to me today! Equally irritating is the

    "my brother/ great aunt/neighbour has written a book too."

    Me: "What's it about?"

    Them: "I think its a sort of autobiography,I haven't read it yet."

  5. I don't mind it. I cackle at the thought of them one day sitting down and trying. It reinforces in me that I have actually learned something through all these years of fiddling about with stories.

  6. I'm with Aliya on the "don't mind it".  Sometimes I just humour them because you can tell from the beginning whether or not they are serious about the writing.  And while it is a bit mercenary, I even encourage them as someone who wants to write will invariably buy more books, and the buying of more books is a good thing, even if it's not mine.  (Though I do tell them how much hard work it is - satisfying, yes - but hard).

    On a serious note, if you do find that rare breed that really does want to write a book but just needs that push of encouragement, then it's satisfying to know that you've provided that encouragement.  After all, a lot of us where in that same place once...