Whether it’s a pandemic, an injury, a layoff or the kids are finally in school or college, when facing a stretch of time on your hands, it’s not uncommon to ask, “Should I write a book?” You may want to write a book because you’ve had an interesting life, something unusual has happened to you, you have a nonfiction topic you’re interested in writing to promote your business or just because you know a lot about it, or you’ve just always wanted to write a book. Since I’m in the book-writing business, clients come to me with all sorts of enthusiasm to get started, but one of the first things I want many to do is consider whether writing a book is the best idea.
First, let’s consider what writing a book entails. Unlike many book-writing courses out there, anyone who tells you writing a book is easy, or that you can knock out a novel in a month, is just trying to take your money. They know that whatever you write is unlikely to be publishable by a traditional publisher, won’t sell if self-published, and most importantly, won’t be very good. Sure, you can sit down to the keyboard and hammer out enough words to call what you write a book. But I’m guessing that whatever you write, you want it to be read, and you want it to be good.
As you reflect on the answer to your question, “Should I write a book?” ask yourself if you are prepared to write for several hours a day, five days a week, for however long it takes—even if it exceeds a year, which, for most writers, is what it will take, especially if you’ve never written a book before. Do you have a space in your home to write where you won’t be interrupted? Do you have the time available to write a book? Even if you only have fifteen minutes a day, you can write a book (I wrote my dissertation that way, as I had a newborn and that was about all the time I had for writing). But it will take longer. Writing a book means committing to the long haul—which isn’t so bad, because you’ll discover that once you’ve established the writing habit, you actually enjoy the time you have alone with your words and the world those words create.
Once you’re certain that you can make the commitment, ask yourself, “Should I write a book if I’ve never written anything publishable before?” In most cases, the clients who come to me wanting to write a book have never published anything, nor even written much of anything. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a book in you, and it doesn’t mean you should scrap the notion. But know what you’re tackling. If you’ve never played a musical instrument, would you ever think, “I should buy a guitar and put out a CD?” If you’ve never painted anything other than the grade school paintings your parents stuck on the fridge, would you ever think, “I should buy some paints and canvas and have a show at a gallery?” Of course you wouldn’t. You would understand that before you present your work to the public, you need to learn technique and produce some lesser works. The same is true with writing. Writing a book is something you do after you’ve written shorter pieces and mastered some technique.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a buzzkill and discourage you from your dreams. Quite the contrary—helping people write their books is what I do. But more often than not, the clients who come to me with enthusiasm for writing their books are better served by writing shorter—and more manageable—publishable pieces which will be easier to write, more likely to be read, and build the platform—the audience—and skills necessary for writing the book. What then should you write?
If you’ve never published anything before, do what writers have done for eons before the Internet, and that’s write some articles. Write some essays. And now that we do have the internet, write some blog posts. But don’t do it blindly. Work with someone—a writing coach, a professor, even a well-organized and supervised write group—and learn the basics of storytelling. Learn how to present your ideas in a compact format, in a clear and understandable language, and in a manner which will engage readers and get noticed.
Speaking of noticed, you know how I keep repeating, “Should I write a book?” If you’ve a keen eye, you’ve been thinking, how can she think she’s writing well when she keeps repeating herself? The answer is, it’s all strategic. It’s one of the reasons you’ve clicked on this blog post. When writing online content, think about what the reader will Google to find your article. Then repeat it throughout the article. It makes for weaker writing, true, but online writing is distinct in that it’s designed to be found by relevant readers. That means SEO optimization—Search Engine Optimization. That’s something you want to learn before writing your book, because it helps build the readership that will eventually want to buy your book. And it’s not something you want to do for publishing articles and essays in magazines, newspapers and even major online blogs that already have a built-in readership. Understanding the different forms of writing for different media and venues is something you’ll want to know before you set out to write a book, or even a short blogpost.
In short, asking yourself, “Should I write a book?” (there it is again), is a good question if you have something that you want to say, a story that you want to tell, or a business that you want to promote. The answer is, Yes, you should write a book if you want to write a book. But write a good book. Write a book people will want to read. And that starts with writing short pieces, which may eventually find their way into your book once you do start writing it. Writing those short pieces will give you the skills, writing habits, and momentum, to write a book you’ll be proud of and people will want to read.