“I could write a book.” How many times have people told me that? And I’m not famous; these are just people who hear I’m a writer and think they can be, too. Because that’s not insulting at all.
Let’s put aside that megalomaniacal assumption of “can” and ask another question no one asks: “should.”
“Should I write a book?” Writing is not the laid-back easy button too many people think it is. Ability can be learned, but suitability takes wisdom, and wisdom requires information, which is why you’re here!
In this post, I’m specifically referring to fiction. Non-fiction has other questions that must be asked, so that would be another post. But many people see the fiction craze and think they can jump in. But should they?
Here’s a very rough series of questions to ask yourself if you’ve ever thought you wanted to write a novel.
Do you have a story?
Ideas and messages are good starting points, but not enough to seal the deal. Ideas and messages may make good non-fiction, but fiction hinges on storytelling. If you don’t have a story, don’t write fiction.
If completed: 20% you should write a novel.
Are you willing to learn how to write?
Think of it this way: if you wanted to be a lawyer, you’d study law. To be a chef, you would learn to cook. To be a mechanic, you’d slip under a car with a trainer. And to be a writer, you must learn how to write.
You don’t need a degree in English, but the education does help. Otherwise, the internet is overloaded with resources, writing groups, books, and more. If you want to learn, you have infinite options.
If you don’t learn, you’d better be royally talented or you’d better hire a ghostwriter.
If completed: 40% you should write a novel.
Do you read enough?
One of the best and most fun ways to learn how to write fiction is by reading fiction. Start in the genre you want to write (sci-fi, women’s fiction, children’s books, etc.) but don’t stop there. Read plenty of genres, styles, authors, as much as you can. Then, work some poetry, plays, and history in there.
The greater your range of reading, the more your ideas your brain can accumulate. This is what we call in the business “Stealing like an Artist.” Ideas, themes, words, plot threads, character pieces, and more all come together in your head to create something new and fun. Not to mention how they mingle with your real-life experiences.
More than that, you can see what’s already been done, what’s needed in the world, and the many different types of voices a writer can use.
A writer who doesn’t want to read must be extremely lucky, and do you really want to rely on pure luck?
If completed: 50% you should write that book.
Can you make time to write?
I didn’t say “Do you have time?” I said, “Can you make time?” Time eludes us all unless we pin it down with purpose.
Books don’t materialize in a day. Writing the takes time. Rewriting takes more time. Editing sucks even more time out of you. And what about research? If you haven’t lived it, you must learn it!
Hours, days, weeks, months, even years will go by before you’re done with this book. And even then, an editor, agent, or whomever else will likely say, “Try again.” If you want to write a book, you must make time.
If completed: 60% you should write that book.
Do you enjoy writing?
Writing is not always fun. Sometimes you run out of ideas. Sometimes you get new ideas and have to spend hours erasing your old ones. Sometimes you have to chug your way through hard scenes.
And many times, you will get discouraged.
But if you love the craft itself, you’ll be able to come back to it again and again. If you don’t like it, even a little, you have a rough journey ahead.
If completed: 70% chance you should write that book.
Are you willing to get your skin ripped off?
Don’t think people will automatically like your book. Editors are paid to point out problems. Beta readers do it for free. And this is all to your benefit. If you don’t have people read and pick apart your book, well, you’d better be The Most Awesomest Writer The World Just Doesn’t Understand.
However, I doubt it. I don’t say that to be mean; every one of us has to grow. The natural-born genius is rarer than a bad Pixar movie. If you want to write, you need thick skin. Not only will good people helpfully show you your flaws, but haters will rake you across the coals just because they’re haters.
Can you handle that? Or can you learn? If not, writing a book will be utter agony for you.
If completed: 85% you should write that book.
Are you willing to connect with the world?
Gone are the days of “Write book, send to a publisher, cash check, disappear,” if they even existed. It’s infinitely harder to find agents or publishers willing to take you on if you don’t have an established audience. That means you need to find one.
Again, I said “willing,” not “able.” Ability can be learned, but it’s hard and frustrating. There’s no formula for fiction success (no matter what the scammers tell you). You must find your own voice, your own audience, and your own marketing tools.
Yes, even you introverts. I’m one, too. And it’s tricky, but rewarding when someone finally says those magic words, “What else do you have?”
Fortunately, you can learn infinite variations of novel marketing with a little internet or library research. But if you don’t find some way to get people interested in your book, you won’t sell many, and you probably won’t even get published.
If completed: 95% you should write that book.
No perfect answers
This has all been one big guestimation. Those percentages I listed? Just reference points. Even if you do all those things, there may be mitigating factors like personal situations. And even if you have almost none of them, miracles happen.
This is not a cut-and-dry guide, but just a piece to get you thinking. Writing a book is work. It’s painful. It is not an overnight success strategy and let me be clear on this: it is not for everyone.
And that’s okay. If fiction writing isn’t in your future, then something else is. Find your specialty and milk it. Don’t write a book just because someone says you should or you see everyone else doing it. Many of those people suck at it!
My point is this: if you think “I should write a book,” read through this list once more and ask yourself, “Should I really?” If not, enjoy whatever life you make for yourself. If so, welcome to the madhouse. We have coffee.