No, you can’t write a book.

Everyone’s default position to a newly published writer is that their writing will suck. If someone I know tells me they’ve published a book, I too will assume that it sucks big fat donkey balls. The reason for this is that you can fake being able to write a book, (you can fake art too but that is a subject for another time).

You can’t fake being a musician. If you pick up a guitar for the first time, you will suck. Roughly speaking it requires about 10,000 hours of solid work to become proficient on your first instrument. Thus it holds true that becoming a skilled writer will also require at least 10,000 hours.

But herein lies the problem. While nobody can fake playing a guitar, (except for boy bands and buskers), plenty of people can fake writing a book. After all, it’s just words on a page. Anybody can do that. It’s so easy! So they write their book and pass it around to family and friends and there is the inevitable groan from everybody forced to read the pile of turgid sludge masquerading as the next great novel.

Here’s a hot tip: if your close friends and family take a long time to read your masterpiece, it’s a giant turd. More hot tips: is it your first book? It’s a giant turd. Is it your second book? Still a turd, just not as big. Did you work with an editor? No? Giant turd. How many drafts and rewrites did you do? Just the one? Giant turd. Why are you writing in the first place? So the world can appreciate your genius? Giant turd, (you, as well as the book). Do you know what an adverb is? If you don’t, you’re writing turd.

Shakespeare’s first work was undoubtedly a giant turd. Most probably he finished it, then took it outside and slowly fed it to the flames. If he was unlucky, he showed it to someone.

You need 10K hours. And that’s just the writing. Don’t forget about the reading. For every hour you write you’ll need to throw in at least one for reading. You’ll need to be able to get to the point where you can pick up a book and know within a heartbeat if it’s going to be a turd. It might be a polished turd, (lots of published work is just that), but a turd nonetheless.

Here is my writing background. I won my first writing competition when I was eight years old. I won it the next year, and then the next after that as well. The fourth year they asked me not to enter so as to give the other kids a chance. I entered anyone, won, and then left the school. I was a voracious reader from the age of four. At high school I preferred to read at lunch time, (nerd!!). My first article was published in a magazine when I was eighteen. Over the years I’ve had a bunch of articles published all over the world in newspapers and magazines. I started writing my first book when I was nineteen. I finished it a few years later and showed it to some of my friends. They made comforting noises whilst backing slowly away. I threw the book away. I wrote a second book, and showed it to a trusted associate who also made comforting noises. I threw that one away as well.

I started a blog where I tried to write as often as possible. There are over 500 blog posts on that site stretching over seven years. I then started my third book. I worked with two different editors and I rewrote it four times. Counting rewrites, I wrote over 500,000 words to get the book to its finished state.

I reckon that’s around 10K hours.

The most common reaction I get from new readers is of surprise. “Wow, your book was actually really good. I thought it would be a turd.”

This reaction does not upset me. It is heartening, as I no longer receive comforting noises. The only problem I now have is getting potential readers to push past the invisible turd barrier. The default setting of turd. Because there are a lot of turds out there.

2 thoughts on “No, you can’t write a book.

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