“How to write a book” is one of the most searched for phrases on the internet. This isn’t surprising because just about everyone I meet is either a published author or else is just about to start on their first book. Someone (probably a vanity publisher) once said, “there’s a novel inside every one of us” – but is it true?
The answer is “maybe”. Provided we can spell reasonably and put a sentence together that people can understand, we can probably get it together to write a book. But that’s only a small part of the process of writing for others to read. Writing a book involves an awful lot more than just putting 100,000 or so words in some kind of order and sending them to a publisher. The question should really be “Can anyone write a book that is able to be published” and the answer to that is: without the right help “no”, but with expert guidance and being told what to do, then it’s a very definite “yes”.
Is knowledge of writing enough?
Writing a book requires a little more than theory to turn someone into an author. For example, I know what the principles of bricklaying are. It’s quite simple really: you just put layers of bricks on top of one another, and stick them together with cement to make walls. Yes, I know the theory but I wouldn’t be competent enough at it to build a house or even a dog kennel. If someone (preferably a professional bricklayer) taught me every aspect of building a house with bricks, step by step, throwing in a few “tricks of the trade”, then I’d feel confident enough to do it.
In the same way, if someone asked me how to write a book, I could tell them: if you’re writing a novel, you need to have a few characters and a story and you just put words together to make sentences; sentences together to make paragraphs and chapters; and those chapters make a book. That’s it. How to write a book explained in one easy sentence. But is it? Sadly no: there’s more to writing a novel or any kind of book than just stringing lots of sentences together.
Can anyone be taught to write?
The only person who can teach you how to write a book is someone who knows how to do it themselves. Someone who has done it dozens of times, over and over. Someone who has made all the mistakes themselves, so we don’t have to. Ideally someone like author Mark Timlin, who has had every book he has ever written published. There are now over 30 of them out there.
What makes mark especially qualified to teach it is because he was an outsider. No one taught him how to write a book, he just read a few, asked a few questions and got lucky first time. Of course we could all try that approach ourselves, but somehow I think it’s better to take the easier route. After all, as he says now: “If there had been a book available, written by someone like me telling someone like me how to write a novel, I’d have snapped it up. It would have saved me a lot of wasted effort, sweat, and all-night writing sessions that ended up with pages that were eventually thrown away.”