The Gatekeepers of Writing and Finding Your Own Way
As an author, I often get people asking me how to write a book. And I always reply the same thing; it’s different for everyone.
This is a hill I will die on.
There is no one way to write a book. There’s also no right way to write a book.
As with so many things in this world, there are a wide variety of ways to reach your end goal.
However, I’m more and more seeing a snobbish few proclaiming a very prescriptive way to write a book. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, claiming that authors who don’t follow their guidelines are either a) not authors or b) not very good authors.
The truth of the matter is that different people write books in different ways. In fact, many people write their own books in different ways, too.
I’ve written and published over seventeen novels and when I was first starting on my writing journey I assumed I would soon find a way to write a book, a pattern that suited me. What I ended up discovering was that every book is different. Yes, I’ve learnt tips and tricks that come with me from book to book but the whole process from start to finish is different nearly every time. And sometimes I will use a similar system for a few books in a row, and then realise that system that doesn’t work for the next project. Be it the book, or me, or the time of year… something means that process just isn’t going to work this time and I come up with something new.
I’m friends with other authors who do things differently, too. Some plot every aspect, some make it up as they go, some make detailed character sheets, some consider a story arc in detail before writing a word. We’re all different and we’re all authors. Some of us are prolific readers of our own genre, some read only outside our genre, some don’t read at all. We’re all different and we’re all authors.
This isn’t to knock writing academies, writing retreats, one-on-one training sessions, or anything else along the teaching side of writing. Some people find these things useful, but also some people don’t. It doesn’t make anyone less of an author if they haven’t been on a writing retreat and crafted a series of character sheets. If they have written a book, they are an author. There shouldn’t be gatekeepers. But more and more I’m noticing that some people want to do this, they want to talk about the right way to write.
And so I wanted to say it again; it’s different for everyone.
I’m a huge believer in knowledge is power. I love researching things. But I also believe in taking all that research and finding what works for me. Because we’re all so different in how we overcome challenges. And writing a book is a challenge. So I explore, I trial, I test, I make notes, and I rinse and repeat for every book. I know what works for me, but I keep my mind open for new processes to try as well. Because not only are we all different, we also grow and change as we get older. What wouldn’t have worked for me three years ago might be exactly what I need now.
If you’re wondering how to write a book, I’m sorry but that’s not a question I can answer. It’s one that you have to answer for yourself. You may find reading a lot to be very helpful to you, you may find it disrupts your inner voice. You may find a writing retreat to be the perfect place to learn the craft, you may find it doesn’t gel with your own creative process. You may find a writing school helps you to structure what you need to learn, you may find that it doesn’t fill the gaps in your knowledge.
What I can tell you is that you need to try different things and see what works for you. But if anyone tells you about the right way to write… run a mile.