I’ve often had friends say “I could never write a book.” And yet they, like every person, have stories to tell and/or interesting information they could share. When I ask why they’ve never tried writing, I get a variety of answers:
- a lack of writing skills,
- insufficient time,
- inadequate imagination,
- limited patience,
- a belief that no one else would be interested in what they have to say,
- a preference for self-expression in a different activity,
- anxiety about sitting alone with one’s thoughts,
- a fear of failure,
- and unwillingness to invest a lot of time and hard work if it’s unlikely to produce even a hint of fame and fortune.
I’m sure there are other reasons I haven’t heard, or I’ve heard and forgotten.
While all of those reasons are valid, some seem more valid than others. Writing is a learned skill and, like any other complex task, it can be greatly improved by good teaching, practice, and constructive criticism. That doesn’t mean we can all become great writers or earn a lot of money from writing. Not everyone who plays baseball or a musical instrument becomes a superstar. But certainly one can become proficient enough to share one’s skills in the company of others. After all, why do people play anything if they know they can’t be among the best? Usually, because it’s enjoyable and has some social value. Just ask the people who play hockey after the age of 50 or golf or the piano into their eighties. Some might say that physical activities are different than mental ones, although they’d probably concede that there’s a mental part of any activity we enjoy.
For many writers, there is joy in creating and sharing a story – whether it’s imaginative or a unique presentation of facts and ideas drawn from individual or collective human experience, or some combination of the two. The writer can express themes and discover or create characters he/she believes are important. He/she can control (in fiction) or at least have good knowledge of (in non-fiction) events in the world being explored.
As for imagination, few people lack a fantasy life. Most prefer not to share their most tender or wild thoughts, or notions they try to dismiss as “crazy” or “sinful.” But if one is not terribly afraid of one’s thoughts, a shareable imagination can be developed. Alone or in the company of others, the writer can exercise and build imagination with questions such as “what if?” or “why?” asked in reference to one’s own experiences or the world as it is, has been, or might become.
Certainly a large number of fiction writers have gone on record saying they don’t know how their next paragraph, much less their novel, will end or what characters will pop up and/or do unexpected things. There’s time to determine whether a piece will be a short story or have enough substance for a novel. As with many things in life, planning is important, but things seldom work out exactly as planned. It’s more important to get started and adapt to the circumstances than to insist on knowing where one will end up. As with any learned activity, the more we do it, the better we become at it; and, in most cases, the better we become at it, the more we like to do it. So why not give writing a fair try? Or will you add to the reasons I listed above?