Essay

5 right reasons, and 3 wrong ones, for writing your book

Should you or shouldn’t you write that book? 

 3 WRONG REASONS to write a book:

  1. You think the life of a writer is enviable and glamorous. BZZZTTT. Any real writer will unfailingly tell you that writing is not glamorous. It’s a lot of lonely, hard work.
  2. You figure if you can just write a best-seller, you’ll get rich. GONG! You’re chance of getting rich will be markedly improved if, instead of writing, you plunk your entire net worth down on your favorite number at the roulette table. I know authors who made the best seller list, who spent more in promotion expenses than they earned on their first book. Writing is a long-term investment, not a way to get rich quick.
  3. If you want to write a book because someone said you should write a book, OH, PLEASE, DON’T DO IT!  Because that person who dumped the book-writing assignment on you, will not supply you with necessary motivation for the long, hard, lonely work of finishing a whole, well-crafted, readable book. For the motivation,  YOU need to really, really WANT to WRITE your book!

5 RIGHT REASONS to write:

  1. You want to establish credibility, in your profession or field, by authorship. Good. Writing a book really can help gain recognition. Do people turn to you for answers because you have the credentials, expertise and experience to expound on your subject? Have you successfully accomplished something? Then you could write a book about your expertise or your accomplishment.
  2. You need to express yourself. Wonderful. You should. But there might be a more suitable means of self-expression for you. Consider playing a musical instrument, dancing, painting, sculpting, photographing, filming, public speaking, acting, singing–you might find you prefer another outlet over the introverted, literary work of writing.
  3. You wish to find reconciliation and make peace–to better understand your life, humanity, the world, what happened, why you/he/she/they did it, and what you would like to have happen next. Writing helps writers heal the past and envision a future. On the other hand, if you don’t love to write, you might prefer to simply talk it out with a trusted someone.
  4. You want to preserve your own or someone else’s story for the historical/genealogical record. Good idea. Do it. But you might also choose to just yack into a microphone, and let someone who enjoys writing, do the writing of the story.
  5. Your story (whether it’s drawn from your own life/experience, someone else’s life, or your fictional character’s adventures) would be an inspiring, motivating, wise, entertaining, helpful, or fascinating yarn for people to read. That’s terrific! You want to give a gift to the world that only you can give. Please do. But ask yourself this: are you ready for the writing life? Books don’t magically materialize from  brilliant ideas. They get written, revised, edited, revised and rewritten. If you don’t enjoy writing, consider giving the world a gift that’s more expressive of something you love to do. Plant a tree or a garden. Knit a prayer shawl. Bake cookies. Put on a puppet show at the children’s library. Change a tire. Build a treehouse. Drive an elderly neighbor to get her hair fixed. Mentor a younger person.

I’m not trying to talk you out of writing your book. I’m only trying to help you discern whether you have a good reason for investing your time and effort into an enormous, time-gulping project.

Should you or shouldn’t you? Here’s what I think you should do: enjoy your life. And share your best, happiest, most authentic self with the rest of us. The crucial question about writing a book is: do you want to write?

(If you have a lot of important stuff to say and you don’t want to, or don’t have time to actually write, perhaps you should hire a ghost writer.)

**And I’m adding this very important note from the comment author Rachael Hanel left below (We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down): I would add another reason to NOT write a book: Writing simply to air a grievance or to tell everyone how badly the world has treated you.

You tell me: should you write your book?  

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84 thoughts on “5 right reasons, and 3 wrong ones, for writing your book”

  1. This is fantastic, Tracy! I think the only way for writing to really work out for someone is if it is part of his/her life, book or no book as the end result. I feel compelled to write. I will write whether I ever get published again or not. It’s just what I do. I also like to run. This has become part of my life; I can’t imagine not doing it. But do I win races? No!! I do it for the pure enjoyment it brings to my soul.

    I would add another reason to NOT write a book: Writing simply to air a grievance or to tell everyone how badly the world has treated you.

  2. I love this post. I don’t think I am ready for the book-writing life. When I think of how long it takes me to knock a five hundred word blog post into readable shape I know I would need several lifetimes to write the first five chapters of a novel. I greatly admire those who write because yes I agree it is a lonely life and one I suspect which requires a zillion tons of self-discipline.

    1. But not every writer is a novelist. I do think novels require more alone time than other kinds of writing. But there are poems, essays, self-help, blogs–all kinds of writing that doesn’t require such a huge, long commitment.

      Your blog writing, by the way, is lovely. It’s obvious that you take the time to “knock it into readable shape.”

  3. I think people have a need to express themselves and as you note, there are many different ways of expression, enjoy your day, Annie

    1. I think desire is the absolutely right word, Richard. And I think writing has been so incredibly rewarding for me, because desire was the first, and remains the primary motivation for me as a writer.

  4. Hi Tracy,

    Sound advice–especially the wrong reasons. In fact. the only reason to write is if you must, if you can’t help it. There are many easier forms of self-expression like howling at the moon.

    1. True.

      I howled at the moon once. It was fun. And much, much easier than writing! (and not nearly as lonely, because the coyotes in the woods were howling first, inspired me, and continued to howl with me).

      They, however, howled so much better than I.

  5. Wonderful food for thought Tracy! I must admit that writing a long story or paper is not my favorite thing. I love to express myself through baking and often my mood or a particular whim will determine what I decide to bake. However, I don’t think I’d like to go beyond a short blog post when it comes to writing. Sometimes it feels as if I’m grasping for inspiration!

    1. I wrote this because there’s a misconception floating around out there, (don’t know where it started, but it keeps spreading), that entrepreneurs all need to write a book. People who have never written a book tell them, “You need to write a book.”

      That’s like telling everyone “you need to dance a ballet!” or “you need to paint a landscape in watercolor!” or “you need to bake a pie from scratch.”

      Writing is only one size-material-color of glove, and it certainly doesn’t fit every hand and every taste! I want to dispel the myth that everyone ought to do it, because I meet quite a few people who labor under a guilt-feeling that they’re failing, somehow, to do something necessary.

      1. What a wonderful insight Tracy. It does seem that people often feel “pressured” into writing a book. I truly believe that good writing is a skill that is mastered just like ballet or pottery. There’s no need to force someone to grow into an area outside their skill set. That being said, I truly do enjoy your writing and a the way that you tell a story- it truly is a treat to read!

        1. Thank you, Heather, for taking the time to tell me that. I write because I love to write, and I’ve devoted most of my life to learning the art and craft of it. But there’s really no reason to publish, if my writing doesn’t connect with, and bring enjoyment, pleasure, or something to readers. You’ve made my day! 🙂

    1. That’s where I’m coming from, Jill. (Although I did find that after writing for a long time, “the writing” itself seems to desire to be published, regardless of what “I” want…)

      P.S. I just finished reading Rebecca. Have you?

            1. Better than I expected. I don’t generally like Gothic, and I definitely do not like ghost stories. And the hype behind this, that it’s a gothic ghost story, is not exactly accurate. (Although it is slightly gothic, but in a tasteful way).

              I’d say it’s rather like “Downton Abbey meets Wuthering Heights.”

              1. I’m always behind. Downton Abbey is the first pop culture thing in more than 15 years that I’ve caught on to in almost real-time (but I missed the first 2 seasons and had to catch them up).

  6. Wonderful post and just the inspiration I needed. Two-three years ago I wrote a cook book and even almost had a publisher. Now it has been sitting on my shelf quite dog-eared from all of the use it gets. After starting my blog I have been thinking to rewrite parts of it if not all of it. The blog has been a wonderful writing exercise in finding voice and the desired style…and it all takes practice and a little inspiration. 🙂

  7. I don’t believe the saying that everyone has a book in them – I think it has been miss-interpreted over the years and that what it originally meant was that we all build up experiences in life that could be part of a story. It takes a certain kind of character to sit down and actually write a book – one with determination and probably stubbornness too as well as a healthy thick skin for when all the rejections start piling in.
    The thing that irks me more than anything is when I tell people I write, they automatically assume that I mean a book. There are other forms of writing, all requiring discipline and thought as well as hard work and attention to detail. Folks who paint or do pottery or other types of craft don’t seem to be put under such pressure to produce a masterpiece.
    I write, like I always have, for enjoyment – I don’t want it to become a chore which, for me, I think it would if I were to embark on a full length novel.

      1. Sherri, it’s just a question EVERYBODY asks, in the same way they say, “How are you?” They think it keeps the conversation going. It helps to have an answer (because that question never stops being asked, unless, when people ask what you do, you tell them anything but, “I write.” In answer to the question, you can tell them, “I write flash fiction and short stories, autobiographical essays, op. eds, and I publish my own blog.” That will do them.

        But be prepared for the next (dumb) question, “Are you published?”

        1. After a long stretch of one thing after the other going wrong, culminating in me being made redundant from my job for the second time (both due to office closure), the second time taking place at the same time that my daughter was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease and Asperger’s Syndrome, with my husband’s full support we made the decision together that I would not look for work outside the home as my daughter needed me but during this time I could also pursue my writing career.

          When I had the amazingly unexpected experience of having a short story and then a couple of articles published in magazines I began,albeit very sheepishly, to tell people, when they asked, that I was working on my writing.

          Now though, when THAT next question is asked – what do you write about? – I just mumble something about writing ‘different things’ and I feel like a right twit. I often wonder why I find it so hard to know how to answer this question but now I know what to say!

          Thanks so much Tracy, this really does help very much 🙂

          As for the NEXT dumb question, perhaps saying something like ‘it’s in the pipeline’ or ‘I’m working on it’ or maybe even ‘watch this space!’ would end the questions? I don’t know.

          1. Tell them, “I publish in niche markets which means you’ve probably never heard of them, but I prefer writing for them because I can write about what interests me instead of having to cater to ‘the lowest-common-denominator’ mentality of mass markets. But I get bored talking about myself–I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing.”

    1. Well said, Jenny. And smart of you to know what to avoid so it doesn’t kill your love of writing. I firmly believe that “being a writer” has very little to do with what/how/how often one produces or publishes. Either a person writes (because it brings pleasure), or she does other things. I know writers who write letters–long, wonderfully, chatty missives. And that’s all. Or short little poems, journals full of them that they never share. Or they write articles. Or jokes.

      Not everyone, and not even every writer, ought to write a book.

  8. So i can tick # 1,2,3 & 5 of the reasons TO write. Trouble is they belong to four different books from four different aspects and times in my life and then life moved on and so did the motivation to finish. Ah! No-one said that you actually have to DEVOTE your life to writing to actually get the job done. So that brings me to point #3 of the reasons not to write (even when that person is yourself).

    1. You’re astutely perceptive, as always, Elizabeth. Paraphrasing what Richard Gilbert said early on in the comments, it comes down to desire. Do YOU really WANT to WRITE your BOOK?

      On the other hand, when you write a poem, you can think in terms of writing (and finishing) just one little poem at a time.

      I haven’t forgotten that I owe you an answer. It’s an involved answer, and I’ll get it to you before the end of 2013, I hope.

  9. I know I am not made for writing a book. It’s too long of a process. My attention and exhilaration span is way too short. And just cobbling together several short chapters seems to change the flow of a book to me. So I will gladly refrain from it…:)

        1. Who knows what technology will bring. Perhaps one day there will be collections of scattered works. eBooks, I think, could handle it.

          Wait. Don’t tell anyone I said that. Maybe I’m in the process of inventing something that will make me rich and famous…

  10. Excellent right and wrong reasons, Tracy. I would add one more to each category:
    DON’T write a book because you know a hot topic when you see one, and hey, you kind of have this idea, so you think you might be able to improve on what’s out there;
    and DO write a book because, no matter how hard you try to do other things, you CAN’T NOT write the book. (Okay, I know it’s a double negative, but you know what I’m saying.)

    1. I’ve said it in the double-negative, too, Marilyn. I write because I can’t not write (I know this, because I tried, for years, to not write.) I figure in this case, two negatives make a positive.

      And yes–the only people who are in a position to cash in on hot-topic trends are those who are so practiced at writing books, that they routinely crank out 3+ published books every year, AND they have some real expertise on the topic.

      I have a friend who pitched a great trend-topic idea for a humorous book to an agent, was rejected–he had never published a book before–and subsequently saw his book, by the same title, in the bookstores six months later.

      Nothing illegal had been done, no copyright infringement because you cannot copyright a title, and you can’t copyright an idea.

  11. Wonderful, thought-provoking post Tracy. I’ve never actually read anything quite like this. You know full well my feelings about writing ‘that book’ as I’ve shared this on my blog. I have no choice but to write my first book, I am compelled. I’ve made the first jump, now have to make the second one, to be prepared to accept the discipline and the loneliness that goes hand in hand with the writing of it. This is the next big mental battle for me. I love to write, all things, I want to write. It’s my life dream to write. What I find difficult is that I also want to live my life and not get so bogged down in writing that I miss it. Maybe once I get this first book out of my system I will be able to do both!

    1. You can, if you want to, Sherri, live your life and write, right now. I did, and do, because my husband has insisted (and I agreed with him), that nothing is more important that our present time together–all we really have is life right now. “Some day” is only a figment of the imagination.

      I set a strict schedule for myself–these are my writing hours. They are not many, because of my physical limitations (my memoir tells that story), but they are consistent. And during those hours, I write. Nothing else. I turn off the phone, the internet, and shut the door. And then, when the time is up, I quit writing and get back to living my real life. It’s a habit that works for me.

      1. I do want to Tracy, I really, really do!!!! As I said in my previous comment, it was with my hubby’s full support that I began to pursue my writing career and I really had no idea of the way things would change – all I knew was that as I began to write, properly, I had found my ‘way’ at last. However, I am very mindful that it can’t take over.

        You are so right Tracy, life is short. Life can turn on a dime overnight and nothing can be taken for granted. That is why, indeed, we do have to live now and not waste what we have, today. The balance you have set yourself with your strict schedule and then your life with your husband obviously came about because you have been able to discipline yourself to do this and I am in awe of this. This is exactly what I am trying to achieve.

        In my summerhouse I can keep away from all distractions and that helps. I’ve tried to set myself time limits but to no avail as of yet. My husband works long hours and so I do at least make it a rule not to be writing by the time he gets home in the evenings and normally I don’t touch my laptop at the weekends (today is an exception!) for the very reasons of needing to spend time with him.

        Of course, in the week, I have various appointments and commitments to fulfill with my daughter and all the other ‘stuff’ of life that we all have and this is what I grapple with. I am getting things sorted out in my head as to the best way to set myself some proper writing structure and I do believe that I can do this. Guess what my New Year’s resolution is??? (No prize for the right answer!)

        I really do intend to read your memoir and look forward to it very much. You are a wonderful inspiration to me and many others and I am very thankful for your ongoing support and great advice.

        Just one more thing, sorry this is so long but you know me, ha! I read this recently and I thought I’d quickly share it:

        ‘Today is buried, tomorrow isn’t born yet but today is alive. Live it’.

        1. Love the quote! And I’m not naturally a self-disciplined person. It took me quite a long time and a lot of experimenting to get to the place where I know my schedule and can (mostly) keep it.

          And sometimes the schedule demands that I plan for interruptions (we have to deal with a lot of doctor’s appointments, too. During those times, I suspend the schedule).

  12. Everyone should write a book. Whether it should be polished, and published, now that’s another question. I’m working on a sweet little inspirational piece, that someday I hope to share with the world. If that never happens, I still have “my book” !

    1. That’s only because I’m older than you, M, and has nothing to do with lack of intelligence (because you obviously have loads of that.) I used to not think things through very well, either, when I was your age. I had to learn, from listening to my older friends, how to do that.

      One of the reasons why, for me, friendship should never be limited by age/generation. We all have a lot to offer each other. I learn from my younger friends not to be so uptight and curmudgeonly all the time.

        1. Oh, I can be incredibly curmudgeonly (my grandmothers were both Prussian Pietists, a form of Lutheranism which is basically morally opposed to having any fun at all). But I don’t slip into that mode very often, and when I do, I try very hard not to let anyone else see it.

            1. Nobody these days has heard of Prussian Pietists, except Prussian Pietists. And often, even we who are descended from them, don’t know the poliltical-religious history of our heritage. It was a small reform movement of the 19th Century, small but hugely influential in European history, as it transformed Prussia into Prussia (Prussia was the unifying force of Germany, which was at the center of both World Wars). That’s probably way more information that you wanted to know. I’m full of a lot of information that nobody really wants to know.

  13. 🙂 The list of pros and cons is great. I’ll recommend this post to a friend who is chewing on the idea of writing a book!
    Have a lovely weekend, Tracy.
    Greetings from the Rhine Valley, Dina

  14. Another great blog,Tracy! I am most definitely not a writer of anything longer than a few paragraphs on a single subject. I enjoy writing to clarify my thoughts but beyond that… I’ve enjoyed all the comments and your responses as well.

    1. I think there’s great liberation in knowing who we are, in not forcing ourselves to become who we are not.

      Of course sometimes it’s essential to do what we don’t want to do (forgive, when we’d rather seek revenge; hold the door and wait patiently for the slow-poke old man to shuffle through when we’d rather get on with our “important” business); but writing a BOOK when we don’t like to and don’t want to write books–there’s really no good reason not to cross that burden off the to-do list.

  15. Dear Tracy,
    you are so right. Great article!
    I worked as professional author publishing worldwide. That meant I did spent about 75% of my working time for contacts with my agents, publishers, journalists etc. And then additional time when you are touring through the big bookshops reading, lecturing, book signing and not to mention TV – for a 5 – 10 min. appearance on the screen you usually are waiting there for hours.
    As an author you are nowadays run a business with staff: people who do the research, editors, PR-specialists etc. I have to admit I liked this side of an author`s life for a while. If you want to live on writing with a confortable lifestyle you have to like the business side of publishing otherwise you better don`t start and happily write your diary 😉
    Greetings from the coast of North Norfolk
    Klausbernd

    1. Dear Klausbernd,

      And that’s the whole other story–what you do with your book after you write it! It takes a lot of stamina, and a very special kind of personality, to like both the solitude of writing and the highly intense public nature of promoting one’s writing.

      I’m thinking that with the changing nature of publishing and reading, and the trend toward increasing niche marketing in everything, there might be new/different options for writers who don’t want to tour the world promoting their writing. Do you see that as a possibility? (But in any case, a writer also has to be a kind of entrepreneur–in the business of selling his/her writing).

      And there’s quite a lot to be said for just writing one’s diary.
      Cheers from Rhode Island!
      TLK

      1. Dear Tracy.
        until now I cannot really see a change. Your readers want to touch you – as, by the way, I like to experience authors face to face as well. And then comes talkshows … Only doing all this you are getting the right turn over. Let`s say, a book sells around 400 thousand copies per year in Europe, to get your next contract with a decent PR-budget for book this book is exspected to sell more. Sales in the US are more complicated as the publisher has to give those chain shops an enourmous percentage that cuts, of course, the royalties and the percentage on net sales for the author. That means you have to even sell more than your German collaegues. If you are not aready known through media you cannot reach such sales by using social media only. No way. That might change on the long run – maybe I am too old but I cannot imagine that you can reach turn overs more than a million without appear on TV and in a lot of talkes and lectures. I was lucky I could made deals with China and so had immediately sold half a million copies. Hmmm … as you say it, you are right, I have not travelled through China but a clever agent works there for me who is able to organize lots of action by his agency.
        And last not least you have to see my generation, people beetween 50 – 75, are the book buyers (at least in Europe, 75% of the turn over in a German bookshop is caused by this group). This group is not so much influenced by social media and internet. First my generation with its enormous spending power has to die out – well, we are reading on the stairway to heaven 😉 there is hope
        Cheers to RH
        Klausbernd

        1. I think you’re exactly right–that social media has effected little or no change for the 50-75 generation (which, by the way, is my generation). And the “change” that is happening in the younger demographic because of eBooks and Independent Publishing is really only a ripple, which may or may not transform into a worldwide wave.

          This ripple is, however, causing a lot of talk among authors here in the U.S. Possibly because the author, as you have indicated, has to sell so many more books to make a living, and publishers are not interested (for fairly sound financial reasons) in publishing any authors who are not already famous. They no longer rely on the publicity tour to create fame; they want someone who is famous before the tour starts. Leaving the majority of writers with no book contract. And many authors are pushing for and hoping for a change. We’ll see what happens….

  16. Tracy … I’ve written a diary/journal for years. It’s wonderful to use as source material for writing. But it’s way lonelier writing a diary. Plus, if you want the experience of someone actually enjoying (hopefully) what you’ve written, that’ll never happen if it stays in the diary. That said, I still haven’t made any progress on a story I want to write and I provide myself with too many excuses to keep postponing working on it. 😉

    1. 🙂 Hi, Judy!

      I’m pretty sure procrastination is every writer’s toughest adversary. I just read Kelly Barnhill’s blog’s FAQ ( she’s a young adult fiction writer and writing instructor)–very witty and fun to read. Last Q: Did you only write this FAQ to avoid working on your current book?

      A: Yes, my darling. Oh, yes.

  17. Great post, Tracy!!! I think everybody should read it and treasure it including half of the writers (maybe more) that occupy the bookstore shelves with garbage literature. Sorry! I’m not a qualified literature critic but that’s what I think! 🙂

    1. I always like hearing what you think! 🙂

      It’s a strange book-world we live in these days, Francesca. I agree with you that much of what is published is poorly-written and not well-edited (because quality is not the priority any more, marketability is). And there is a general misperception that anyone who has something to say, can write a book. There is an art and craft to literature, and those are learned, as every profession is learned.

      You hear people say, “I’m going to take a year off (from my ordinary professional pursuits) and write a book.” But that’s about as absurd as if I said, “I’m going to take a year off from writing so I can perform a few surgeries.”

      It’s about quality, acquired knowledge and skill, or it should be.

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