For the next couple weeks, I’m giving serious answers to the questions in my humorous post The Top 10 Things People Say to Writers, and How You Should Respond. So when you’re tired of being snarky this will help you give some constructive–and helpful–answers to your non-writer friends and family.
On to number three!
3. Can you show me how to write a book?
It’s not an unreasonable reaction, if someone asks you this question, to stare blankly at them and wonder if they’re joking. You might want to explain to them that it’s on par with asking “Can you show me how to build a house?” or “Can you show me how to perform surgery?” If the person is in a particular profession you can ask them in return “Can you show me how to do (some complicated thing that takes a long time to master at their job)?” Of course, people who don’t write only see the end product, not the failed starts, numerous revisions, rewritten manuscripts, and ideas that go nowhere. They probably think when you have the know-how, it’s easy to produce a fully formed, publishable novel.
However, if you’re dealing with The Delusional Proto-writer, it’s best to just remove yourself from the conversation. You know the one of which I speak. The person who has never written more than a short story for English class, but has the BEST concept for a novel EVER conceived (but they won’t tell you what it’s about of course, because you might steal their idea) and when they finally find the time to write it, they’ll be a multi-millionaire. It’s okay to tune this person out. Trust me, they’re not going to be rich someday.
But for other people, who might be genuinely interested in writing, they honestly think this is an easily-answered question.
My funny reply on the list: Sure, pull up a chair! This should only take about an hour, two tops.
A more constructive answer: Writing a book is a complex and highly involved process. I would suggest starting out with smaller works, and learning more about the craft, if you’re really interested in writing. There’s many courses you can take both online and off that will help you learn about constructing stories and the art of writing itself. You should also do a lot of reading and study how books are composed. There’s writer’s communities you can become a part of and get feedback. Remember though, it’s never straightforward–you’re going to struggle, fail, and have a lot of false starts, but that’s okay. It’s part of the process! Just like any job, you have to take the time to learn it.
How would you answer this question? How do you not laugh and/or scream when you get it?