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Is there a book in you?

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Magazine

Is there a book in you? | Excerpt

This is an excerpt from Alison Baverstock's new title, Is there a book in you?

For many the desire to write is very strong.  Yet how do you know whether there is a book in you?  The author explores the topics of creativity, motivation , what to write about, the key attributes that all writers must possess to succeed, what you must know about the publishing industry and much more.

'Alison Baverstock gives admirably practical and realistic advice on what it takes to become a writer - I was impressed.'

Mark le Fanu, General Secretary of the Society of Authors in the UK

 

Just how much do you want to see your books in print?

This sounds like an obvious question. If you did not really want to write a book, you would not have bought – or been bought – this title.

You are not alone. The desire to write a book is shared by a huge percentage of the population. It’s often said that everyone has at least one book in them – although wags have countered that this is often where it should stay. We seem to have become a society of writers rather than readers:

"There is an impression abroad that everyone has it in him to write one book; but if by this is implied a good book, that impression is false."

Somerset Maugham (1874–1965)

Why do we want to write?

"Many suffer from the incurable disease of writing, and it becomes chronic in their sick minds."

Juvenal (65?–128?), Roman poet

Some write to make sense of the world; to understand what has happened to them – for whatever life throws at you, understanding and dealing with it tends to become easier if you try to write about it. Others write to push their ideas out into the world; writing is a wonderful way of realising what you think about things:

"The pen is the tongue of the mind."

Cervantes (1547–1616)

 

"For me, one of the great joys of writing is articulating something I have felt but never expressed before. The phrase ‘coming to terms with’ means precisely that: finding words to express the experience."

Julia Bell, The Creative Writing Course-book

 

Others write to make links with other people, to reach out:

"Writing fiction is such a peculiar activity and often it can feel a foolish waste of time. But then I speak with a reader and find myself discussing the people I created and the world in which they live, and I realise both are as real to the reader as they are to me. That’s a wonderful, magical feeling and it reminds me of the main reason I play this game: the fundamental desire to connect."

John Ravenscroft

"As soon as I started writing, I wanted to be published. I never even thought about just writing for myself. Writing, for me, is a way to connect with an audience. Self-expression doesn’t feel real to me unless it communicates with somebody else. I can’t even keep a journal unless it’s on the Internet, where anyone can read it!"

Julie Cohen

 

Some writers use their books to put their particular point of view, without being cut short:

 

"Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted."

Jules Renard (1864–1910), French writer

Others wish either to rewrite history, or to get their own back:

 

"Writers often use their books to pay off scores and dish the dirt. I know I do. It’s the perfect opportunity: all the arguments, all the affronts done to you, outlined and articulated, and not a dissenting voice allowed."

David Armstrong

"I like to write when I feel spiteful: it’s like having a good sneeze."

D H Lawrence (1885–1930), in a letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith

 

Writing also offers the tempting promise of a lasting reputation; a permanent contribution to life, which will outlast you.

George Orwell gave as reasons for writing:

"… the desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who subdued you in childhood."

And Professor Gwyneth Pitt:

"Two reactions to my first book were terrific. One was reading exam papers from the West Indies and finding my book referred to as authority. The second was going on a quality assurance visit to another university and meeting students – one of whom asked me out of the blue if I was the author of my book and said it had been the best thing he’d read as an undergraduate."

For some, writing a book can be a very pragmatic career choice, prolonging their ‘shelf life’. The autobiographies of media stars, in whom there can be massive, but temporary, interest, can often be seen in this context. A book is longer-lasting and more permanently validating.

Books can also play an important part in representing ideas:

"The most important thing for me is that I’ve used my talents as a writer to enable the Ogoni people to confront their tormentors. I was not able to do it as a politician or a businessman. My writing did it.

And it sure makes me feel good! I am mentally prepared for the worst, but hopeful for the best. I think I have the moral victory."

Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941–95), Nigerian writer and human rights activist1

Having a book published can also make us feel part of a community we either took for granted, or only felt partly attached to before. It can be really surprising – and very motivating – to find out how many other people feel the same way you do. Liverpool author Helen Forester has talked of her delight at being taken to the heart of the community after her books were widely read in the area where she grew up.

And in addition to all these good reasons for writing, it can be so

personally fulfilling:

 

 

"I am convinced more and more day by day, that fine writing is next to fine doing, the top thing in the world."

John Keats (1795–1821)

"Writing is fantastically fulfilling. When it is going well, it’s electrifying; as good as it gets. I write non-fiction, mostly science history. I am trying to explain complicated science to the person who perhaps does not want to know more than they need to in order to get the story. I have this image of what I write as a slide; that takes them to an understanding but without effort. And when I have done that, been able to come up with an analogy that works and makes a hard concept easy to understand, I feel a tremendous sense of achievement."

Brian Cathcart

But given that so many people want to write, where, I have wondered, is the dividing line between those who dream of being published, and those who get into print? Of course there are many factors, and the incidence of luck is vital, but from talking to writers published and unpublished, it seems to originate partly in a sense of destiny, and partly in the determination to do something about it.

A sense of destiny

"I wasn’t born until I started to write."

David Hare (b1947), playwright; interview in The Sunday Times 11th February 1990

Successful writers have talked about their long-term and immense desire to get into print; to see their name on the front of a book. Some set themselves deadlines – I have heard Kazuo Ishiguro say that he saw his 30th birthday as the deadline by when he wanted to be published:

"I knew I was a writer from before I went to school. People always wanted to know what happened when I told a story. But I never really thought about being published until I had a book I was burning for people to read."

Jenny Haddon

"I always wanted to be a writer (well, a journalist, at any rate!), and can remember the toy typewriter my parents bought me for my tenth birthday. I invented a weekly newspaper, although cannot imagine what I found of interest in our boring suburban life to report on."

Anne Sebba

Just how much do you want to see your book in print?

As a child I myself was fascinated by book production, and at the age of nine I produced a series of titles with matching covers. I can still remember what they looked like – they had green paper covers, lined paper inside and three staples along the top. I confess too, that for some of the titles in this series, I even wrote the title and contents page and left the space for the text to be filled in later! So whilst the binding of the collected works of Alison Scott was more impressive than either the research or depth of observation, the desire to see my name on a book continued, and I longed for a Petite Typewriter and the standardisation it would bring to my writing (I never could decide on which handwriting style to adopt).

The determination to do it

"Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?

"Bob Marley (1945–81), Jamaican musician, singer and songwriter

Many may long to do it, but nothing will happen unless the writer really decides to engage with the process that Margaret Atwood has described as being like ‘wrestling a greased pig in the dark’.

"The most important thing about actually getting to the end of my first book was proving to myself that I had the patience and stamina to do it. And to realise with some joy that I was doing something at 40 which I would never have been able to do at 30. There are precious few things one can say that about."

Bernard Lyall

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List price: £11.99
Publisher: A&C Black Academic and Professional
2006-06-29
Paperback
Sales rank: 616,470