Writing a book



HAVE you thought about writing a book, or a script?
Have you dreamed of telling your story in print?
How do you start?
Do you need to attend university to learn to write?
Those are some questions that I will try to answer to hopefully help you start this journey of writing.

American playwright August Wilson taught himself how to write.

Helping someone who is writing
In the next couple of weeks, I will offer you tips on how to start writing that book that you always talked about, but never went around doing it.
The urge to write this article, and others that would follow, actually came from a conversation that I had with a young woman recently.
She is doing her own writing and as I was listening to her talk about her projects, I couldn’t help but offer her some tips.
Her response, which was of appreciation, caused me to start working on these articles.
The road she wanted to take is one that I have already walked on, including my years of working as a journalist and other years writing as a freelancer.
As yet, I have not had a book of mine published but that is in the pipeline.
What is written here will be the same tips I would pass on to her to help her realise her goals in writing.
May they also help you move closer to achieving your own writing goals.

Do you need to go to university to learn to write?
Whenever you talk about writing, people think of enrolling in a college or university course in writing or literature to help them write better.
Well, the truth is you don’t need college or university education to write.
However, you will need to make time to learn to write, and of course, writing itself.
Attending a university course in writing will help you write better, but it won’t make you become a writer.
A writer becomes a writer because s/he wants to. Whether s/he is university educated or not is immaterial.
Some of the best writers of all time never went to college or university but they wrote novels and scripts and those stories entertained and educated the masses for ages.
There are university graduates in writing programmes who have never written much.
On the other hand, there are high school graduates who have written a lot.
Think about August Wilson, the American playwright
To emphasise the fact that you don’t have to go to college to learn to write, think about August Wilson.
Wilson (1945-2005) is known as the “theatre’s poet of Black America”.
Two of his plays received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and two others won the Tony Award for Best Play.
His plays often took the audience back to the days in the 1920’s and 1930’s when the racial divide was still there.
One of his most popular plays is Fences (1985) which was later made into the movie with the same name in 2016 and starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
Wilson knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer, even though his mother urged him to study law.
He never attended university and enlisted in the army and remained there for three years.
Wilson had the habit of writing his notes on napkins in cafés or notepads and later going home to type his notes on his typewriter, one that he had bought for $10.
He also knew how to use the library to learn from books.
If you want to write scripts, watch scenes from Fences (check YouTube).
The setting is simple enough but the emotional interactions between Troy (the 53-year-old main character), his wife Rose and son Cory should be strong enough for you to look for the original script of the play and study Wilson as a writer.

It is much easier to write these days
It should be easier for anyone to write these days.
There are many tools out there, especially files online that you can use to work on your writing skills.
Even if you do not have a library close to you, you can learn a lot by going online and look around for material as well as copies of popular works.
And, you can use social media to continue honing your craft until your sentences are perfect and even punchier.
Additionally, you can ask for tips from better writers, or writing professionals.
I have given free advice on writing to many people and I am sure other writing professionals will offer the basics freely too.

Revisit your English grammar basics
If you have completed Grade 12 or 10 education, you have learned a lot on the basics in English.
You have covered the basics in the language and somewhere in your notes, you would have covered the main concepts in English grammar.
I urge you to go back over the basics.
If you cannot locate your notes, don’t fret: Go online and look for files on basic English grammar.
You can also visit the library next to you and ask for a book on English grammar.
Students in schools can visit their English department and ask the teacher in charge if you can borrow a book on English grammar and go review the basic concepts.
You can also pop in at second-hand shops near you and check for such books.
I have bought many books on English from such shops.

What will you write?
Some people talk about their wish to write but they do not know what they are going to write about.
Are they going to write non-fiction, books that may tell about the life of a person (biography), a beautiful place they visited (travel book) or a how-to book, detailing the processes of cooking a sago dish or making a basket?
Are they going to write fiction, like a short story, a novel or a script?
You have to decide which type of book you will write.
One way of deciding what topic you can work on is to review the list of books that you love reading.
Do you like reading crime thrillers, sci-fi or do you like reading biographies?
If you love the first two, then that may mean you may be interested in writing fiction.
If you like reading biographies or history, then you may want to start on non-fiction, like writing about a famous person in your community or about something tragic that happened in your village years ago.

A lot of fiction is based on real events
As you may be aware, a lot of fiction that we have read or movies that we have seen are based on actual events.
It may be to do with a serial killer that was finally captured after eluding the smartest brains in the police force for decades.
Or, it may be about the kid who got lost in the desert but managed to survive for a week because he remembered survival skills from his grandfather.
Some of the fiction that I have written (and I will share a bit of that in other articles) are based on real events but I changed the names of the main characters as well as the setting for personal reasons.
Who is your audience?
Where to publish?
Whenever you write, have your audience in mind.
Do you want your audience to be people in this country, or in the region?
Or, do you want to reach out to the world at large?
Keep that at the back of your mind.
When we talk about writing, it may mean writing books. But it could also mean writing feature articles like this.
Such articles that are published by newspapers and magazines and you get paid for them. (Check with the editors.)
Or, you may want to write and publish your work online for people.
You may even turn the posts that you wrote for your blog into the chapters of a book.
Or, you may create an e-book and sell it to readers all over the world.

Can I write like Dickens?
One topic that often comes up with students of writing is: How can I develop my style or voice in writing?
Should I write like Charles Dickens or Harper Lee, Deepak Chopra or Ernest Hemingway?
For that question, I got advice from various sources many years ago, and it is this: Do not worry about your style. Just concentrate on telling your story. Your style will reveal itself.
Your voice too, the choice of words and view of life, will slowly emerge as you write.
We are shaped by books we read, but then we are also shaped by our own environment, traditions and culture.
Though our style may be comparable to other authors, it may yet possess unique qualities.
So, the point is, just keep writing.
Don’t worry about style or voice.
These will emerge as you continue writing.

Editing is vital
Good editing skills are vital to make your writing appealing.
Learn to edit your stuff.
I am sure there are many good English grammar books that list the “Common Mistakes that People make in English”.
Student dictionaries these days even have additional notes on grammar and correct punctuation.
Among others, the common mistakes that people make in writing include:

  • Use of homonyms (words that sound the same but spelt differently)
  • Bad punctuation (placing comma in the wrong place)
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Making spelling mistakes (they need dictionaries)
  • Using the wrong preposition (words like at, to, on or into)
  • And so on.

The best way to write
The best way to write is not talking about writing, but to actually write.
You can’t be dreaming about writing and not writing.
It is like football.
The best way to learn the game is to play it.
You can write on books, pads or even on social media.
Pay attention to your words and sentences.
Write with a good dictionary kept close beside you to check your spelling.
Remember to use the auto spell-check on your computer also.

Typing stuff on the computer
I have mentioned in the last section that you can write stuff in an exercise book or pad.
But eventually, you should type what you have written on a computer or laptop.
Now, here is a tip: The process of typing your work from paper to the computer and later printing it will give you a motivation to continue with your project.
This is experiential. (I learned that by experience.)
Every time you open your file to add more stuff to it, you will get excited to see how the one-page of notes that you originally had had taken form and within a week you have about 20 pages of notes.
And when you print those notes and read them, they will further motivate you.
You have to do this to understand what I am talking about.
The typing of your notes has another advantage: You now have your work hopefully saved on the computer as well as a USB hard drive.
Wherever you go, you don’t need to carry around your stack of notes.
Almost everything is with you, in the computer or on the USB stick.

Coming up in the future 
In the articles to follow in the coming weeks, I will give you some tips on writing good feature articles, a short story and a script.
I will also give you some writing exercises that you can try to hone your writing skills.
Next week: Writing non-fiction: The feature article