There’s A Book In You

Alexander McCall Smith, author of the sweet and unbelievably popular #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, told me on a book tour years ago that everybody has a book inside them, but that it’s so uncomfortable to pass that most people would rather deal with the stomach ache.

The image made me giggle at the time, but looking back I think he knew what he was talking about.

It’s not just authors who get to have good ideas, or who have the taste and experience to tell an engaging story.

I’ve been doing a lot of podcast interviews recently and I’ve been surprised by how often interviewers make the same comment early in our conversations:

“I don’t think if I have enough to say to write a book.”

What I want to say (scream) is: We live in the goddamn future!  That is a stunning lack of imagination and a total cop-out to avoid having to think too hard!

But I know that not everyone realises that they would be a writer if they just picked up a pen and started, so instead I choke down my hysteria and say this:

Every one of us goes through life collecting material, whether we realise it or not.

You could be an absolutely house-bound hermit and you would have just as interesting a story as the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who made it big.

A different story, no doubt, but just as compelling if you can approach it with curiosity and empathy.

Wild shenanigans, fame and financial grandeur are not pre-requisites for a great story. Some of the most powerful and enduring books are incredibly muted in their settings and storylines, but they stay with us because of their veracity.

Great stories are about telling the truth, peeling back the layers of our lives, shining a light into what has been darkness.

We all have families and the histories that go with them. We all have trauma and we all have triumph. None of us go through life without surprises, and none of us have any clue where we’re going to end up.

That’s invigorating stuff to delve into, universal stuff.

So if you’re putting off your book — or even just picking up a pen to see what writing might be like — stop it. It’s your birthright to own your story, and to tell it if you please.

Whether it’s a story from your life, or a fictional idea that won’t leave you alone, you can tell it if you’re willing to be occasionally uncomfortable.

It might take time, it might take many attempts, but there is enough material in you to warrant your attention. And the discomfort will pass, and you will have created something true and tangible and yours.