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What Is Writing Experience and Do You Actually Need It to Write a Book?

Girl. girl falling through the sky. sunset. mountains. dark. illustration drawing by Katherine M Kennedy


I got lucky when I first started writing my book—it never occurred to me that I needed ‘experience’ to write a book. I just started writing, and when I got stuck, I took to the internet in search of answers to get unstuck. That’s when I found out how complex this process was. That I wasn’t stuck because of the words I had just written in the third chapter but rather because of the words I hadn’t written in the first. My characters needed arcs. I needed to keep spreadsheets of their eye colors. And that random meander into a side tangent required a point, one that was relevant to the story. I discovered that I was an uninformed amateur who knew so little that I didn't even understand the vocabulary, let alone what questions I needed to be asking. But I had already put so much time into those first few chapters that, I was too far gone to stop.

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." Quote by Richard Bach. Illustration drawing by Katherine Kennedy

So I started my own little journey educating myself on POVs, head hopping, crutch words, and the writer's war against adverbs. Again I got lucky—I found it all extremely interesting. I’ve always enjoyed the mechanics of storytelling, but I’d expended that interest primarily on TV shows and movies. Now I could turn that interest to books, re-reading old favorites from a totally new angle. It was all good news. But still, I was confused. I knew lacked book writing experience, but what exactly IS writing experience?

What, by All That Is Good and Holy, Does ‘Experience’ Means When It Comes to Writing a Book?

I took to Google to find what kind of experience writers think they need to write a book. Here's what a found, and my opinion on it.

Writing Courses

Personally, I’ve never attended a writing course. I’m not saying don’t, I’m just saying I’ve never done it. There are so many resources available completely for free online that I would rather hit those up before shelling out my hard-earned dollar. If your struggling to get grips with some writing and storytelling concepts then some hands on teaching might be a benefit.

The closest I came to a writing course was Brandon Sanderson (free) YouTube series. I'm not a Brandon Sanderson devotee, but I still found his videos extremely informative and interesting. 8/10—would recommend. Small caveat: take what you want and agree with from his course, and leave the rest behind.

Reddit answer. screenshot. writing workshops.

Experience Through a University Degree in Applicable Field—English, Journalism, Etc.

I do not have a degree in English or journalism. I’ve never attended a class of any form on writing—unless you count high school English, which I don’t. Do I feel like this is a drawback? No, not even for a moment. If anything, I kind of think it was an advantage. Maybe I would have liked some kind of further education in English, something to improve my grammar and spelling would have been lovely. I even briefly looked into it—only to discover that in my country I would have to take a second language course as well. A history degree also would be nice, but beggars can’t be choosers and I’m a bad test taker so I probably would have failed.

There is of course an exception, if you want to write a book on a particularly learned field then you will need the relevant education. It is not recommended that you are trying to write a medical dictionary without a medical education. However, you can absolutely pair with a professional to bring something new to the table. Take Freakonomics for example, a writer and economics professor paired up to write a book.

Many famous authors out there don't have degrees in literature, so if you don't either then you're keeping good company.

Short Stories, Poetry, Journalism, Blog Writing, etc.

This seems to be the big one. People feel they need to be writing stories since they could hold a pen to be a writer. Before I wrote my book, I had never written a short story. As a high-schooler, I confused the concept of ‘creative writing’ with ‘arguing against the given topics’, so I only wrote one actual story during my whole high school career. It was bad, it literally (and I do mean literally) made no sense, a fact that I only realized a minute before I handed it in. I got a good mark, which only confused me further. Maybe they were just happy I had finally written an actual story rather than an argument.

I did write a short story for a completion—I didn't win. And I can tell you for free that it was a completely different experience from writing a book. It took a maximum of two hours to write. I didn't need to plot or keep a character sheet to remember what my characters looked like. I didn't forget halfway through what I'd written 60 000 words ago or that I'd edited out the second chapter. I didn't even have to do any research, SEO, or links like I do for a blog. It was easy. Then again, I didn’t win so maybe that’s why it was easy—because it wasn't any good.

I am not a proponent of using poetry and blogs and the like to practice until you are ready to write a book. They are not the same thing; you can only learn to write a book by writing a book. Writing this blog post as closely resembles writing a book as tying my shoe does. They are completely different, the only similarity is my laptop and that I use words. Writing this is easier, much easier. Short stories and poetry have their own place in the world, they utilise their own skillsets and come with difficulties and challenges that are unique to them. Don't write for practice, write because you want to write.

You've Written Multiple Manuscripts and Drafts

By ‘practice manuscripts’ I mean that you, as an aspiring writer, have 20 manuscripts sitting in a folder on your computer. You’ve put the work in by learning writing by writing which gives you the experience to finally tackle your first real book.

This is controversial, but if you have a bunch of manuscripts that are either incomplete or not good enough (in your opinion) to go further with then you’ve got a bunch of er, not successes. It doesn’t mean there will never be a success, but part of writing a book is getting critiqued by readers and professional editing. Without you never get to second gear, instead, you’re stuck in first. You have experience writing, but no experience with all the other parts that come with writing a book. Finish it. Get it out there, get feedback and fix it. If I don’t get my book out into the wide world then I will consider it to be a failure, for me, it’s that simple.

You’ve Already Written A Book—What More Experience Could You Possible Need?

Ha! I’ve written a book and I have absolutely no idea if I can repeat the feat. I need to because the story isn’t finished. And know where the story is going, and I even have a vague idea of how to get there, but I am not afraid of saying I’m terrified of going through that again, I’m not sure I know how. Worse still, I’m worried about the baggage of the first book, of having to stay consistent with another story and not being able to make changes to fit my narrative. I think it's going to be harder than ever. I have experience writing, I like doing it, I love learning about it, and when I’m not writing fiction I’m writing blog posts, SEO web content, and bios. And I still feel wildly out of my depth when it comes to writing an actual book. I’ll let you know if the feeling of freefalling through a story while trying desperately to write down everything I see ever goes away, but I doubt it will.

What Experience Do I Think You Need?

Honestly, I think everything helps. If you have a degree, awesome. If you don't, awesome. The person with the degree has a wealth of secondary education knowledge to draw on. The person without the degree has a whole different skillset, one that likely sets them apart and gives them a unique perspective that is 100% their own. The only thing you truly need is the ability to research, ask questions, and process the answers. I have no experience being stabbed (thankfully) but people online do. So when I needed to write about a stabbing, I found those knowledgeable people and mined them for information. No writing course can answer those questions, but you have the whole wide internet to help you out. At the risk of falling into toxic positivity, a writer needs to focus on what they do have, rather than what they don't have. And you have a lot.

Reddit Question: I have no experience writing a novel: should I still give it a try?

Reddit Question. I have no experience writing: should I still give it a try. Screenshot


Reddit Answer. I have no experience writing: should I still give it a try. Screenshot

Sage Warnings:

Reddit Answer. I have no experience writing: should I still give it a try. Screenshot


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