Tuesday 11th February, 2014

How to Write a Book

I grew up believing that I was no good at writing.

I carried that belief around with me for some 30 years or so.

Imagine how I felt in 2004, when I was approached by BSI Standards to be the ‘technical author’ of a new British Standards specification on accessible web design (a code of practice on how to design websites so that disabled people can use them).

I declined to do it at first. I just couldn’t see myself succeeding. I would describe myself then as someone who had always struggled with reading and writing, who did her best but whose output wasn’t really up to scratch.

But I did write that specification in the end. And it turned out to be the best-selling specification BSI Standards had ever had.

So how did I bridge the gap between having no confidence in my own ability and getting the project done?

Actually, it’s quite simple.  I sought the opinion of people who I respected and when they told me I could do it I decided to believe them.

That’s it.

That simple decision, to trust the judgement of these few individuals changed my life. And because it changed my life it changed other people’s lives too and in 2006 the specification was published (all 12,000 words of it). It was the longest document I’d written since my 10,000-word dissertation at university.

I reckon writing is a bit like running. When you’ve conquered a particular distance the challenge never seems so hard again.

I’ve done an enormous amount of writing since 2006. You can see a lot of it here, on this website, in the pages of Charity Times and Disability Now magazines and on the BBC website (where I’ve written on a wide range of topics from comedy to online dating).

Now, in 2014, I’m facing my greatest challenge yet: I’m writing my first book.

As I write this, I’ve just completed 22,000 words of the first draft (I think it’ll be about 30,000 when it’s finished). My publisher saw an early draft and gave me one-word feedback: ‘brilliant’. These days, this is all I need to spur me on.

I still find the process of writing quite difficult. I have hours/days of self-doubt. I’m prone to deleting great swathes of text that ‘doesn’t sound quite right’. But I’ve learned that this is OK, that writing is a process and that some days you’ll be in flow and other days you won’t be and it doesn’t matter.

Shortly, I’ll announce how you can pre-order my book to help get it published (I’m one of the first authors to use my publisher’s new crowd-funded publishing platform – how exciting is that?).

If you recognise yourself in what I’ve written in this post then I urge you, give writing a try.

You possess so much knowledge that is of genuine value to others. Get it out into the world in published form and watch what happens to the book, to you and to other people.

See you on my book tour later in 2014!


This post is dedicated to my friends Giles Colborne and Martin Gladdish both of whom assured me that I could do this. And guess what? They were right.


Categories: Belief, Words


  1. audrey brotherson says:

    Wow Julie

    You have encouraged e immensely in the space of time we have spoken. I too struggle with the desire to write and promised myself that for a very long time, since 19.. something and still have not done so!

    Not sure how to and where to start.

    Any suggestions?


  2. Julie Howell says:

    Hi Audrey,

    That’s great to hear, thank you.

    I think what holds a lot of us back from writing is a fear that what we write won’t be as good as other people’s writing. In other words, we measure ourselves against bestseller authors and feel dishearted by the comparison!

    In a sense, we feel we don’t ‘deserve’ to write because we believe we’re ‘not good enough’.

    However, it’s important to remember that all sorts of people read books. While we admire the writers we love, many people will be put off by that writer because their writing is too complicated or because they write in a way that they can’t relate to.

    Writing a book (or even an article) is a bit like starting a business. You know that your business is for a particular ‘market’. Some people will rely on you, others won’t need your services. Think about readers in the same way. Sure, it’s perfectly true that some won’t be interested. But for others what you write may change their lives.

    It’s just the same with speaking. Some members of the audience may not be particularly interested, and that’s perfectly alright because for others what you have to say may blow their minds!

    So when it comes to writing I would say:

    - pick an audience
    - pick a topic
    - start writing

    Don’t concern yourself with ‘how good’ your writing is. Just get it all down on the computer. When it’s all down then you can start the process of ‘copy editing’ (i.e. going through it to make sure it reads the way you intended and makes sense.

    Writing a book or article is a process that has several stages and when approached stage-by-stage, with a mindset that some people (not everyone) will be helped by your book and only by your book, you can give yourself permission to just start writing and see what happens!

    Best wishes,


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