To write or not to write…
Do you have to be an expert to author a technical book?
Once in the Champakaranya forest there lived a troop of monkeys. The head monkey was an expert at detecting any approaching predator, whether it was an eagle in the air or a leopard on the ground, and of any monkey-traps on the ground. However, the head monkey thought it was undignified of him to shout even when he sensed that danger was nearby. He expected the troop monkeys to observe him and hide or run away when he did. But, of course, this was never perfect. The troop lost many a member to predators and traps because they did not get an early warning of the danger.
Over time, a young monkey started learning the techniques to sense the approach of an oncoming predator and any traps set in the ground. He was not an expert as the head monkey was, but as soon as he sensed that danger was nearby, he shouted and alerted the other monkeys. Of course, he made mistakes and sometimes gave false alarms. But as time passed, he got better.
The monkey troop was very happy and decided that it was better to have as head a semi-expert who informed them of oncoming danger rather than an expert who kept silent and kept the knowledge to himself. So, they dethroned the head and made the young monkey their head.
Experts in a field pass on their knowledge to others in various ways. Some consult, some coach, some give talks and some write books.
But what if you are not an expert?
I know many people who hold themselves back from writing and authoring books in technical areas because they feel that they are not ‘experts’ in the field. They perhaps feel that they are frauds, writing about an area that they are not at the top of. Another fear many people have is that if they are not ‘experts’ and write and publish a book, they may be caught out when somebody opens a discussion on the topics covered in the book.
[Let us get the difference between an author and a writer out of the way. A writer is someone who writes anything: a log, a book, any sort of content etc. A journalist is a writer. An author is a person who has written and published a book that is credited to their name. The author owns the copyright to the book. When I use the term ‘write’ a book, I mean writing it with the intention of getting it published, with the writer getting the credit and owning the copyright.]
I think that these fears are unfounded. If you can write well, you can write about anything, provided you get inputs from experts, either by interviewing and interacting with them or reading their published works. Remember a book is not like a research paper. In a research paper you are putting forward new ideas or coming to new conclusions. But a book’s purpose is basically to put into easy language known ideas and conclusions. [Indeed, if the book being written is on a completely new idea, and there are no experts around, then you better be the expert also.]
But the reverse may not be true, even if you are an expert, if you cannot write well, you cannot write a book on the topic.
With apologies to the good bard, I write good words while others think good thoughts.
The basic idea of writing is to share with people what you know and what you can get from others. This is the basic dharma of a writer: inform the reader. As long as you are able to do this, whether or not you are an expert, you are OK. The real purpose is connecting with your readers and informing them. Of course, one thing that is important to note is that as a writer you can form your own opinion about the subject and put that forward too. You don’t have to be restricted to what ‘experts’ have put forward.
Another idea of writing a book is that even if you are not an expert when you start writing the book, by your association with experts while writing the book, you become an expert yourself! [This aspect, by the way, should put to rest fears that you may not be able to answer questions on the topic.] What, after all, is an expert? Lexico.com powered by Oxford defines an expert as A person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area. It is not clear how much knowledge you need in a particular area to be called an expert. The expert is a relative one. Writing a book on a topic will certainly take you very far into being an expert in the topic.
So, I say: Write, if you can, whether you are an expert or not.
But whoever is writing a book, one thing is clear. Writing a book takes a lot of commitment. Only a writer will know the amount of work involved in writing and getting a book published. For every book that is written and published there may be hundreds that are left incomplete.
[Note: Writing a book is only one way an expert informs others. There are many other ways, as I said before, like coaching, consulting, speaking and so on.]