Thursday, September 25, 2008

Five reasons not to write a book

Each day I receive an e-newsletter called Book2Book which contains snippets from around the book world gleaned from various newspapers and blog sites, and each day I mean to write about what I read in those snippets. Each day though for the past 10 days I have failed to do so, mostly because I just didn't feel like writing. I have though been saving the best bits for when I did feel like writing, and so here goes.

The first installment for today comes from the blog site of one Penelope Trunk, otherwise known as the Brazen Careerist. Nothing wrong in that provided of course you do not step on other peoples toes to get there, and I have no reason whatsoever to think that Penelope has done. Her post, which is dated September 14th, is entitled 5 Reasons why you don't need to write a book, and I have to say that most of them, from my experience are very good compelling reasons, then again though, maybe not ...

They are as follows:

1. People who have a lot of ideas need a blog, not a book.
While it is true that a blog is more immediate, and possibly interactive, with better feedback, it all depends on what sort of ideas you have. Some subjects lend themselves better to blogs than others, while others lend themselves better to books, as it is easier to dip in and out of a book, and use it as a source of reference (provided of course that it has a decent index). Penelope does have a point though when she says that many people who think they have a ton of ideas that lend themselves to books actually have very few new ideas, yet it is also true that there is nothing new under the sun. It is important to find avenues for those ideas, sure, but blogging is not the only way to do this - you can also write articles for magazines and other peoples websites. Like I said, it all depends on what sort of ideas you have. I suspect that Penelope, like so many others I come across, may be falling into the same old trap of believing that everyone writes fiction...

2. A book is an outdated way to gain authority.
Maybe, it depends again on how hard you are prepared to work. I wouldn't say that Katie Price has any authority when it comes to horses, any more than Victoria Beckham when it comes to fashion, but that is just my opinion. Riding for many years, or being paid by posh designers to wear their frocks does not make you an expert, yet both of these ladies are seen as icons and people of authority.
In my genre it seems that in order to be seen as an authority and taken seriously, very much like in the world of work, one has to have a degree. It is true that I have not been to university, but with all the years of study I have done, I am sure that my combined qualifications would be at least the equivalent of a degree, heck the years I spent writing that book ought to count for something as well. Can I get taken seriously though, no, because I am not famous enough and don't have the right pieces of paper to prove what I have done. A book is not seen as enough, you have to know the right people, and get the qualification first before you start writing, and not use the writing as means to get qualified as I did.

3. Books lead to speaking careers, but speaking careers lead nowhere.
Books and speaking, in non fiction at least anyway are natural bed fellows, but each lasts as long as the other. To be successful at either, you need to keep churning them out, year in, year out. If you don't do this, then like Victoria Beckham's singing career, you are soon forgotten about.

4. You'll make more money flipping burgers [or selling electrical equipment] than writing a book.
Tell me about it! One read through this blog will confirm this simple truth, than any would be writer would be wise to take on board. Chances are that in today's climate you will have to pay to have your book published rather than the other way around. You will then spend the next 2-3 years justifying to everyone else your reasons for going this, while juggling career, kids (thankfully I don't have any) and a life (I do have both a career and a life, and contrary to popular belief, they are not the same thing).

5. When you're feeling lost, a book won't save you.
This is the one above all else that I can really relate to. A lot of my problems stemmed from the simple truth that I expected and hoped that my book would indeed save me, by providing me with not just a direction in life, but also something to define myself by. It did both of these for a while, but once published, the novelty began to wear off. I have had to learn the hard way that a book does not give you a direction in life - only you can do that. As Penelope says, a book is something you write in order to get you to where you're going. If you have nowhere to go, a book will ensure that you stay where you are: lost.

She goes on to say that people use books like they use law school. They think that if they have a piece of paper - a degree or a publishing contract, then people will respect them. If others respect them, then they can respect themselves. Self respect though comes from within, and should not be dependent on others vision of yourself (tell that to the faceless celebrities who continue to churn out endless tosh, or those who apply for Big Brother). No one can give you that vision, you have to find it for yourself.

I wish I had read this article when I first began to write, as she gives some very good advice. She says that most people who think they need a book deal probably need to answer the question: What will I be doing two years after that book? Do you really need the book to get where you want to go? Probably not. In my case though, I most definitely did, because I honestly cannot see that there was any other way for me to learn what I have done, and I have had some great fun along the way.

Despite the problems and the pitfalls, it was the right path for me, for it has forced me to take a long hard look at myself in way that nothing else could. When you hit rock bottom, as I have, one minute in the depths of despair and the next as high as kite, then this makes you question your motivations and who you are like nothing else can. The past two years since publication have forced me to re-evaluate my vision of who I thought I was, and change my perception of someone who was a victim to someone who is magnificent and shining success, and someone whose who does not need the approval of others to define herself in this way. That to me is infinitely more valuable than any amount of degrees or bits of paper, for I have learnt through the school of life. I may be a bit battered and bruised, but I have come up smiling and am confident and happy with who I am.

More, maybe, later on ...

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