Do You Really Have a Book In You?
I wish I had a dollar (inflationary uptick from the nickel) for every person who has said to me “I have a book in me.” I’d have quite a nest egg by now, enough to fund going to writing workshops or hiring an editor. I’ve learned to stop asking for the details and say as pleasantly as possible, “Well then, you should do it.”
More than a decade ago Joseph Epstein, the author of nearly a dozen books, wrote in a New York Times Op Ed piece about a 2002 survey that found: “81% of Americans feel that they have a book in them—and should write it.” Using 2002 data, that’s around 200 million people who want to become a published author. I can only assume that with the number of self-published and indie books pouring through the various print and e-outlets in 2015, 81% could be low.
As a reality check to the above here is a more recent survey: The Pew Research Center reported in January 2014 nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn’t cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audio-book while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.
So, if the market for actual readers is shrinking, why do so many people carry this idea of actually writing a book?
There are many reasons, but here are a few I’ve read from writers commenting on the survey:
- According to Ramit Sethi, best-selling author of I Will Teach You to be Rich, “it is a very democratic notion, suggesting that everybody is as good as everybody else—and, by extension, one person’s story or wisdom is as interesting as the next’s.”
- You have a ton of ideas and just know that the world is waiting for yours. Penelope Trunk, career coach and author, suggests that you blog first and get more immediate feedback. You may run out of time, bright ideas, discipline, and the funds to learn the craft sooner than you think.
- Hugh McLeod, another writer/blogger, suggests that “the writer’s life” carries with it romantic images of a worthy struggle and then sudden fame when lonely you and your brilliant debut novel or cutting-edge how-to book are discovered.
There’s more to do, you say? No that can’t be.
Revising and more revising? Isn’t my first draft so brilliant that I can just send it off? What? Years of expensive craft workshops, rejection and worse—no reply; tinkering with that yellowing manuscript while my life is slipping away? Carpal tunnel and a bad back from sitting? Oh, now you tell me. Never mind.
I’d like to see a survey of how many people said “I have a book in me” and actually did anything about it. I mean sit down every day and write. And learn to tolerate the look when those people who have heard you say you’re writing a book ask you is it done? And when you say you’re still working on it or you tearfully spill the beans that your last round of queries brought a heartbreaking silence or the remote form letter, they stop asking.
I found the best answer, not surprisingly, in Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing. People come to her writing workshops to write. But she believes there is a deeper reason. “They want connection; a spiritual longing drives them, a groping for meaning.” The exact project doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we writers, according to Natalie, “want this connection through language, through words on a page.”
There’s more to this…Part Three is my own struggle with Parts One and Two………
Here are links should you want to read more:
Joseph Epstein’s NYT article:
Rami Sethi’s website:
And, Penelope Trunk’s website: http://penelopetrunk.com/