Do you know what is one of the strangest things people say? (Besides “fundamental” — check out the word origins of THAT one).
Whenever someone tells a good or dramatic story, what do people say to them?
“Wow. You should write a book.”
Somewhere along the way in our culture we’ve adopted this belief that whenever someone has something dramatic happen to them they should write a book. I know people are being polite by associating a great story with the depth of a book, but I also think people genuinely mean they should go and write a book about it and get it published. I’m sort of mystified by this one. Not to be TOO cynical (it’s a rainy day in SF), but how did this happen? I don’t think many people go to the bookstore looking to find a book about someone’s crazy story about a root canal gone bad.
Life is really dramatic. People have some crazy, incredible, touching stories, and I am truly heartbroken every time I have to reject someone’s devastating, sad, real-life story. I have to pass on manuscripts by cancer survivors, people in prison, heroic veterans, people with terminal illnesses, and stories of crazy-horrible abuse and, hopefully, redemption from those depths. It’s really hard and depressing to send these people rejection letters, but I have to do it. Because in order to write a book you can’t just have a great story — you have to be a great writer.
Sometimes, yes, crazy things happen to a writer and they write a book about it. But it’s just not true that everyone has a book in them, or rather, that everyone can write the book that’s in them. Writers write books — not people with interesting stories to tell.
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For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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