Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You Should Write a Book

Most writers are motivated to write because of things that have happened to them. And the first instinct is to write it as a non-fiction autobiography because the experiences are so vivid and personally profound. Often, well-meaning friends who've heard you recount portions of the story exclaim, "You should write a book!"

But they don't realize just how hard that actually is.

One reason it's harder than most people think is that if you're writing non-fiction, your editor will need to know more of the facts and context of any given story than you - from your narrow and limited point of view - actually know. So, as you try to write FACTUALLY, you'll discover that you don't know nearly as many facts as you thought you did.

Of course you can set out to find those missing details, but, as a journalist, I can tell you that the process is time-consuming, expensive, and fraught with all kinds of difficulties. And perhaps the biggest difficulty is that if you're writing things that are unflattering about a person, you could get sued for defamation of character. Even though what you're writing is true, if the person's not a public figure, you could lose a lot of money defending yourself in court.

It ain't worth it.

Not only that, but, publishers are less likely to want to make your story into a book because you're not well known, making it harder for them to sell the story of a nobody to the general public. Publishing is, after all, a business.

So.......?

Here's what I suggest:

Use those personal stories as a way to inspire your imagination. Change some of the details of the events and characters so that the real people won't recognize themselves, then build a story that still conveys the deeper "truth" you want to communicate. If you have a vivid imagination you'd be on firmer ground going in that direction. That's because you get to "dream up" the facts, something an editor of non-fiction won't let you get away with.

That's how I dreamed up my first novel "Fast Track." The book got its start because of two traumatic experiences in my life: a car/train collision I witnessed as a kid, and my sister's suicide. But, instead of recounting what happened in the style of a just-the-facts-ma'am journalist, I made up an entirely different story - a mystery/thriller - that still highlights themes and truths surrounding sudden death and suicide. I used my imagination to create a story that would resonate with people who don't know anything about me personally.

If you're able to camouflage the true events that happened to you and create a compelling story that still conveys a deeper "truth," you may be able to write not just one book, but ten, simply by using what happened to you as your creative muse.

1 comment:

whiteshark0121 said...

I love writing and reading books. I love the notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. One of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.