You’ve done a lot in your life—you have lived! You’ve faced discouragement and rejection and moved past it to victory. You’ve discovered surprising talent in yourself. You’ve learned to see others for their strengths and to bring your own strengths to meet them, and that has helped you build a network of allies who give you the courage to face life with good will and honest concern. If only you could share just a small part of what you’ve learned with the world!
But how on earth would you do that? You’re not a guru, after all, just a person with some experience and understanding to pass on, one little candle in the darkness.
And yet, through history, the world has been illuminated candle by candle—one insight inspiring another, one idea igniting the next. Your experience and knowledge can become part of the human conversation, but only if you write that book.
Write a book? You couldn’t fill up a whole postcard last time you tried. On the other hand, you have undertaken other things that seemed overwhelming at first, and you’ve done well. You’ve launched the business, you’ve nurtured your family. Is this really so different? Experienced authors will tell you that writing a book is a process of discovery—that everyone starts with an idea and a million questions, and that it’s often the excitement of the author’s discovery that gives a book its vitality. They will also tell you that no writing is wasted, that taking an idea one step further is like following a trail around a corner—what you see may surprise you.
With some deep breaths and small steps, you might be able to claim that new territory. Here are a few suggestions for exploring the possibilities:
- Even taking notes for a book can give you valuable perspective on your life. When you chart the path you’ve traveled, the next steps can become clear. What would you tell a young person just entering the business you work in? What life lessons would you pass on to your kids? What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome? Your most hopeless moment? Your happiest? Get these down on paper, in a simple list.
- Now you can let your subconscious work for you. Tomorrow, likely while you’re at the gym or in the shower, you’ll think, “I forgot _____!” You’ll add to the list. And you’ll notice that some things fit together in a way you hadn’t realized. Waking up one morning you’ll realize the list is becoming a constellation, with a more cohesive meaning than you’d originally thought. You write a page or two, remembering stories that vividly show your point.
- Your inner Scrooge will torment you: “Everything worth saying has already been said.” Oh really, Mr. Scrooge? You do a search and come up with a couple of books in a similar vein. Read them! Chances are, you’ll find yourself saying, “Yes, but from my perspective this looks a bit different. My experience has shown me that . . .” Ha, you’ll add to the notes on YOUR book. Back to the counting house with you, Mr. Scrooge!
- These notes take on a life of their own. You’re out running with a friend and you share an insight and get an interesting response. Got to think on that for a bit—it might be a whole chapter. An old Army buddy calls up and says, “Remember when . . .” You realize she’s giving you a perfect example.
- Somehow, this book has been growing! There’s a lot of material there, and you’re seeing that this really could be both an amazing learning experience for you and a small gift to a world that has given you so much. An organizing principle may suggest itself: a writer I worked with recently came to realize that his business experience was one embodiment of the American Dream, and that millions might be inspired by seeing the success of an immigrant who started with only the clothes on his back.
- Should you consult an expert? Virginia Woolf said that an author should write for his or her most intelligent friend, the one who could understand complexities that less sympathetic souls might not recognize. Even if writing comes easily to you, you may benefit from a consultation with an experienced author or writing coach who can look at what you have and consider where you might go from here. At Round Table, we often find that new worlds are revealed in the process of outlining and writing. Writers come to us with an idea of what they think their book ought to be, and, as we talk and follow our curiosity, they find new veins to explore. Whether it’s a coach or a friend, make sure you have someone in your corner who understands what you’re aiming for and can help you through the uncertain times.
- Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, took a note whenever something occurred to him, collecting the notes in a desk drawer. Over a year after he began, he sat down with all these notes, written on bank deposit slips and the backs of envelopes, and read through them. He realized that he now knew enough to write the book. Has that time come for you
- Scrooge is back. He points out that no one—no one but you—cares about this subject. By this time, you have some sympathy for the poor guy with his limited point of view. J. K. Rowling, a single mother living on welfare, sat pouring her nutty story of a wizard boarding school onto page after page. Emily Dickinson, an agoraphobic, spent her life in a single room writing thoughts that barely fit the definition of poems, showing them to almost no one. Anne Frank kept a teenager’s diary that ended up shining a human light into a time so appalling it can seem beyond imagination. Each one wrote only because she wanted to, and each one touched the souls of millions. Your book has already changed somebody’s world: yours. By the time Scrooge leaves, he’s thinking of writing a book of his own.
- You begin. You’re the author, the authority here. You’re completely in charge, with the power to be absolutely true to yourself, your principles, beliefs, understandings. It’s definitely worth it to take the next step and start writing, fleshing out your ideas. As you make your vision clear for others, you understand it more fully yourself.
- You’ve explored your ideas and begun to tell the story only you can tell. You are getting yourself—your authentic, one-of-a-kind self—down on paper, offering your insights to the world. You’ve thought so deeply about your vision that you are able to bring it into conversation confidently now, curious to see how it affects others, interested to know what it sparks in them.