Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On Writing: Books Need To Be More Than Blog Posts

My brother-in-law sent me a book recommendation last week, by an author who says the claim "I'm spiritual, but not religious" is actually kind of lame and drives her bananas.  I read the first chapter and loved it.  The writing was crisp and funny, she made some great, provocative points...all while walking that fine line of challenging readers without offending them.  I couldn't wait to see what would come next.

I was surprised to discover that instead of developing this idea further, what followed was a series of short chapters--one or two pages each--of unrelated ideas.  It was like reading a series of blog posts, or a book proposal. By about the thirteenth one, I wanted to scream.

Here's my writing tip for today (a reminder to myself and anyone else who needs it): A book should be more than a collection of blog posts.  Blogs are where we try out ideas, rant, question the way things are, etc.  But a book is where we challenge ourselves to push the best of these ideas a little (or a lot) further, to come up with solutions and see if they hold water, or even admit that we might have had it wrong and share what we've learned.

I blame at least 75% of my frustration with this book on the editor.  It's an editor's job to say, "You're not done here," or "This isn't an essay yet...you have to take this further, work a lot harder...you need to pick a destination and take us there."  And if this doesn't work, it's an editor's job to help us realize that if we only have a few paragraphs worth of thoughts on an idea, then it probably shouldn't go in a book yet (unless it's startlingly personal, new, or completely different than anything anyone else has said on the subject.  I think each of us get perhaps three such allowances over the course of a lifetime).

But publishing is in a strange place right now, and editors have less and less time/capacity to edit. So this becomes our job as writers. The rules don't change.  If there's no one to push us, we need to push ourselves.  This requires more patience than most of us have (that's me, waving my hand, wanting to be done before I've started), and a willingness to live without the euphoria/relief of saying "It's Finished!" for a few more months.  But this is our job, and I'm grateful that this book crossed my path to remind me.

This author has other books, and I'm excited to read them.  Her opening chapter did it's job: it made me want more of what she had to say, even about things I don't agree with.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.  There was no obligation to post a positive review.


Ellen Painter Dollar said...

So true. I'm guessing that this book probably was in large part a reprinting of blog posts. I remember when her post about "spiritual but not religious" folk first went viral. It deserved to, because it was so well-done. And then I imagine she faced pressure to produce something to build on that success, so she did, but maybe didn't give it the time and additional research and development it needed. (I haven't read the book so maybe I'm off base here....just guessing based on my own experience in the blogosphere.) I had a blog post go viral a few months ago, and a lot of people are suggesting that's a sign for what my next book should be. I think they're right. But I also know that writing a book on the topic will require hours (we're talking probably a years' worth of 30-hour work weeks) of additional research, not to mention the actual writing. I might do it, but it's daunting. And what's frustrating is the sense that, in this online world where blog posts go viral but then get supplanted by newer blog posts, there's not enough time to step back and really cogitate on a topic as is necessary for writing a book. I keep telling myself, though, that this sense of urgency is not entirely authentic. That people still want to read thorough, well-researched books with depth and breadth. I sure hope they do, anyway.

Barbara Nelson said...

Thank you Trish! and thank you Ellen! You have both said things I needed to read on this very day!