I did it. I set out to fill a 100 sheet/200 page composition book in April, and today, three days before the month’s end I filled the final page.
A friend asked me recently if I’d ever considered writing a book. “I have not,” I told him. “What would I write about?!”
“That is the worst excuse,” he said.
I think not having a topic is the best excuse for not writing a book. When I told another friend I filled 80 pages of my notebook on vacation, he asked what I wrote about. “Whatever was in my brain,” I told him. In other words, random thoughts. I’m not writing a novel, I’m not working on a project.
I daydream about writing a book, but I know I couldn’t make a living from it, especially if I don’t even have a topic. Maybe in retirement, when my husband and I are living on a sailboat. I can write about what we eat when we live aboard. I’m sure there’s a huge market for that.
I’m reading Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction — and Get It Published by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato, and as I progress through their advice, I stand by my conviction that not having a topic is an excellent excuse for not writing a book. As they explain in their chapter on proposals, and what an editor is looking for in a book proposal, there are five critical questions an editor wants the answers to:
- What is the book about?
- What is the book’s thesis (many in publishing refer to it as the book’s argument), and what’s new about it?
- Why are you the person to write this book?
- Why is now the time to publish the book?
- Who makes up the core audience for the proposed book, and why will they find it appealing?
If my blog is any indication of the answers to these questions:
- What is the book about? Everything. Nothing.
- What is it’s thesis? I dunno. That trees have souls? That it’s okay to be ordinary? That you can write about everything and nothing and someone might read it?
- Why are you the person to write this book? Good question. No idea.
- Why is now the time to publish the book? It’s not. It would be a terrible book.
- Who makes up the core audience? Goodness, these are hard questions!
As you can see, I do not have a book here. These questions are compelling, though, especially the thesis question. What would the argument of a book I wrote be? What is the argument of my blog? Surely there is a mindset that ties everything together.
Natalie Goldberg, poet and author of Writing Down the Bones, suggests that writers have obsessions — “things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released” — that they return to again and again. I recently published a post called I remember St. Simons, and what didn’t make it into the post, the words that are in my notebook but not on my blog are:
I remember writing all this before, or is it just that I’ve turned these memories over so many times in my life and my mind that it seems like I’ve written them before?
After I published the post, I searched my blog. I was certain I had written something similar, it couldn’t just be memories in my mind. And then I found it: a piece called Writer’s Block, which was published in the online journal Southern Women’s Review. In I Remember St. Simons I used some of the exact same phrasings I wrote more than four years ago in a piece I haven’t looked at in years.
So there are obsessions running throughout my blog, but as Rabiner and Fortunato clarify in Thinking Like Your Editor, an obsession or a topic is not a thesis. What is the thesis of my blog? What is the thesis of my life? That’s the more important question, but not one I have an answer to.
I still don’t have plans to write a book. I have no topic, no thesis, no audience in mind. But these questions have invoked a curiosity about what — if I had to sum my argument about life and living in one sentence – would my life’s thesis be?