Every Book Needs a Middle

If someone tells you that he wrote a book in two weeks, don’t believe him. It can’t be done.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I suppose someone could write a book in two weeks. Jack Kerouac famously typed On The Road in three. Although that sort of proves the point: even if something is possible, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good. (#skimmedit)

But I should leave Jack Kerouac out of it because his writing habits have nothing to do with mine, and also, he’s famous. What I’m trying to say is, I can’t write a book in two weeks. In fact, I can’t even write a single decent chapter in that amount of time. And I know that for a fact because I sent the ninth draft of my introduction to my college professor and he very diplomatically pointed out that what I shared was perhaps better suited “for the middle.”

His advice:

…Because you have no name and because you’re not writing about going crazy at the age of 19 after an incident of incest or writing about a brain tumor, your story about a Christmas tree is going to look pretty mundane, no matter how well it’s been done. But the travel material is entirely your own, entirely unique… I’d be more inclined to read that book.

He’s right. No one has a corner on bumbling through Africa with two pieces of designer luggage and a permanent sunburn quite like I do. I’d be a fool not to exploit the fact that I’ve knocked over not one, but two, café tables with a backpack in the past five months. I once tried ox intestine and spit it out.

Travel is my niche; doing it poorly is my differentiator.

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I like watching strangers’ reactions when I tell them I’m writing a book. No matter how polite they were up until that point in the conversation, most of them now seem torn between smirking and scoffing. It’s as though they don’t know which is less offensive: to dismiss the idea entirely, or presume that I’m delusional to have conceived it.

A lot of times, people want to know what business I have writing a book.

“Have you been published before?” they ask. “What experience do you have?”

In truth, I have no experience whatsoever – unless you want to count this blog, the professional value of which remains questionable. Not like it matters. The front table of the bookstore is filled with self-taught writers and first-time authors: Humans of New York; Let’s Pretend This Never Happened; and (coming soon) Blitz.

You don’t need experience to publish a book. You need an original point of view and a following. (#workingonit)

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And while we’re on the subject of experience, let me share this:

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The only thing worse than explaining your book idea to a non-reader is pitching it to a fellow writer. In fact, no one has the smirk/scoff down better than a similarly inexperienced travel essayist.

Writers are a jealous bunch. Even if we admire the work of our peers, we would be crushed to learn that their success came before our own, no matter how hard-earned or well-deserved it may be.

I have not yet achieved even a modicum of success as a writer, but I have just met someone who claims that she’s about to beat me to it with a book about a horse farm that she wrote in two weeks. I didn’t ‘smoff’. I continued to type my little fingers off at a café in Budapest on the 4th of July on the off chance I might be able to catch up.

Because that’s how I celebrate independence, y’all.

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Regular readers may have guessed that’s from my favorite book, “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be,” which I’m happy to report you can read online for free here, when you sign up for a free trial. 

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