“I’d rather be a failure at something I enjoy than a success at something I hate.”
– George Burns
A few weeks ago I spoke with Shannon Jackson Arnold about the not so lively art of writing book proposals. Many of you know Shannon as former editor of Ohio Magazine, originator of the Inspired Writer newsletter, and co-founder of the Writer’s Roundtable. Shannon’s first book, Everybody Loves Ice Cream: The Whole Scoop On America’s Favorite Treat hit bookstore shelves in July.
I sent a list of seven book ideas to Shannon hoping she would point to one and say, “This one Nita. Do this one.” But she did not. Rather, she told me to look inside myself and choose carefully. “Pick the idea you love the most,” she said. “You’ll give it all your time for many months. Make sure you really want to write it.” She continued, “When I was writing Everybody Loves Ice Cream, I sampled so much ice cream that I gained weight, rarely saw my husband or daughter except when they were both already asleep, talked about nothing else and even dreamed about ice cream. Now that the book is done, I’m hawking ice cream, ice cream makers and anything else that will point people in the direction of my book. It’s a good thing I love ice cream!” Case in point, Shannon, who now lives in Wisconsin, will travel to Ohio to guest host the Writers’ Roundtable on August 14th and hold a free ice cream social and book signing immediately after. (See Events below for details).
Shannon’s advice came as a relief. Instead of telling me to just go after something I thought would sell, she confirmed what I already knew – to trust my passion. How many times have I heard Natalie Goldberg advise writers to reread writing practice notebooks and find the topics that come up over and over again. How many times in my own notebooks do I mention my husband, my dogs, Taos, etc.? Again and again the same themes crop up. Because I reread my notebooks, I can easily tally how often my passions appear. My list of book ideas arose naturally from that list of obsessions. From that it was just a matter of picking one. Nearly any one would do. These are the topics I can’t not write about. How could I miss?
When I ask my writing classes, “Are you rereading your notebooks?” heads drop and folks suddenly develop an inordinate interest in the carpeting. We’re all afraid our notebooks are filled with crap. In truth, some of the writing will be junk. But interspersed among the repetitive whining, trite phrases and boring sludge will glow the things you love. Over and over and over again. Your passions. Your obsessions. These are your treasures. They are my treasures. And, if I get my butt in gear, they will be the books I will be writing for the rest of my life.
Nita (thar’s gold in them thar hills) Sweeney
(c) 2004 by Nita Sweeney