Wednesday, April 22, 2009

final draft = (first draft) - (your life)

Now and then, THE INTERN stumbles across a book proposal that makes THE INTERN think to herself, "Wow, this sounds like it would make a dandy book! This writer has a great idea!" Rapt with anticipation, THE INTERN tears into the sample chapters, only to discover that instead of writing about her great idea, the writer has spent three chapters WRITING ABOUT HERSELF.


Why do people have great ideas, and then write about themselves instead of the idea? What makes people think that they are more interesting than their idea? Unless you're some kind of god, I can think of about a million things I'd find more interesting to read about than your life. And I hope to God you feel the same way about me.

An example:

This guy, let's call him "Joe Catchmitt," has an idea for a book about unexplained phenomena among zoo animals. His proposal has it all: style, flair, convincing-ness. The proposal is all about his idea: supernatural zoo animals. THE INTERN gets excited. But then instead of fucking writing about supernatural zoo animals, which THE INTERN is now squirming to read about, Joe spends 100 pages telling THE INTERN the story of his life: his boring, lame childhood, his pat spiritual awakenings as a 20-year old, the details of his first and second divorces. And THE INTERN is reading this, and she's like, "What the fuck? I don't give a rats ass about your neuroses, hit me with the zombie rhinos already!" Joe's proposal, which was so intriguing and would have stood a chance of publication, is now VIOLENTLY thrown into the recycle.


In a non-fiction trade book, the IDEA:LIFE STORY ratio should be maximum 95:5. 99:1 is even better (and the 1 goes on the "about the author" page).

If you're famous, a ratio of 90:10 is acceptable.

Unless you're either famous or incredibly skillful and light-handed, the story of your life does not belong in a non-fiction book about supernatural zoo animals, or any other book for that matter.

THE INTERN tells you this not because she hates your life, but because it makes her sad when you have a great idea, then sabotage it with endless life-storying. She wants you to succeed (maybe). Please do yourself a favour, and focus on your idea, not on the life-changing moment at your mother-in-law's house when you realized The Secret DVD held the key to the universe.


1 comment:

  1. I was raised by an octopus that mistook me for one of its own brood due to my sucker shaped birth marks. I have a facinating idea for a book about a steering wheels as a metaphor for 'driving'. Thank you. With your guidance I have rewritten my proposal to focus more on the deeper meaning behind hands at 10 and 2 and less on my ability to shoot powerful jets of water from my butt hole (you might think anyone can do this when emersed in water, but I assure you that these jets are very powerful).

    You're a life saver. Also, you have very human eyes. Just like my mother!